When was the last time Phil Jackson got talent wrong?
Never. Jackson’s career has always been about veteran talent. The one other time Jackson had a lottery pick assignment and had to mine the landscape for franchise changing talent, he went off the board, selecting an unknown high school “project” who, in time, became an All-Star and rivaled Dwight Howard for best NBA center.
Andrew Bynum was a late lottery pick in 2005 and seven years later he was an All-Star. The starting center on back-to-back title teams before his injuries ended his career in 2014, Bynum was mentored by Jackson, who extracted every ounce of skill from the immature Bynum before Bynum went off the rails completely. It was during workouts that Jackson recognized the seven-foot teenager had all the requirements of an offensive big man plus rebounding skills.
And it was during workouts that Jackson saw in Kristaps Porzingis the Dirk Nowitzki model on offense. To simplify it, Porzingis was a 7-3 forward with scoring talent, particularly from the perimeter. Porzingis, though, added another wrinkle. He was a willing rebounder and post player despite his thin frame, willing to take care of the small details that make coaches, and in Jackson’s case, former coaches, fall in love. Porzingis willingly set screens as a basketball detail and rarely was discouraged if at the end of the screen there was no payoff for him.
What we now know that we didn’t on draft night 2015 was that Kristaps Porzingis has a ungodly work ethic and a desire to improve. He has the Jackson intangible, what all his star players whose development he was responsible for had: the hunger to be great and the willingness to work for everything.
So now the Knicks are thinking of trading the one asset they have to move up in the draft. That is so New York Knicks basketball you’d laugh if it didn’t make you cry. The fact that Phil is even thinking about it makes you want to scream. And then the questions. Does this have anything to do with the exit meeting and Porzingis skipping out and then telling pals he is less than enthused with what Phil has put together, all the while bike riding in NYC? Or does Phil really have a plan? It’s hard to know because Phil has never done this before so he doesn’t have a track record you can point to.
All of this came to a head because Jackson dined with 7 footer from Arizona Lauri Markkanen who may be a replacement for Porzingis. The Knicks have the 8th pick. Select Markkanen and then flip Porzingis for athletic talent who can play. On paper, there is merit but the idea is stupid in real time because you don’t give up a talent you know in Porzingis for what you don’t know in Markkanen. Kwame Brown was seven feet tall too. But to Jackson’s defense, it doesn’t hurt to listen to what he can get for Porzingis. It further lets the Knicks front office evaluate what he is worth on the open market. And it debunks the Porzingis as untouchable edict.
When Porzingis was loudly booed in Brooklyn on draft night, he took it all in stride which said more about his psyche then his game. Playing in New York requires athletic talent, skill and winners intangibles but the mental toughness to be able to push back the venom that arises from expectations that don’t materialize is a requirement. The Knicks haven’t won a title in 40 years. As a base, NYC fathers and sons luxuriate in the collective misery that comes with being a Knicks fan by excoriating everyone in the organization, from ownership on down.
How would Markkanen, from Finland, handle the furious storm if he was the Porzingis place holder.
Of everything Jackson has done wrong in his tenure, the one thing he did right was Porzingis. Jackson was thought to have the last laugh. Porzingis is poised, mature, calm and willing to adapt to team principles, similar to Jackson’s identity as a Knick a long time ago. Kristaps Porzingis does something at least half of the NBA refuses to do: he plays hard.
Furthermore, he entered the NBA with a specific skill set that identifies NBA talents. He has an offensive repertoire of floaters and perimeter shots and pull-ups.
Jackson, smug as always, is scanning the lottery pick field, his arrogant smile lighting up the Manhattan night. The greatest coach in NBA history is hunting for more, addition by subtraction.
It may get very rocky and ugly in the 212.
photo via llananba