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Articles on this Page
- 06/15/17--07:13: _The Knicks Should T...
- 06/20/17--11:57: _Porzingis Rumors Ma...
- 06/21/17--18:30: _Phil Jackson Discus...
- 06/22/17--06:02: _'A Strange Bird': O...
- 06/22/17--10:41: _Phil Jackson Allege...
- 06/22/17--20:29: _Kristaps Porzingis ...
- 06/23/17--07:36: _NBA Draft Crowd Cha...
- 06/23/17--08:54: _When the Going Gets...
Pretend for a minute you're New York Knicks president Phil Jackson. Perhaps not as fun a game as it once was, but for the sake of this exercise, just go along with it.
By now, you're familiar with all the moving pieces and drama surrounding the team and how the Carmelo Anthony mess has yet to be sorted out. Instead, let's focus on the only question that matters: Given the club's situation, what can and should be done this offseason? Not just to lift their ghastly win-loss record but to put them on the best possible path toward one day, maybe (don't laugh), competing for a championship.
First, let's look at what the Knicks are working with. Short answer: not much.
You know how Knicks fans are always dreaming of that big free agent? This summer, that pipe dream isn't in play. As things stand, New York enters the offseason with about $19 million in cap room if the team renounces the rights to all of its free agents, guys like Justin Holiday, Ron Baker, Sasha Vujacic, Chasson Randle and Derrick Rose—more on him in a bit.
That may sound like a hefty sum, but teams this offseason will be able to offer free agents a max deal of about $25 million per year. Can you see players like Jrue Holiday or Jeff Teague or George Hill leaving $6 million on the table to join the lowly Knicks?
That number could go up if Anthony is traded, but the question remains: Does tossing cash at non-superstars improve the Knicks' outlook? Jackson's best strategy would be to take a page out of former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie's playbook and bottom out to get a high draft pick next summer (obligatory note: the Knicks do own their 2018 pick), but fine. It's understandable why that's a direction he's interested in.
Still, the Knicks should keep their list of free-agent targets sparse. Signing anyone whose best basketball is behind him would be a mistake. They need athletes and shooters, the type of players the modern NBA game favors and who can strengthen the team's awful D.
Oh, and given their standing as a talent-needy lottery team, meaning not a squad just one piece away, they should be careful not to overpay.
This presents a problem.
"Nobody wants to go there and play in the triangle," one Western Conference scout told Bleacher Report.
"Some free agents, I think the triangle is an issue," another Western Conference scout added. "But before you even get to the system, I think there are several other factors that are much more of a priority or influence in terms of desire to play there."
So do any free agents fit the bill?
This is where things get even more difficult.
ESPN's Ian Begley recently reported the Knicks are interested in PJ Tucker. He is 6'6" and 245 pounds and boasts a solid outside stroke (35.7 percent from deep last year).
"He's a tough, physical defender, can guard 3s and 4s and some 5s, hit corner three-pointers," one of the scouts said. "He's a 20- to 25-minute player and good role player who has value in guarding star players."
He's 32. Also, as the scout adds: "I think the Knicks would have to overpay to get him."
Other possible bargain-bin adds? Not an easy list to put together. You have OmriCasspi and Ty Lawson if the Knicks want to throw some short-term deals at NBA-caliber players. Tim Hardaway Jr. is 25 and coming off his best-ever season, and he's a restricted free agent, but it's hard to envision him reuniting with the team that dumped him in 2015.
Speaking of restricted free agents, Nerlens Noel could be a nice fit next to KristapsPorzingis, but it looks like the Dallas Mavericks want to retain him. Also, signing Noel would prevent the Knicks, who already have young talents like Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez on the roster, from using their cap space to boost their thin backcourt. After all, the backcourt is where the Knicks are most in need of a talent infusion.
The smartest move for Jackson would be to use the team's No. 8 draft pick on a point guard (maybe NC State's Dennis Smith Jr. or France's Frank Ntilikina) and let incumbent Derrick Rose, an unrestricted free agent, walk.
Rose is coming off another season that ended with knee surgery. Also, while he seemed to regain some of his once-prolific bounce, his weak and often inattentive defense and lack of a consistent outside jumper make him a tough player to build a winning team around.
The player, however, wants to remain in New York.
"Derrick loves New York and wants to be there," Rose's agent, B.J. Armstrong, told Bleacher Report recently. "We've expressed that to them and been very consistent about it. Whether it happens is on them; all we can do is be clear."
Armstrong said Rose, who underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in April, is healthy and working out. He also insinuated that Rose would be willing to take a pay cut (he made $21.3 million last year).
"In the end, we want to explore everything—if you're going to compete, you clearly need a number of [top] players, so let's figure that out," Armstrong said. "We want the best team possible. That's it. All the other stuff, if the team wins, everyone wins."
Thing is, it's hard to envision the Knicks doing much winning with Rose around. Not jumping on the opportunity to swap Rose to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Ricky Rubio at the trade deadline was a mistake.
Winning this season shouldn't be Jackson's primary goal, even if Anthony isn't dealt. In fact, the Knicks would be best served letting Rose walk and also trying to trade their other starting guard, Courtney Lee, to a squad looking for a little three-and-D help.
"Many teams would love to have him," one of the Western Conference scouts said. "I think he has a lot of value."
A Lee-for-Rubio swap could make sense for both the Knicks and Timberwolves. ESPN's Marc Stein reported the Detroit Pistons, under Lee's former Orlando Magic coach, Stan Van Gundy, are open to trading their No. 12 pick for a "win-now veteran." The Knicks could then re-sign Justin Holiday, who put up nice numbers in a limited role last year, though one team source views his output as empty calories.
"I don't think he's very good," the source said. "I thought he had a decent year last year because he got a lot of opportunity on a bad team."
All of which brings us back to where we started—searching for an easy fix that doesn't exist. Instead, it's time for Jackson to take the steps he should have taken last offseason. Show patience. Get younger. Shy away from inking aging veterans to long-term deals.
Doing all that won't propel the Knicks into the playoffs, but it would put them back on the right path. At this point, that should be all that matters.
Read more Phil Jackson news on BleacherReport.com
We've reached the point where Phil Jackson gets killed for doing the job we often kill him for not doing.
Think about it: For three years, we've mocked Jackson for how little effort he seems to devote to his position as New York Knicks head honcho. We laugh at reports that teams have trouble reaching him in the lead-up to the trade deadline. We snicker about his late arrival to the NBA Draft Combine or his decision to not attend the ACC tournament, even when it's just a subway ride away in Brooklyn.
All of this, combined with the myriad poor trades and signings and ill-advised barbs and devotion to an outdated system—and let's not forget the losing; wow has there been a lot of losing—have rightfully transformed Jackson, once a revered basketball mind, into a joke. At least that's how many fans, media members and even NBA players and staffers feel.
So when news began to trickle out Tuesday morning that Jackson was considering trading Kristaps Porzingis—perhaps the lone good player Jackson has added to the roster since joining the organization—it's understandable why the knee-jerk reaction was to laugh or, if you're a Knicks fan, cry.
According to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, who was the first to report that the Knicks were taking calls from opposing teams about Porzingis, Jackson met Monday night with Arizona big man Lauri Markkanen in New York City. Markkanen, a 7-foot forward with a smooth jumper projected to go in the top 10 during Thursday night's NBA draft, confirmed Tuesday morning in an interview at Bleacher Report's office that the meeting took place.
"Not too much," Markkanen said when asked what he could share about the meeting. "I can probably say I went to dinner."
Markkanen added that several members from the Knicks front office were in attendance. Also, he ate steak.
The point of the meeting, according to Wojnarowski's reporting, was to probe whether Markkanen could serve as a worthy replacement for Porzingis. The Knicks own the No. 8 pick overall and, as this line of thinking goes, could use that selection to fill Porzingis' spot if KP were in fact traded.
Adding fuel to the fire: On Tuesday we also learned, courtesy of ESPN's Ian Begley, that the Knicks haven't spoken to Porzingis since he blew off his exit meeting in April. Oh, and the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy reported that the Boston Celtics are one of the teams interested in Porzingis.
So that's the background. The question is: What should we make of all this?
The easy answer is that Jackson is a buffoon for even considering trading away New York City's beloved unicorn. And, of course, nothing about the job Jackson has done as a basketball executive should make Knicks fans feel optimistic about his ability to flip Porzingis for a fair haul.
But for a second, remove Jackson's past blunders from the equation. Instead, think about these rumors generically: This is the president of a bad and near-hopeless team meeting with as many prospects as possible prior to the draft, and then listening to as many offers as possible for his one asset. Is there something wrong with that? Isn't that the very thing Knicks fans want Jackson to be doing?
"You should meet with as many guys as possible regardless of current interest," an Eastern Conference assistant coach put it to Bleacher Report. "Start getting to know them. You never know when they may cross your path later."
Of course, this is a dangerous game. The Knicks' relationship with Porzingis was already on rocky ground. This information leaking out is only going to make things worse.
But right now all we know is that Jackson is finally acting like a president of basketball operations. That doesn't mean Knicks fans should suddenly trust him. Nor should they tuck away any fear they might have that Jackson elects to flip Porzingis for a pupu platter of triangle-friendly junk.
Right now, though, all we know is that Jackson is familiarizing himself with all his options. That in itself is not something deserving of being mocked.
Read more Phil Jackson news on BleacherReport.com
New York Knicks president Phil Jackson openly discussed potential moves around the franchise Wednesday night with Al Trautwig of MSG Networks.
One of the big stories leading up to Thursday's NBA draft is the possible trade involving Kristaps Porzingis, first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Jackson didn't back down from this mindset.
"As much as we love this guy, we have to do what's best for the club," he said of Porzingis, per Ian Begley of ESPN.
"We're getting calls," he said of the power forward, per Al Iannazzone of Newsday.
Sports Illustrated provided video of the interview:
"Here's a guy that's really special, a Hall of Fame player," Jackson said of Anthony, per Coley Harvey of ESPN. Unfortunately, the 33-year-old is set to make over $50 million the next two years as part of a team that doesn't appear close to contention.
This isn't quite the same situation as Porzingis, who at just 21 years old appears to be one of the top young stars in the NBA. He will likely remain under team control through 2018-19 and only get better.
While fans will probably riot if the front office deals away the team's top asset, Jackson has a message for them too.
"I think we know what we're doing," he said Wednesday, per Begley.
Read more Phil Jackson news on BleacherReport.com
It's Day 1 of the 2017 NBA Draft Combine and over 100 scouts, executives and coaches are packed into Chicago's Quest Multisport Complex to examine the dozens of prospects running up and down the court. Not Jackson, though. He's back in the hotel. He's sent general manager Steve Mills, assistant general manager Allan Houston, head coach Jeff Hornacek and, most importantly, Clarence Gaines Jr., the teams vice president of player personnel, in his stead.
Gaines, 59, looks more like an accountant than NBA scout. He has a long face and his graying hair is receding. He's also wearing large-rimmed glasses and a brown polo shirt. He bounds past the New York reporters waiting for him at the gym's entrance and makes his way straight to the bleachers' top row, where he spots a solitary space and takes a seat.
"There's always an open spot next to Clarence," jokes a colleague.
Twenty-four hours later, on Day 2 of the combine, Gaines is back. This time he's accompanying Jackson, who on this day has decided to check out the prospects with his own eyes. The Knicks will select No. 8 overall in the upcoming NBA draft (which takes place Thursday night), and twice in the second round.
Later on in the day, Jackson addresses the media.
"It's always interesting to meet these young men and have an opportunity to get to know them," he says of his draft combine experience. "They have pretty much a set story they've been taught. But we hope to knock them off base a little bit and see what their personalities are."
Jackson is asked if he was successful.
"Usually we're pretty good," he replies. He then reveals why he's so confident in his team's ability to navigate the entire pre-draft process. "I have a master interviewer in Clarence Gaines." He pauses and turns toward the bleachers, where he easily locates his right-hand man seated among a sea of men in sweats and tucked-in shirts. Gaines has decided to trade in the polo shirt for a brown, yellow and blue patterned African tunic.
Jackson can't help but smile before finishing his thought.
"He even has his dashiki on."
Thirty-eight months ago, Phil Jackson sat on a stool inside Madison Square Garden between MSG chairman James Dolan and Mills and spoke about his goals and visions for the Knicks. The team had just announced that it was tabbing Jackson as president, and the Hall of Fame coach was explaining how he planned on transforming the franchise into something it hadn't been since he wore the team's uniform as a player 41 years earlier: champions
Things haven't exactly gone as planned. On the court, the Knicks have failed to make the playoffs since Jackson took control. Off the court, they've become more of a circus than Big Apple ever was (to be fair: much of that was the case before Jackson arrived). Even more curious: Jackson, who vowed to rebuild the Knicks from the foundation up, has barely touched the organization's management structure, making just one change to the front office in his three-plus years at the helm.
The one change? Hiring Gaines.
In the years since joining the Knicks, Gaines has morphed into Jackson's most powerful lieutenant, and perhaps the lone Knicks staffer to have Jackson's ear. Jackson credit Gaines for N.Y.'s drafting of its unicorn prodigy two years ago—still the most successful move Jackson has made during his time in New York—and it's been under Gaines' direction that the team has continued turning its gaze overseas in an effort to unearth hidden gems. Jackson has also sat back during the majority of the team's pre-draft interviews while instructing Gaines to run the show.
"Clarence (led the interview) most of the time," Malik Monk, the Kentucky guard projected to go in the top 10, says to reporters while smiling during a predraft media session. "He's hilarious. Whatever comes to his mind he's going to ask you, no matter what kind of question it is. That's why I like him."
Which is to say: Gaines' handprints will be all over whatever decisions the Knicks make during Thursday night's draft. Whether Jackson drafts French prospect Frank Ntilikina, who Gaines recently scouted in person, or trades Kristaps Porzingis, a move that seems increasingly likely following the zany interview Jackson gave Wednesday night, the move will be made with Gaines' blessing.
"He's one of those guys a lot of people don't know about, but he's really influential within his organizations," Craig Hodges, who played four seasons with the Chicago Bulls when Gaines was there and then spent two seasons as a coach for the Knicks' Development League team, says.
The question, of course, is how did a former low-level college football player (Gaines was a second-team Academic All-American at William & Mary in 1979) rise to such a level of prominence within one of the NBA's marquee franchises, and come to hold so much sway over Jackson, one of the NBA's more isolated and unyielding executives?
Jackson and Gaines' relationship dates back to the late '80s, when both were working for the Bulls. Jackson was hired as an assistant coach in 1987 and became head coach in 1989. Then-Bulls general manager Jerry Krause (who died in March at the age of 77) brought in Gaines around the same time. Through the scouting world, Krause had built a strong relationship with Gaines' father, Clarence "Big House" Gaines Sr., the Winston-Salem State University Hall of Fame head basketball coach.
"Jerry gave Little House his first big break," says longtime NBA executive Pat Williams, now a senior vice president for the Orlando Magic. "He really took a liking to him." Gaines Jr. (who declined through the Knicks to comment for this story) spent 11 seasons with the Bulls, eventually overseeing the team's high school, international and college scouting and becoming one of the most significant voices for the six-time champs.
Part of that was a result of Gaines forging close relationships with both Jackson and Krause, who famously spent their years together feuding over who deserved more acclaim for the team's rise to prominence. Krause hired Gaines, but in Jackson, Gaines found a colleague whose sensibilities he shared, from a devotion to Tex Winter's triangle offense to a strong interest in the political and social worlds outside of basketball (Jackson retweeted a message from Gaines' active Twitter account to defend himself after LeBron James was angered by Jackson's use of the word "posse" to describe his friends).
Still, Gaines decided to stick around even after Jackson's divorce from Krause and the Bulls following the 1997-98 season, and he endeared himself to the coaching staff of Jackson's replacement, Tim Floyd. Like the seven other scouts, executives and colleagues interviewed over the phone for this story, Floyd says he was impressed with Gaines' inquisitive nature, basketball knowledge and sharp mind.
"He's a real professional, a consummate scout, not a guy who got into scouting because he lost his job as a coach or some other area," Floyd, now the head men's basketball coach for the University of Texas-El Paso, says. "He's chosen this profession, and he's as talented as anyone I've ever been around."
"One of the things that kept coming up after we came in was how strong the team's scouting arm was and how responsible it was for the team's success," adds Jim Wooldridge, a Bulls assistant coach from 1998-2000. "When you started taking a snapshot of the decisions the team had made in the years before us, it became clear that he, Krause and that whole department were incredibly instrumental in the team's success.
"Clarence was a big part of that. Dealing with Clarence—you were dealing with someone who's very single-minded in doing what's best for the organization with no aspirations of being front or center."
(Of course, this is a good time to mention that the presence of Michael Jordan, drafted prior to Gaines' arrival, certainly helped.)
But in 2001, Gaines elected to step away from his job with the Bulls and move out to Southern California, where he and his wife, a deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County, raised their two children. He began blogging—he titled his website "A Scout's Perspective"—and put the master's degree in business he'd earned from the University of North Carolina to use by trading stocks. He also stayed in touch with Jackson, who in 1999 was hired to be the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Jackson often invited Gaines to attend Lakers practices.
Why Gaines never took an official position with Jackson's L.A. teams is unclear. Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers' general manager at the time, says he can't recall whether Jackson (who through the Knicks declined to comment on this story and instead provided Bleacher Report with a statement he had previously issued to the New York Post) ever requested the organization hire Gaines, or whether there was ever an opening for him to fill. Instead, the two had to wait 15 years, and for Jackson to take a different job 3,000 miles away, to professionally reunite.
Jackson's early goals in New York were simple: He wished to address the franchise's deficiencies one department at a time. That way, he thought, he could best determine the reasons the Knicks had spent so many years shackled in the league's cellar. To help with this task, a former team staffer says Jackson deployed Gaines, sending him into all the different wings within MSG to gather information and report back.
"Phil told us that Clarence was one of his consultants, that he would be going around asking questions," the staffer says. "And Clarence is used to being the smartest man in the room, which is why Phil likes him, and intellectually, he's really smart. But the problem is early on he became Phil's eyes and ears, and it made people paranoid."
One problem, according to the staffer, and echoed by others from the Knicks, is Gaines' people skills, or lack thereof. Even opposing scouts who respect his ability to mine talent admit Gaines' struggles cultivating relationships with coworkers and colleagues.
"He's a strange bird," adds one Western Conference scout.
"He's not really well liked by people around MSG," says another former Knicks employee.
None of the people interviewed for this story questioned Gaines' abilities as a scout. And Gaines, it seems, is willing to challenge his boss. Just one month before the Knicks hired Jackson, Gaines tweeted a mathematical breakdown of why players are better off hoisting three-pointers, a shot Jackson has acknowledged he's not a fan of, as opposed to mid-range jumpers.
But the problem, some say, is that with the Knicks he's been miscast. Leaning on Gaines' expertise for personnel decisions puts the Knicks and Jackson in good hands. Relying on him to conduct interviews is a smart move, too. Hodges still laughs at how tough and unnerving Gaines, his friend, was while interviewing him for the D-League job.
"He asked me point-blank how come the teams I coached beforehand at Chicago State were so bad," Hodges says. "The biggest thing for him, I think Clarence has studied enough on a psychological level to get people to open up to him, even about tough topics, from drugs to girls to anything. He'll ask it all."
But, some believe, expecting Gaines to serve as a middleman between Jackson's suite and the lower rungs of the organization is a recipe for disaster.
"He's kind of nerdy; it's not a criticism," says a former colleague. "He's very analytical and a deep thinker. Some people in this business, they don't think like that or act like that. He's just a different type of guy."
Of course, some NBA executives find those traits endearing.
"It always bothered me when you see a scout sitting next to another scout at a game and talking the whole time," Kupchak says. "That means they're either sharing information or not paying attention."
Kupchak says he doesn't know Gaines well, that over the past 20 years the two have developed a cordial relationship but nothing more. Yet he adds that he's always had a deep respect for Gaines. The reason?
"Your job's not to buddy up to guys from other teams," he says. "My impressions of Clarence, from the small relationship we've had and what I've heard from Phil, is that he's not interested in any of that stuff. He's interested in one thing: doing his job."
Read more Phil Jackson news on BleacherReport.com
A top-15 prospect told ESPN analyst Jay Williams that New York Knicks president Phil Jackson "was falling in and out of sleep" during his workout (h/t Bob Ley of ESPN):
Jackson and the Knicks have been in the news ahead of the draft, with the team reportedly entertaining offers for young star Kristaps Porzingis.
"We're getting calls," Jackson said during an interview on the MSG Network, per Ian Begley of ESPN.com. "As much as we value Kristaps and what he's done for us, when a guy doesn't show up for an exit meeting, everybody starts speculating on the duration or movability from a club. So we've been getting calls and we're listening, but we're not intrigued yet at this level. But as much as we love this guy, we have to do what's good for our club."
Williams' report on Jackson falling asleep during a workout, along with the inexplicable decision to shop a young superstar like Porzingis after just two seasons—potentially because he skipped an exit interview—are the latest head-scratching developments in Jackson's controversial tenure as the Knicks president.
Most famously, Jackson publicly underwent a campaign to convince Carmelo Anthony to waive his no-trade clause during the 2016-17 season so the Knicks can move on from the veteran forward. The NBA Players Association even complained to the NBA about Jackson's public posturing.
Nonetheless, Jackson doubled down on his campaign to move on from Anthony on Wednesday, per Begley:
"We've expressed the fact that we've done a lot of things to try to put teams together that can win, and we haven't been successful, and it might be time for [Anthony] to find an opportunity to go somewhere else. [Anthony has] come back and said he'd just as soon stay. We're trying to start growing from the youth aspect of it. There will be conversations after the draft and after free agency when teams start reorganizing their rosters."
Suffice it to say, reports like Jackson falling asleep at a workout or his public campaign to trade Anthony haven't sat well with players and agents around the league, per Zach Lowe of ESPN.com:
And given that any trade involving Porzingis surely would involve draft picks—Begley reported the Knicks have had conversations with every team in the top five of this year's draft—it's hard to imagine any incoming prospects are thrilled at the possibility of joining the current circus in New York, either.
Read more Phil Jackson news on BleacherReport.com
BROOKLYN — This should, and could have been a successful night for the New York Knicks. They got their man, French guard Frank Ntilikina, whom they selected No. 8 overall in Thursday night’s NBA draft.
Ntilikina is a 6’5” guard with quick feet and a solid outside stroke. He also boasts a 7’1” wingspan and, according to ESPN’s international basketball expert, Fran Fraschilla, a strong defensive IQ, despite still being just 18-years-old. “I think he’ll eventually be a solid NBA starter and possibly an All-Star,” Fraschilla said on Thursday's broadcast.
Adding Ntilikina to the roster will help close some of the many holes in the Knicks’ porous defense. It also gives New York another young talent to pair with Kristaps Porzingis. That could be a nice young core to build around, especially if Ntilikina morphs into the talent the Knicks and Fraschilla think he can be.
“I think the big thing that we liked about it, he’s got size. Our game is really a lot about length and about activity,” Jackson told reporters at the team’s training facility in Westchester, New York Thursday evening after making the selection. “One of the things we have to have is a defensive presence. I thought last year we started to play better defense, even though it wasn’t reflected in wins or in points scored against. But we had players that wanted to get up and be aggressive defensively and play hard. I think that’s a context to which we want to carry on this next year and this is a young man who fits that quite well.”
These, however, are Phil Jackson’s New York Knicks, and so even the sunniest days are accompanied by clouds. The cloud in this case? The growing rift between Jackson and Porzingis, New York City’s beloved unicorn.
You know the story by now. Porzingis blew of his end-of-season exit meeting. To Jackson this was a slap in the face, and, apparently, an unforgiveable one. Other teams, Jackson said in an interview on MSG Network Wednesday night, began calling the Knicks to inquire if Porzinigs was on the trade market. Jackson had no qualms fielding those calls.
That part is fine—it’s Jackson’s job to stay in contact with other general managers and keep all his options open. But then he went out his way to show that he will always have the upper hand. For example:
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a player over 25 years of coaching not coming to an exit meeting, so it hasn’t happened to me,’’ Jackson said at one point. “It happens to other people and other players. His brother and his agent have downplayed it, but still it’s a chance for a person to express themselves. I had a real good relationship with Kristaps over the last two years. It was kind of surprising.’’
For one, let’s point out that Jackson’s claim of never having had a player blow off an exit meeting is false (see: O’Neal, Shaq). Also, we could point out that Jackson didn’t seem to have much of a problem when Derrick Rose skipped town for a game without telling anyone.
The more important lesson from Jackson’s actions over the past week wasn’t really a lesson at all. Think of it instead as a crystallization of the Knicks’ most pressing problem: The franchise is being headed by a man not fit to run a 21st century NBA team.
From his antiquated offensive system to his belief that a bully pulpit is the best way to deal with today’s stars, time and time again Jackson has displayed an unwillingness to adapt or evolve. That’s what happens when you’re of the belief that you’re always the smartest person in the room.
Which brings us back to Porzingis and Jackson’s relationship going forward. Numerousreports in the lead-up to the draft on Thursday had other teams complaining about the Knicks’ asking price. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported that Jackson was requesting the Boston Celtics hand over a package of Jaylen Brown, Jae Crowder, this year’s No. 3 pick and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 pick. ESPN’s 98.7 John Gambadoro in Arizona reported that Jackson was requesting both Devin Booker and this year’s No. 4 overall pick from the Phoenix Suns.
The odds of Jackson ever convincing another team to part way with so many assets for Porzingis—a bright and talented but still unproven player—were always slim. The question, then, is why did Jackson spend the past 48 hours publicly insulting and alienating his young star?
Jackson easily could have come out in his interview Wednesday night and made it clear that Porzingis is the player the Knicks would love to build around, and that he’s willing to perform his due diligence and hear other teams out but that he expected Porzingis to remain a Knicks. That would have been so easy, and it would have brought much of the drama to an end.
Instead, Jackson elected to flame the rumor fires, all the while knowing that a trade was unlikely. Also unlikely: that this was an accident. Since taking the Knicks job more than three years ago, Jackson has made it clear that ego is his primary compass.
Kristaps Porzingis may be safe for now, and he may even have a nice running mate in Ntilikina. But as long as Jackson remains in charge, the next standoff, be it with Porzingis or someone else, can’t be far off.
Read more Phil Jackson news on BleacherReport.com
As seen in the following video courtesy of ESPN New York 98.7 FM's Anthony Donahue, those in attendance at a Madison Square Garden Theater draft party called for Jackson's dismissal:
The 71-year-old Jackson has been a key part of the Knicks' front office since 2014.
In three full seasons under Jackson, the Knicks have yet to reach the playoffs, and they haven't won more than 32 games in a single campaign.
Over the past several months, Jackson has been the subject of criticism for his handling of multiple situations.
Chief among them is that of Carmelo Anthony, who was publicly criticized before saying in April that both sides would be better off if a trade could be consummated, per Al Iannazzone of Newsday:
"We've not been able to win with him on the court. I think the direction with our team is that he is a player that would be better off somewhere else and using his talents somewhere where he can win or chase that championship."
Jackson also admitted on MSG Network (h/t ESPN.com's Ian Begley) to having trade discussions involving cornerstone player Kristaps Porzingis entering Thursday's draft:
"We're getting calls. As much as we value Kristaps and what he's done for us, when a guy doesn't show up for an exit meeting, everybody starts speculating on the duration or movability from a club. So we've been getting calls and we're listening, but we're not intrigued yet at this level. But as much as we love this guy, we have to do what's good for our club."
Additionally, ESPN's Jay Williams told Bob Ley on Outside the Lines on Thursday that a draft prospect said Jackson was falling asleep during his workout:
New York selected French guard Frank Ntilikina with the No. 8 overall selection Thursday, and while he is promising, the Knicks are nowhere near contention.
With Derrick Rose likely to leave in free agency, Melo possibly being traded and Jackson saddling the franchise with an albatross contract attached to Joakim Noah, the immediate future isn't bright for the Knicks.
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NEW YORK—It's NBA draft night, and James Dolan’s Knicks are on the clock—but Dolan is nowhere to be found.
Or, actually, it’s pretty easy to find him; it’s just that he’s nowhere near the Knicks. Instead, he’s up on stage at City Winery, a spacious, relaxed venue on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. Dolan, who has owned the Knicks since 1999, is the frontman of JD and the Straight Shot. At the same exact time as the Knicks weigh a critical decision with the No. 8 overall NBA draft pick, Dolan, wearing a red velvet jacket with a white shirt, open at the collar, is asking an audience of about 100 whether they’ve seen the movie August: Osage County, which features a song by his band.
A moment later, over at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski tweets that the Knicks will draft Frank Ntilikina. Nobody tells the team’s owner.
JD and the Straight Shot, a violin-driven blues-rock band, released the first of its five albums in 2005. The most recent is 2016’s Ballyhoo!. When it’s time to perform that album’s title song, Dolan pops backstage for a costume change and reappears, wearing a black top hat, a gray scarf and sunglasses, to detail the origins of the word "ballyhoo." This comes a few minutes before 9:00 p.m., just as the Nuggets and Jazz, two enviable franchises with impressive draft records, orchestrate an intriguing 11th-hour trade, the type the Knicks rarely make.
Tonight is ordinary for the team in that regard, but it is otherwise surreal. During the NBA draft, when every NBA exec is on a phone, and franchise-altering decisions are compressed by The Clock, Dolan is surrounded by dozens of middle-aged men and women who look like they’ve probably never heard of Charles Oakley, let alone Malik Monk.
Moreover, recent events have made it especially bizarre to see Dolan here, now. During the past year, and particularly during the past week, the Knicks front office—assembled and trusted by Dolan—has been exposed as directionless and possibly a danger to the franchise itself. This has been billed to be the most important day for the franchise in at least 15 years.
Early on, it seems entirely possible that the Knicks might trade Kristaps Porzingis, once (and still) the great hope for New York basketball. Amazingly, should the Knicks receive a tantalizing offer for KP, Dolan will be unreachable as he rips through his lengthy set. The timing is hard to believe. (Dolan submits that his show was booked well ahead of time and that overlapping with the draft was an unfortunate coincidence. It is his only basketball reference.)
One can’t help but lament the predicament presented to Knicks fans, like the two men who were ejected from the show for heckling. (One, critical of Dolan’s voice, cautioned him not to quit his day job, though he may have meant the opposite.)
If Dolan is here, performing, then he can’t meddle with the team, and his meddling has led to trouble in the past. But then, without him around, franchise decisions are left wholly to Phil Jackson, who might be trying to get fired so he can return to L.A. So, what’s worse: involving Dolan—who confesses to be “by no means an expert in basketball” and is pressing assault charges against Oakley, an all-time fan favorite—or letting Jackson operate unrestrained? It's impossible to say.
As is, Jackson is left to his own devices and keeps Porzingis in tow. At No. 8, Ntilikina is a solid choice.
Dolan, meanwhile, is escaping ownership of the Knicks for a night, as if the team were a burden rather than a coveted asset that reportedly increased in value by 10 percent last year alone and could be sold at any time. The band plays for two hours (including Dolan’s frequent monologues) and announces that a new album will release in September.
The concert ends around the same time as the draft’s first round. Audience members are sent home with a pair of records, Ballyhoo! and a 13-track album from 2014 titled Where I’ve Been. As one contemplates the irreversible damage narrowly dodged by the Knicks and whether the team’s owner cares either way, it is easy to view Where I’ve Been through orange and blue lenses.
Take track No. 3, "Hard To Find," which calls to mind a certain pissed off unicorn. Tracks Nos. 7 and 12, "Going Nowhere Good" and "Fall From Grace," might literally be about the team. The Drift (Pt. I & II) has been New York’s answer to The Process throughout Dolan’s tenure.
But nothing captures the state of the New York Knicks better than the image printed on the front and back of the album. It depicts a dry, sun-beaten desert. There is a long trail of footprints that fades toward the horizon line, there disappearing into endless sand. The photo’s traveler, who is not pictured, has come a long way through brutal conditions to get to this point. And yet, if the camera could show what lies ahead, one imagines only more fruitless terrain.
Leo Sepkowitz is a senior writer at SLAM Magazine. He can be followed on Twitter at @LeoSepkowitz.
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