Phil Jackson was one of the smartest coaches in the NBA. But when he hung up the clipboard and became the president of the Knicks, some of his actions made Knicks Fans, as well as the rest of the NBA, question his eligibility to be an executive of a professional basketball team. Now, in retrospect, the majority of his track record with the Knicks may have made... sense? Let’s look back at some of the things he had said and done to see how they have aged.
Selecting Kristaps Porzingis 4th Overall in 2015
This pick has gone down as one of the best moves in that draft. Despite heavy criticism from the media and fans, Phil Jackson took a gamble on an enigma from Europe. Porzingis was seen as a project by many scouts, but his development was accelerated with the Knicks. He thrived in the New York spotlight and eventually became an All Star. This draft selection speaks for itself and it turned out well for the struggling Knicks.
The triangle offense is a playstyle known for its success with past NBA teams. Most notably, the Michael Jordan-Bulls and the Kobe Bryant-Lakers both ran the triangle under Phil Jackson - with both teams having achieved immense success. When Phil Jackson came to New York, the Knicks decided to also implement the triangle offense. However, it didn’t work for them as it has with past teams.
It failed partially because of Carmelo Anthony, who would take random shots and rarely pass. The purpose of the triangle offense is to provide a team with spacing and room to pass - Melo’s offensive tendencies undermined that whole concept. The triangle offense also failed in New York because the team did not like it and thought it was “random.”
While Phil Jackson wasn’t coaching the offense for the Knicks, he did make some executive decisions with the triangle in mind. For example, triangle offense was likely the reason for the Knicks drafting Frank Ntilikina - who played in an offense similar to the triangle in France. In short, the triangle didn't work. I believe the way Jackson handled the outdated system does deserve criticism, but he isn’t solely responsible for all the blame. It was evident that some of the players simply weren’t cooperative or compatible with the triangle.
Phil Publicly Wanting to Trade Carmelo
Carmelo Anthony needed to be traded, but he would not waive his no-trade clause. So Phil Jackson called him out. Now, Jackson could have handled this situation in a few ways other than how he went upon it. But none of them would have worked. His decision to publicly call out Melo was disrespectful, but it got the job done. It got Melo to finally want out of the Big Apple. And almost immediately after Jackson was fired, Melo was off to OKC in exchange for Enes Kanter, a Chicago 2018 2nd Rounder, and Doug McDermott.
This trade seemed very one sided at the time, solidifying OKC as one of the powerhouses in the stacked Western Conference. But did it really work? Well, we got that answer when OKC finished disappointingly at 48-34, as the 4th seed. Though expected to make a deep run in the playoffs, they were upset in 6 games by the Jazz. That offseason, Anthony was traded to the Hawks and was subsequently waived. Anthony was then picked up by the Rockets, who were the number one seed a year before and had kept many of their key players. The Rockets, with Melo, started off this year with a poor 4-6 record. After the first 10 games, Melo was benched and eventually traded to the Bulls a few days before the deadline. There, he was immediately waived and has not been signed since.
Since benching Melo, the Rockets have become one of the best teams in the NBA. Meanwhile the Thunder, without Melo, have become one of the best teams in the league as well. In his tenures with Oklahoma City and Houston, Melo has only proved his inability to win - further proving that Phil Jackson was definitely right about the Knicks needing to trade Melo.
Wanting to Trade Kristaps Porzingis
Before he was fired, Phil Jackson was openly shopping his star power forward, Kristaps Porzingis. I believe that this was because Jackson knew that Porzingis was going to leave when he turned a free agent. However, many people believed that Porzingis was the future of the Knicks and criticized Phil Jackson for trying to trade him. This incident alone has been credited as one of the deciding factors in Jackson’s firing from the Knicks.
Fast forward a year, and it seems like Phil Jackson was right. This January, Kristaps Porzingis met with Knicks staff and management, expressing his displeasure with the organization. Almost immediately, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, along with his teammates Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee. In return, the Knicks received Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Johnson, and two first rounders. Jackson knew that Porzingis wanted out. Yet no one listened. Had Jackson been able to trade Kristaps before he tore his ACL, the return may have been much larger.
In his time in New York, Jackson has made a lot of moves. One of them was the JR Smith-Shumpert trade. This trade sent the oversized contracts of JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cavs for a few minor players. While at the time, it seemed that the addition of two veteran shooters would be beneficial additions to Lebron’s team, this trade did not help the Cavs in any way. In fact, this trade might be one of the reasons that caused LeBron's departure from Cleveland. JR’s low basketball IQ and mental flop cost the Cavs Game 1 of last year’s Finals. Meanwhile, the Knicks were able to benefit from a salary dump from that trade.
Jackson also passed up on the chance to sign the then Warriors’ Assistant Coach, Luke Walton. This passing was also for the best, since it is becoming more and more likely that the Lakers will fire Walton this offseason. In fact, it has become a league-wide consensus that Walton will be fired.
The Derrick Rose trade was one of the biggest moves for this team. The Knicks gave up a few overpaid players for a former MVP to mentor the young players on the team. They only got a one year rental of Rose, but he put up some impressive numbers in that time as well.
And there are many more moves, some that make more sense than others. Some additions, including the signing of Joakim Noah and the drafting of Frank Ntilikina, were big risks that just turned out bad for New York. But all the moves the Knicks have made under Phil Jackson lead to one giant concept.
The Master Plan
If you look at all of the signings, all of the trades, all of the moves Phil Jackson made - they all point to one thing: 2019. The amount of cap space the Knicks have is incredible. The draft stock they have is also incredible. While Phil Jackson is no longer with the team, he has set them up to be very competitive in the near future.
The Knicks will have the ability to sign two players to max contracts this offseason. A few of players in this year’s free agency class are native New Yorkers, including Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris. Additionally, a few players have expressed their desire to be “the man” on a team, like Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler. Then there are the superstars in this year's class - Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard.
Not only will the Knicks be able to make a couple giant signings, but they will also have a high draft pick - which has the potential to yield an amazing player on a rookie contract. In an Eastern Conference that is up for grabs, the Knicks are in a good spot. I do not believe that Jackson did what he did perfectly. There are times that he could’ve done a better job. But, in hindsight, he was right about a lot of things. The result of what he left in New York is the amazing position that the Knicks are in to become a serious contender for years to come.
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