Phil Jackson destroyed the stability he created with Knicks

The attraction of Phil Jackson running the New York Knicks was he would bring a sensibility to the organization that often didn’t exist.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with the moves Jackson made through the pre-firing Derek Fisher portion of his tenure, his presence became easier to accept because of a level of stability.

The team owned by James Dolan was going along in a rational manner.

They didn’t return much value for Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith, but you could see a level of logic behind both trades. Despite it taking longer than it should have – Carmelo Anthony did eventually shut it down for the season due to a knee injury. The dead weight on the team was sent away with Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani being bought out.

First-year head coach Derek Fisher spent about half the season experimenting with a more pick and roll based offense rather than the triangle and giving different players an opportunity to prove themselves.

Yea, they screwed up winning a couple games at the end of the season, but it’s not fair to expect players to not go out and try. It was just unfortunate results.

Drafting Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant brought along hope of Jackson being more open to adjusting New York’s playing style due to their skills sets in a good start to his second full offseason on the job.

Free agency should have been the first sign of slight concern when it came to Jackson’s view of what he wanted the team to be. He went after too many bigs and not enough attention to players who could break down a defense off the dribble.

Nothing Jackson did was overly harmful, but he gave insight into what he was looking for with how he constructed the roster. Individually, none of the contracts he gave out were bad, yet in totality they didn’t make all that much sense.

All that said, it wasn’t the end of the world. Rebuilding the Knicks roster from the tear down was more than a one-offseason process. Jackson needed to be given more time to flesh out what he was trying to accomplish.

The season started and the Knicks overachieved. Fisher implemented a smarter defensive scheme that tried to force teams into mid-range shots and the offense was a decent balance of using triangle principles and modern concepts. It wasn’t perfect, but it was something you could live with.

Fisher worked on developing Porzingis and Grant, maximized Thomas’ versatility on the defensive end, had Anthony playing brilliant all-around basketball and managed minutes in a decent fashion.

Once they hit 22-22, one of the healthiest teams in the league at that point in the season, started getting banged up. The nine-man rotation Fisher settled on could no longer be used and the Knicks lack of quality depth shined through. They played a bunch of close games and battled hard, but couldn’t close anything out.

Thinking back on it, in Fisher’s last games it was almost like he was trying to prove a point. In first halves he Knicks would run mainly triangle based offensive sets leading to them falling behind. In second halves they’d run a ton of spread PnR storming back into the game.

This pattern happened quite frequently.

Was it Fisher trying to prove a point to Jackson?

If he was should have Fisher tried to communicate better with his boss instead of being standoffish? Yep.

Should have Jackson been smart enough to see what was happening and not be stubborn about the type of offense that was being implemented? Yep.

The basketball reasons to fire Fisher didn’t make much sense. If it was other dealings that were more involved with off the court shenanigans so be it. Whatever the case, when Jackson made the decision to fire Fisher he tore down what he had worked so hard to build up – an appearance of stability.

Teams that are stable don’t fire coaches less than two years into a job with a group that was on track to be one of the most improved in the NBA.

Jackson made his buddy Kurt Rambis interim head coach and ever since they’ve gone back to their old clusterfuck ways.

Rambis trying to “win now” (poorly by the way, he’s not even good at that) has led to potential bad consequences. Melo is getting overplayed, they’ve swung towards increased base triangle action, the protect the paint screw threes defense is back, Sasha Vujacic’s role has increased while Grant’s has decreased and Porzingis is being used incorrectly.

The scary part of all of this is Rambis and Jackson openly discuss how improved the communication between the two of them is compared to Fisher and Jackson.

Simply put………that’s terrifying.

Even while only winning 17 games what made Jackson’s first year a success was an understanding of where the team was and what needed to be accomplished.

The same hasn’t happened this season – it feels like Jackson has become short sighted.

Outside of unrealistic trade rumors involving Jeff Teague – there’s been no attempt to address their slow, plodding, lack of dribble penetration backcourt.

Lower level guards such as Mario Chalmers, D.J. Augustin, Shelvin Mack and Ish Smith were all traded during the regular season. Maybe getting one of them wasn’t realistic, but a move of that elk could have been made.

They’ve had two players come on 10-day contracts in Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Jimmer Fredette and neither was given a chance to contribute in a meaningful way.

And the Fredette circus should have never been at MSG in the first place.

Jackson been content allowing Lou Amundson, Cleanthony Early and Vujacic eat up roster spots and not contribute in a positive way.

Jackson’s managing of the Knicks roster this season has lacked ingenuity and creativity.

Once the playoffs became unrealistic a smartly run team would have preserved Melo, experimented with an offense revolving around Porzingis and Grant’s skills, and used two or three roster spots to try to find cheap talent to add to the team gong forward.

The reason to be worried about Jackson has nothing to do with what his record is since being in charge of the Knicks. It’s quite the opposite – the bad record shows he understood what needed to be done in his first full year on the job. The roster is in a healthier place than where it was when Jackson took it over.

The question is with the decision-making and vision Jackson has demonstrated this season can he be trusted to be in charge of the Knicks going forward?

If Jackson isn’t able to set aside his ego in regards to the next coach and how the Knicks on court product should be shaped – what needs to happen is so painful I don’t have the will to even spell it out.

Knicks Choose Unknown Over Known

Since the turn of the century the Knicks have won 50 games once. They have made it past the first round of the playoffs once. It doesn’t take much brain power to grasp that whatever methods the New York Knicks have used to operate in recent years has failed miserably. In an attempt to try to break their string of failures, Phil Jackson was hired to oversee the basketball operations department this year.

Jackson’s method is singular, in that he has a certain culture and style of basketball that he has implemented wherever he has gone. Phil has had nothing but success with his beliefs, and he’s currently trying to institute the same policy with these New York Knicks.

The Knicks have had precisely one successful season in the 21st century. During that glorious 2013 season (as Knick fans, we have an extremely lower tolerance for what constitutes glorious) New York found an identity. New York thrived using some pretty basic alignments, playing Carmelo Anthony at the four with a defensive minded center whose main role on offense was to set ball screens and dive to the rim. To fill out the rest of the lineup New York used point guards and wings who supplied ball movement, penetration, and spot up shooting.

There are situations in basketball when a team fits together well, each individual player’s skill set complements the others and as a unit can be better than expected. Those Knicks fell under this umbrella, and the philosophy was effective.

Unfortunately, ever since 2013 the Knicks have done whatever they possibly could to avoid the type of basketball which gave them that success. A simple plan for the Knicks after the 2013 season would have been to sink all of their available resources into re-creating that same dynamic. However this isn’t what happened, which brings us to where we are today.

When Jackson decided to pay Melo over the summer, he put his Knicks legacy (the second one) in Anthony’s hands. Now Jackson (and Fisher) have a choice on how to build the identity of the current roster. They can continue with what they know best, or deviate from it in an attempt to best optimize the player they chose to build their team around.

Running the triangle with Kobe/Shaq or Jordan/Pippen worked wonders for the Zen Master, but we don’t know how that will play out with Anthony. Carmelo’s skill set and strengths differ from all of these players. In 2013, Anthony was able to raise his level of play on the offensive end with the Knicks by shooting a higher volume of three pointers and doing it at a better percentage than he did earlier in his career. He attempted 6.0 three point shots per 36 minutes, almost double his current career average of 3.1.

Melo at the four allows him more outside shots against slower footed players less suited to defending beyond the arc. It can also create switching and confusion as teams try to adjust their lineup to match-up defensively. Melo fits extremely well in a spread pick and roll system with a lead guard that can break down a defense off the dribble.

Playing power forward also helps hide Anthony’s flaws defensively. Instead of chasing guys around on the perimeter through screens and closing out on a three point shooters, he can defend posts up and do his wavy-reachy-arm-stuff that has become weirdly effective.

To this point Fisher has decided to use mainly traditional lineups with Anthony at the small forward position (65% of the time according to basketball-reference.com) and has cut way back on the amount of PnR the Knicks run.

New York has started the season 3-8 and the reasons are more widespread than Carmelo not playing the four often enough. I do think they would be better in those alignments, but with the lack of a strong defender at the five, those lineups have more room to get exposed.

It’s only been 11 games, and I’m not saying what Fisher and Jackson are trying to accomplish will fail. The Knicks will have five years to find out if trying a different method to win with Carmelo Anthony will be successful. As more talent gets infused to the roster it very well could end up working. On the other hand the 2013 season provides a template for success with Anthony as the fulcrum. So in an contradictory way, by playing it safe and doing what he has historically done, Phil Jackson is taking a risk. What Jackson wants to do is known to him, but it’s an unknown for the Knicks with Carmelo Anthony as their best player.

New York Knicks Coaching Roundup, Part 3: Brian Shaw And Friends

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If you looked up “Phil Jackson” in the Urban Dictionary (do not look up Phil Jackson in the Urban Dictionary) I imagine the definition would essentially read “winning.” Phil Jackson has won a lot of championships, and so he’s become synonymous with winning. Even though it’s a bit of a tautology, It’s a reputation he, himself, has earned, but one his protégés have not.

Phil’s coaching tree is more like a Whomping Willow which includes: Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons, Bill Cartwright, Frank Hamblen and…Brian Shaw. The jury is still out on Shaw’s coaching acumen, but turning a 50-plus-win team into a 36-win team isn’t a great first impression. But that’s what makes the Brian Shaw to New York situation so interesting. Why are the Nuggets dead-set on holding onto a Phil Jackson’s young squires when the rest of the branches the tree has a combined winning percentage of 46 percent?

Whenever a head coach or a manager is traded–which is a very rare occurrence–they’ve typically already established themselves as elite coaches or managers either by winning a championship(s) or just winning a lot of games. That is not the case here. You trade draft picks and cash for elite head coaches like Doc Rivers or Stan Van Gundy or Tom Thibodeau. But you can’t do that for somebody like Shaw, and it looks like the Knicks, outside of Phil, understand that.

Still, being able to trade coaches is weird. It’s weird because you can’t trade players for coaches, but you can trade cash and draft picks (which turn into players) for them. It’s also usually an awkward situation that is littered with organizational drama (see: Gruden, Jon and Rivers, Doc.) It’s typically not a good look for you organization if your head coach is trying to get traded to another team, which is another reason it’s such a rare occurrence.

The Knicks want Shaw, but they don’t have the assets to get him. For the Clippers to get Doc they had give up a 2015 first-round pick that was unprotected. The Orlando Magic had to give up multiple draft picks and cash to the Miami Heat for Van Gundy, and he had already been replaced in Miami. Trading for a guy with only one year of head coaching experience and sub-.500 record shouldn’t require a team to give up multiple draft picks and cash. Sure, it’s a small sample, but Shaw is not the hot commodity he once was when he was an assistant in Indiana. The Knicks would be foolish to give up anything but cash to bring him aboard (although that’s also their only option).

The Knicks aren’t the only team trying to trade for another team’s head coach, but they’re not swinging for the fences (more like just trying to get on base) like the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves are. The Grizzlies reportedly want to make a major play for Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, while the Timberwolves are in deep discussions to trade for current Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger. Yes, it’s as confusing as it sounds.

As confusing and as crazy as those situations are, it’s still easy to see why both teams are making the choices they are. Stealing Thibodeau away from Chicago would be a major coup for Memphis. Flip Saunders needs to make a major splash to try and make a last-ditch effort to convince Kevin Love to stay — Joerger qualifies as a major splash. Giving up a couple of draft picks and cash for an elite coach(s) when your roster looks like Memphis’ or Minnesota’s that’s OK. When your roster looks like the Knicks’, it’s not OK. Shaw isn’t the answer in New York, but Thibodeau and Joerger could be in Memphis and Minnesota.

Phil appears to be dead-set on hiring a head coach that he can mentor and mold. Perhaps that potential synergy between GM and head coach is what finally turns Phil’s coaching tree around. Maybe Shaw can still be an elite head coach in this league if he has Phil around to guide him once again. It was clear that the current Nuggets roster doesn’t mesh with Shaw’s vision, but how long are the Nuggets and/or Shaw willing to wait turn that vision into reality? If Shaw doesn’t turn it around next season, would it really be that shocking if the Nuggets decided to fire him? I tend to think no, especially when you look at the Golden State situation, because head coaches in this league typically have a very small window of time to make significant progress.

Brian Shaw is probably not going to be the next head coach of the New York Knicks, and that’s OK. The Nuggets have all the leverage, and the Knicks don’t have the assets to make it happen. That’s also OK. This is perhaps the one instance that the Knicks’ lack of draft picks is a good thing because it’d be a mistake to give up multiple draft picks for a head coach with his track record.

Shaw and Phil could be great together in New York, but so could Fisher and Phil — without the cost. However, wrestling Fisher away from the Oklahoma City Thunder could also be a challenge for Phil. According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Fisher could return to the Thunder next season as a player/assistant in a role similar to Juwan Howard’s role in Miami. It’s a win-win situation for Fisher. He either stays in Oklahoma City to get some coaching experience with a franchise that adores him, or goes to New York where Phil would also love to have him. Fisher can’t lose, but the Knicks can.

Then there is Tyronn Lue, an assistant under Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, who you would think would jump at the opportunity for the Knicks’ head coaching position, if he’s offered the gig. Lue is just 37-years-old and has played and coached under Phil Jackson, Rivers, Jeff Van Gundy and other great current and former head coaches in this league. Of course, Lue, like all the other Knicks’ head-coaching candidates, is an unknown, simply because he hasn’t been a head coach in this league. If Fisher elects to return to Oklahoma City, you would expect Phil to turn Lue. It may not be a sexy hire, but you could argue Lue is the most qualified candidate of the bunch.

I have no idea which route the Knicks are ultimately going to take, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Knicks’ next head coach will be one of Phil’s former point guards.