As a native New Yorker and lifelong Knicks fan, joyous occasions surrounding pro basketball have been scarce.
I was 11 and oblivious when they won their last NBA title. The two Finals since then left a slew of scars and bad memories. There was John Starks’ putrid 2-for-18 shooting in Game 7 against Houston (1994), and domination by San Antonio’s Twin Towers – Tim Duncan and David Robinson – in a five-game cakewalk (1999).
They haven’t advanced as far as the Eastern Conference finals since 2000 and the last three years have been particularly painful, an 80-166 record with dim prospects moving forward.
But on a schedule slightly shorter than Halley’s Comet, hope re-appeared in Gotham on Wednesday; Phil Jackson packed his rings and left.
“After careful thought and consideration, we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction,” team owner Jim Dolan said in a statement. “Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA. His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched. We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the Knicks as both a player and an executive.”
Nice try, lumping Jackson’s tenure on the championship teams with his three-year stewardship of a laughingstock. But thanking Jackson for his work as president of basketball operations is like thanking Edward Smith for skippering the Titanic.
At least not every life/game was lost. Knicks fans are adept at celebrating small victories.
It’s going to be a while before the Knicks cause ticker tape to flutter in the “Canyon of Heroes,” but Wednesday’s announcement is the next-best reason to hold a parade. Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis should serve as grand marshals, having outlasted the man who wanted them gone.
If only the move had happened sooner, like Day 1. Or before the draft.
Jackson’s obsession with his antiquated offense was a major reason New York chose 18-year-old Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick. The French point guard could develop into a fine NBA player, but an executive not hellbent on the triangle might’ve made a different choice, say, point guard Dennis Smith Jr., whom the Mavericks lapped up eagerly at No. 9.
The next head honcho ultimately might appreciate inheriting Ntilikina. Jackson’s lone strength at the helm was identifying talent overseas. He drafted Porzingis fourth overall in 2015 and the Latvian is New York’s most valuable asset. In the same draft, Jackson traded for Willy Hermangomez. The Spaniard debuted last season and earned first-team NBA All-Rookie honors.
But other than those two, maybe three, draft picks, Jackson’s reign brought only pain.
The moves were so bad, ranking them is difficult. Was the worst giving decrepit Joakim Noah a four-year, $72 million contract? How about throwing in a totally unnecessary no-trade clause when Anthony re-signed? Prefer trading Tyson Chandler in one deal and J.R. Smith plus Iman Shumpert in another, for little-to-nothing in return?
All of those are fine choices for most-boneheaded decision. But you also must consider Jackson’s first major call, hiring a coach (Derek Fisher) who didn’t have experience at any level and played the prior season. (Yes, it worked out for Jason Kidd, but he’s a Hall-of-Famer). Jackson also traded four productive players for broke-down Derrick Rose.
“I had hoped, of course, to bring another NBA championship to the Garden,” Jackson said in a statement. “As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to do that. New York fans deserve nothing less.”
Actually, we’ve gotten exactly what we deserve under the current ownership. With Dolan atop the organization, our celebrations can’t be full-throated.
After destabilizing the Knicks through a series of blunders – giving the keys to Isaiah Thomas; running off president/GM Donnie Walsh; big-footing Anthony’s trade from Denver – he hired Jackson and stepped back. Chief Triangle replaced the owner as New York’s favorite piñata, taking the wrath off Dolan.
He had a great idea but chose a terrible executive.
Jackson wasn’t cut out for the job, which required an abundance of work less glamorous than he enjoyed as coach of the Bulls and Lakers. Besides, his heart was never in it. He really longed for a role in L.A. with his now-former girlfriend, Lakers president Jeanie Buss.
The fact that she never brought His Smugness aboard as a Lakers executive should’ve been a clue. Except Dolan was blinded by an A-list hoops celebrity willing to accept $60 million over five years.
It’s not our money. But if he needed help to pay off Jackson’s last two years, there’d be no shortage of donations from Knicks fans.
We’d buy out Dolan, too, though that’s a pipe dream.
Oh well. For now, we’re just thankful this wish came true:
See you later, Phil!
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.