It’s both easy and hard to judge Phil Jackson’s tenure as President of the NY Knicks. If you look at the record he has accumulated, you can say with a straight face he has failed. The Knicks have not been to the playoffs in his tenure. But, the Knicks have also been hamstrung by a superstar contract he cannot move. Part of that was Jax’s fault. He caved on the no-trade clause when he didn’t have to. Carmelo’s only suitor as a possible option were the Bulls and Jerry Reinsdorf. Notoriously cheap, Reinsdorf was never going to give a player that kind of leverage over him and his money. So Jax, the newcomer GM, was bidding against himself. That mistake, and we know now it was a colossal one, helped keep the Knicks ensconced in the bowels of NBA suffering. Not wretched enough to get a top-5 pick, not a contender, not in the playoffs, irrelevant.
So if the no-trade clause was the worst part of the Phil Jackson regime, the best part was the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis. The two year Porzingis sample size has him trending up and more importantly it has Jackson’s basketball acumen restored but only slightly. It will forever be a Jackson accomplishment. Porzingis is the 11th ranked power forward (Real Plus-Minus). He is attempting more shots this year, making more shots, is more efficient from the three and has similar three point numbers in his second year to Dirk in his second year which only matters because Dirk Nowitzki is who Porzingis is compared to by experts.
Porzingis’ 18 points per game in year two portends to 20 points somewhere in the immediate future, though his defensive rating this year is substantially worse than last year. So in Porzingis, the Knicks struck gold. Jackson is responsible.
The knock on Jackson is he has never really had to evaluate talent. In his previous championship stops he stockpiled role players to compliment the best in NBA history superstars he depended on. The only reach was Andrew Bynum. Bynum was a project who developed, had a couple of sensational years, had a bunch of knee injuries, was dissed publicly by Kobe Bryant, developed a colossal ego and was out the league before he could earn a decade of service. Other than Bynum and Porzingis, the Phil Jackson system is about role players who think the game, are smart, but need the team dynamic to thrive.
Last summer, Jackson filled the Knicks with a bunch of retreads he was hoping, fingers crossed, that Jeff Hornacek could somehow, some way turn into the sum is better than the individual part. But if they didn’t exactly pan out or rise to their past potential, which they didn’t, in this prisoner of the moment, what is Phil Jackson really? A superb coach of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal,Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant?
The Phil summer club was a disappointing but not surprising collection that didn’t rise up and meet their past former selves during the 2016-17 season.
Derrick Rose is continuing the narrative of Derrick Rose 2.0. He is a good enough player but not what you need to drive a team into the playoffs. He made the most field goals in five years. He shot his highest percentage in seven years. He rebounded the ball better than he has in six years. His scoring average took a five year bump up. But he was a 21% three point shooter which won’t cut it in today’s NBA. His assist numbers were worse than D’Angelo Russell, his defensive rating (115) was a career worst. Intersect that with his payday of $21 million and he didn’t meet the challenge of a max player point guard.
Joakim Noah was a disaster. Phil gifted him with a ridiculous salary, ridiculous only because Noah hasn’t been healthy in two years. He continued his broken body ritualistic song and dance. Courtney Lee was also overpaid. He shot the ball well and was a decent rebounder but Lee had his worst defensive rating of his career. Shocker. You come to NY and your defense goes on permanent vacation. Lee is the 31st ranked shooting guard (Real Plus-Minus). 30th is Dwyane Wade. If perpetually injured Wade at age 35 is better than usually healthy Lee at age 31, then it was a Jackson miss. Brandon Jennings was cut loose, so like Noah, his efficacy was a catastrophe.
Phil did this.
History is static so all of Phil’s accomplishments as a coach will remain in tact in perpetuity. But as a GM he only has one achievement since the Knicks became desperate enough to change horses midstream. Kristaps Porzingis. Of the season, Porzingis, perhaps already baptized in tossing blame said, “We’re not that good of a team.”
“I think it’s pretty easy to tell from the inside that we’re not a good team.” (Kristaps Porzingis).
Phil’s prize trade, Derrick Rose said, “We didn’t click, we did’t have the connection we wanted throughout the season.”
“You need that [chemistry] to go far in this league. It takes time and playing through mistakes, learning a new system.” (Derrick Rose)
It sounds a lot like Derrick Rose wants to return to New York which is something GM Phil has to contemplate. Can he have an incompetent three point shooter as his lead guard despite Rose’s prescient ability to drive to the rim and finish. That Rose didn’t sustain a major injury is a win of sorts. He didn’t break down physically.
All roads lead back to Phil who took this job as a Knicks lifer, a Knicks champion. He has belittled his star. He has given out money to the broken and old. He has spotted talent in Porzingis and that success has him riding the coattails of a two year old decision. He has been in the lottery while Knicks fans have been in the bars, drowning their sorrows. There is no Jim Buss, Jeanie Buss here, no palace coup, no call to arms. It is Phil. And Jimmy D.
The summer and $25 million await the Knicks. What will Phil do is anyone’s guess but more of the same triangle romanticism blah is even money if you are betting in Vegas.
photo via llananba