Why Phil Jackson Needs to Leave the Knicks

About three years ago on March 18, 2014, Phil Jackson signed a five-year, $60 million contract to become president of the New York Knicks. The move looked great at the time. The man had won two championships playing power forward for the Knicks in 1970 and 1973. After that Jackson solidified his career on the other side of the court, coaching the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls to six championships and the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers to five. The guy obviously knows basketball. One would assume that the Knicks could be a respectable team with the Zen Master at the helm. Instead, they have been a laughingstock at best and a disaster in general. Here’s why the Knicks should fire Phil Jackson.

When Jackson was introduced as Knicks president, many speculated that he would also help coach the team, implying the intended use of his famed triangle offense that won 11 championships. All of these speculations have become a reality, but it hasn’t been for the best. Over the years that Phil Jackson has been in New York, he has tried time and time again to promote the triangle offense, with little success. Recently, Jackson came out to say that he himself will start coaching the players on how to work in the triangle. The Knicks rank 25th in defensive efficiency in the league, making it hard to believe why Jackson wonders why his team is 27-42 and nearly out of playoff contention in the Eastern conference. The offense isn’t exactly spectacular either, but the answer to this team’s woes isn’t the triangle. Statistically, the Knicks’ three best players are Sophomore big man Kristaps Porzingis, veteran All-Star Carmelo Anthony and former MVP Derrick Rose. Only Porzingis has endorsed the offense, and even the Unicorn has had major struggles with getting accustomed to it. When asked about the triangle offense, Porzingis said, “First of all, we don’t know the triangle that well. We’re really basic (with) what we do. A lot of times it’s — especially one on one — whoever it is, myself, Carmelo (Anthony), Derrick (Rose), Courtney (Lee), we try to make something happen and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s very random.” Porzingis also described the midseason switch to the triangle an instigator of “a lot of confusion”. Considering that Porzingis is the Knicks’ new franchise player, Jackson should work to implement a consistent offense for Porzingis to develop in. Instead, he’s trying to force him into a system that his team can’t run properly due to the personnel on the roster, or lack thereof.

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When asked about running the triangle, Derrick Rose said very unenthusiastically, “shit, do I have a choice?” When one would consider how much the Knicks gave up to acquire Rose and how much they would want him to succeed, forcing him into a system unfitting of his skill-set isn’t the smartest move. Rose’s inability to operate the triangle offense successfully prompted the Knicks to attempt to work out a point guard-swap with the Minnesota Timberwolves, which would have sent Ricky Rubio to the Knickerbockers. This deal fell through because the Knicks felt that they were not receiving enough in just Rubio and were looking for a second piece.

When Carmelo Anthony was asked about the triangle, all he said was, “at this point, I’m getting tired of hearing about the triangle. Just getting tired of hearing about it.” Speaking of an unhappy Carmelo Anthony…

Jackson’s notable public campaign for Carmelo Anthony to waive his no-trade clause has created a culture of distrust within the Knicks organization. Jackson has denied that many of his comments have been aimed towards Anthony on several occasions. In some scenarios, his criticism was much more direct, and therefore irrefutable. He told CBS Sports network that, “Anthony stalls the offense”. In response, Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding released an article called “Phil Jackson, Knicks Doomed by Wanting Carmelo to be Something He is Not”. It’s a scathing piece about Carmelo Anthony’s issues with coaches and his lack of a will to win. Instead of backing up his own player, Jackson sent out the following tweet:

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Phil Jackson could not be more clear that he is giving up on Carmelo Anthony. This isn’t the way to treat a star player who one would want to remain on the team. Michael Graham is a player that Jackson coached on the Albany Patroons in his “CBA (Continental Basketball Association) daze”. In his tweet, Jackson compared Carmelo Anthony, a 10x NBA All-Star and 3x Olympic Gold Medal Winner to Michael Graham, a player whose biggest accomplishment came in college rather than in the NBA. After initially giving Melo a no-trade clause, Phil Jackson has since both expressed a distaste for Anthony, through both clear and cryptic means. Trying to get him to waive the clause was just a method of scapegoating Anthony for a disastrous team that is mostly Jackson’s fault in the first place. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of issues with Carmelo Anthony as a player and a teammate. He plays a minimal defense, struggles to get along with coaches, could never elevate a team to championship contention, has had difficulty sharing the spotlight and isn’t that great of a team leader. The list goes on. Even with all of these factors in mind, it remains unknown as to whether Anthony has done more to help the Knicks than Phil Jackson has. Melo actually led the Knicks to the playoffs twice before Jackson came by. Jackson, on the other hand, hasn’t achieved any notable success with this team since his appointment as president.

Poor offseason moves provide another example of Jackson’s inability to control the front office of the Knicks. One of the most notable transactions made by the Knicks under Jackson has been trading Jerian Grant, Jose Calderon and Robin Lopez for Derrick Rose. He also signed big names in Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings to a four-year, $72 million contract and a one-year, $5 million contract respectively. Phil Jackson used the trade deadline to try and trade Rose, to no avail. Now, talk of Jackson releasing Rose to free agency at the end of the regular season has been heard around the league. Frankly, Rose is doing all right. He isn’t playing at the spectacular level that once won him an MVP, but he’s been a more-than-reliable piece to this offense. Rose averages 17.8 points per game, 4.4 assists per game and a 46.7 field goal percentage. Rose has been known to thrive in a fast-paced offense, and unfortunately, Jackson has insisted on a slower-paced offense than today’s NBA norm. This is quite the head-scratcher considering that Jackson hired head coach Jeff Hornacek, considering his specialization in coaching faster-paced offenses. Hopefully, Jackson stays committed to the move and creates a system for Rose to thrive in instead of simply getting rid of the point guard and overspending for a replacement.

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Joakim Noah was possibly one of the worst signings during that offseason. He has played 22 minutes per game with season averages of 5 PPG, 8.8 RPG, and 0.3 BPG. The former Defensive Player of the Year was supposed to rejuvenate the defensive side of the ball for the Knicks. Instead, the Knicks have surrendered 4 more points per 100 possessions with him in the game than when he sits the bench. Noah’s tenure with the Knicks is well characterized by when he air balled a free throw. The worst part for the Knicks is that there are still three more years left on his contract.

Brandon Jennings, the last notable acquisition averaged 8.6 PPG, 4.9 APG, and 2.6 RPG before his release. The Knicks were hoping to be the team to revitalize Jennings as a serious threat at the point guard position, but he has been unable to return to the same form he was in with the Bucks, the team that drafted him. The main issue with Jackson’s offseason work was that the Knicks were coming off of a not-so-spectacular 32-50 season, and Jackson took a “win-now” approach. The smarter route would have been to slowly build the roster. The roster had potential, but wasn’t playoff-primed just yet. They showed improvement in 2015-2016 with a promising rookie in Kristaps Porzingis and prolific scorer in Carmelo Anthony. They could have been a legitimate playoff threat if Jackson had spent few years acquiring young talent through free agency and the draft. Instead, he gambled on risky veterans to try to turn a 32-50 roster into a playoff team. This approach has backfired in his face with the team now sitting at 27-45. The rash decisions and the win-now mentality could partially be attributed to the fact that the Knicks are a massive franchise with immediate results being an expectation every season. However, due to the Knicks’ lack of success in their history as an NBA team, Jackson should have simply internalized the same criticism that he took when the Knicks drafted Porzingis, and worked towards crafting a winning roster over time.

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One of the biggest qualms with Phil Jackson’s run in New York has been his questionable decisions regarding hiring coaches. In the middle of the 2016 season, Phil Jackson fired head coach Derek Fisher and hired Kurt Rambis as interim head coach for the rest of the season. Going into 2017, many notable candidates were available for the job but the favorite was former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau’s Bulls never missed the playoffs and consistently ranked among the top defenses in the league. Thibodeau mutually showed interest in coaching the Knicks and working with Carmelo Anthony. Derrick Rose earned Rookie of the Year honors, three all star selections and a league MVP under Thibodeau, with Joakim Noah earning two all star selections and DPOY honors. Having Thibs coach the Knicks could have allowed the two to continue thriving at their positions. Instead, Thibodeau opted to sign with Minnesota, and Jackson hired Jeff Hornacek.

Hornacek was initially allowed to bring his fast-paced offense that he ran in Phoenix with concepts from the triangle mixed in. Now, Jackson is forcing him to run the full triangle offense, essentially defeating the purpose of hiring Hornacek in the first place.  Now, Jackson wants to build the Knicks around his archaic system rather than deciding on the system based on the personnel on the team.

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It’s obvious that Jackson needs to go. Despite his past credentials, the man who won two rings playing for the Knicks and 11 rings coaching the Bulls and the Lakers has done nothing to help the franchise. He continues to destroy the Knicks by signing risky veterans instead of youth talent, insisting that the team use his old-fashioned coaching methods. He continues to meddle in coaching decisions and harass his team’s talent. Owner James Dolan needs to step in and end this nonsense if he ever wants the Knicks to be a contender or even watchable. In the meantime, Knicks fans can sit back and watch the organization unravel with an arrogant failure of an executive at the helm.

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