Once Phil Jackson agreed to become the New York Knicks’ president in March 2014, the basketball world instantly considered the Knicks a force in the eastern conference for years to come.
And why wouldn’t the team be considered a contender after bringing in one of the greatest basketball minds to have ever graced the NBA paired with the perceived talent on its roster at that time?
Superstar forward Carmelo Anthony opted to re-sign with the team shortly after Jackson’s arrival, allowing the Knicks to keep its pre-eminent scorer and franchise player on board. There was also still a beacon of hope that Amar’e Stoudemire would rekindle some of what he left in Phoenix before his devastating knee injuries. And Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and company looked like an above average group of role players.
Fast forward to present day, and the Knicks are all but considered a serious contender. In fact, the team has become the butt of many jokes, as of late.
Anthony, who was sidelined due to injuries for most of the Knicks’ abysmal season last year, is the only player mentioned that still remains with the team.
Stoudemire was waived by the Knicks in February due to his lack of performance. Most thought if anyone was able to get something out of the former No. 1 overall pick, it would be Jackson. But that just wasn’t the case.
On its way to a 17-65 record, the Knicks decided to deal Shumpert and Smith to the Cleveland Cavaliers midway through the 2014-15 season as part of a three-team trade, which brought in Alex Kirk, Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas. The move was meant to solely clear up cap space as if the team planned to hit free agency hard during this offseason.
However, despite the cleared up cap space, the Knicks did relatively nothing this offseason to utilize its abundant spending ability. That’s not to say Jackson did not try. Apparently, players were just not impressed with the direction Jackson is taking the Knicks.
But this is the great Phil Jackson we’re talking about here. The Zen Master. The same guy who has won 11 NBA championships and was seemingly the mastermind behind the Bulls’ success in the ’90s and the Lakers’ success throughout the 2000s. (Granted, he did have the luxury of coaching some of the all-time great players.)
Is it possible that after only a few years away from basketball, he’s no longer capable of constructing a team?
Despite always having more power to make off-court decisions than most NBA head coaches would ever dream during his illustrious coaching career, this is Jackson’s first stint as an executive, which is a much different job.
After selecting Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft and only signing Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo in free agency, it is safe to say Jackson is under pressure to make something happen for the Knicks sooner rather than later.
The 69-year-old Jackson was once able to not only bring in great players — some with very eccentric personalities— but he was also able to get those players to buy into his method of madness, whether that be a quick yoga session before practice, sprinkling incense around the locker room for good luck or giving his players lengthy books to read mid-season.
While Anthony may have publicly said he stills believes Jackson knows what he is doing and can turn things around, there is no doubt he has to be concerned that re-signing with the Knicks may have cost him the opportunity to compete for a championship during the prime of his career.
Hopefully, Jackson can still break out some of that good-luck incense.
Malcolm Walton can be contacted at [email protected]