Knicks Bring In Phil to Turn It Around


Phil-Jackson-pointingHe’s as smart as the Kennedys and Albert Einstein, the master of Zen and an NBA coaching legend, an architect of dynasties and a brilliant basketball mind for his fine work as the most successful coach in NBA history. Phil Jackson, winner of 11 titles, has a priceless collection of rings, more than Cleopatra, and a room the size of a museum with a glittering trophy cabinet. He won six with the Bulls and five more with the Lakers, more than any coach in the history of the NBA.

He was a laid-back, New York hippie in the 70s, and won two NBA championships as a player. He moved to the Windy City in the early 90s, where he transformed the Chicago Bulls from an unrecognized team to one of the most dominant franchises in the history of American sports, winning six championships and sharing indelible memories with the all-time great, Michael Jordan. Then, in 1999, he took over Jerry Buss’ storied franchise, and given the Jordan dynasty with the Bulls, the Buss family and GM Jerry West knew exactly what they were getting when the organization decided to hire Phil as the next head coach.

But now it’s a new day in New York, fortunately for the Knicks fans that are happy and excited that Jackson will arrive at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue in New York City to join the Knicks’ front office and oversee the franchise. It’s going to be a heavy task turning around the Knicks’ dysfunctional culture and successfully revitalizing one of NBA’s illustrious franchises. This is a risky move to bring the 68-year-old into the front office, given that Jackson has zero experience as an NBA executive, and as the floundering Knicks have disintegrated in a mediocre season, he faces the most daunting challenge.

If there’s one man who can unquestionably put a winning product on the floor, rather than bringing in someone else who doesn’t have an NBA resume at all — it’s Phil. He certainly thinks so, too, leaving his seaside Playa del Rey home in the suburbs of L.A. to preside over the Knicks in the big city. Jackson is leaving his fiancée, Jeanie Buss, back home in Los Angeles to make his new home in Manhattan. He is not accepting an executive job to fail. He is taking on a new role in his luminous career, believing he can successfully run the Knicks. But it won’t happen this season, or even next season. It won’t happen the season after next either, but it will eventually happen. I have confidence in Jackson. Give it time, have patience and have faith in him.

nba_pjackson77_800This was the wisest move by owner James Dolan since he took over in 2001, and it was also worth a gamble. It’s a move that will appease one of the wealthiest franchises in a big market, with petulant fans that are no longer patient. So now, Phil is expected to break the bank at $60 million from a moronic businessman who committed franchise suicide in the course of a miserable tenure. It’s been pretty woeful for Dolan, the sort of nightmare that has derailed this organization. It’s a calamity at MSG these days when the Knicks have failed to make the playoffs in nine of the last 13 seasons. It’s a tragicomedy in the Big Apple these days for a team that has gone through seven head coaches and five different general managers in last decade.

All of which it pushed Dolan to aggressively pursue Jackson and sign him to a deal he couldn’t refuse, going back to a city where he’s enjoyed triumph as an NBA player. There’s no reason to doubt Jackson in his role as team president, when he’s an influential leader and when his Zen philosophies, intellect and wisdom make him an ideal fit for the Knicks. I don’t care that he’s never ran a front office. Because, in all, he’s back in New York to clean it up, bring stability and meet the demands of a difficult task.

The Knicks will get back to the top in the Eastern Conference. Now that he’s the Knicks new president of basketball operations, hoping to lead New York to at least one championship, Jackson can see how much of a train wreck the Knicks are — willing to embark on his new adventure with the toughest gig in pro basketball. So now, despite the Knicks salary-cap problems, Jackson has a heavy workload and will have to start making instant changes for New York to have a chance of becoming a playoff contender.

The real question isn’t whether Jackson can breathe life back into Madison Square Garden — the Knicks will make the playoffs in his regime. The question is whether he can keep Carmelo Anthony in Gotham after the 2014 season. Not to mention that the Knicks will be handcuffed financially because of the team’s salary-cap issues. But Anthony said he’d be willing to take less money to help the Knicks retain cap flexibility, so they can sign attractive free agents this summer. More telling than anything, though, is that he can re-sign with the Knicks to a max contract worth $129 million over five years.

The Knicks aren’t even close within striking distance of a deep playoff run. Maybe they have a shot at winning, and if they do, you better credit Jackson for getting it done. Jackson’s plan is to rebuild a winner around Anthony with additional big-time free agents. He brings something Isiah Thomas couldn’t during his tumultuous run with the franchise, and that’s transparency and a set of blueprints. That’s what Phil’s hiring is all about. It’s about prosperity, restoration and winning. It’s now time to hand Jackson the keys to a hapless Knicks organization in desperate need of a complete overhaul. The Knicks are in the process of trying to rebuild a serious playoff contender, and Jackson, in spite of critics arguing that he’s never worked in the front office, is an instrumental part of the team’s psyche.

There’s not much concern at the moment about Jackson’s health, and it appears Dolan couldn’t pass up hiring Jackson. It’s believed that Jackson walked away from the Lakers in 2011, mainly because of health concerns and a sense that the team was clearly in decline. He’s philosophical, articulate and a master at congregating talent with the ability to get individual athletes to gel into cohesive units, but a history of health issues raise concerns.

The Knicks, however, now have a well-respected leader who can build an empire in New York, in due time, and Dolan can sit back and watch Jackson work his magic. The bad thing is, Dolan has a penchant for being heavily involved in the personnel decisions. Dolan is investing millions in a guy who he obviously counts on. Having said that, he needs to give Jackson complete control. It is Dolan, the most hated team owner in New York, who has mismanaged his own franchise, but now he is looking for answers and believes Jackson is a quick fix. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with. It seems he has the desire and energy for a massive rebuilding project.

Now in a time when the team is woefully damaged and when Phil is running the show, Mike Woodson could be on his way out after three seasons as the coach. So here comes Jackson, actually willing to live and work in New York. He’s required to plan meticulously and, most notably, work out a deal this summer to keep Anthony. He will have to typically attend games to scout the potential and talent of players. It’s going to be tough to attract the kind of talent the Knicks are seeking, to hopefully build something sustainable. He’s responsible for navigating the team’s complex salary-cap problems, and for getting rid of bloated contracts off the roster. If he decides to fire Woodson, which he probably will, he’ll need to conduct a coaching search diligently.

So Jackson, who, of course, has stepped into unfamiliar territory, is faced with the hardest challenge of his career. The Jackson hiring was a good move for the Knicks, and now, it’s just a matter of Phil succeeding in his new role. He inherited Jordan and Scottie Pippen when he arrived to Chicago. When he made his next stop in L.A., he already had Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. So now, he’s focused on brilliantly providing the Knicks with a group of talented players. He has full autonomy running the team, with the willingness to excel and finally prove he can tack together a roster.

Phil can turn it around in New York.

He’s the one man who can restore an inferior Knicks team.

Previous articleTight End or Receiver? Whatever He Is, Jimmy Graham Wants Top Dollar
Next articleLouisville’s Poor Seeding Doesn’t Take the Fun Out of March
Jonathan Mathis as known as The Sports Judge is the founder of SoCalChronicle. He is a professional Sports writer, contributor, Youtuber, podcaster @ ASAP Network, and co-host of Gonzo & The Judge Sports Talk. Follow the [email protected]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here