There's a new man in charge for the New York Knicks.
Gone are the days when James Dolan called the shots for the struggling franchise and surrounded himself with basketball minds who were going to cave to his every beck and call. In their place stands Phil Jackson, one of the true titans of the NBA.
He and his ring collection are officially coming to grace Madison Square Garden with their presence, according to both ESPN's Chris Broussard and Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears:
Of course, the new acquisition of a front office talent doesn't change the biggest question swirling around the New York organization, even if it may impact the answer—what's up with Carmelo Anthony's future?
As the Knicks have fallen out of title contention throughout the year, the inquiries revolving around 'Melo's upcoming time on the open market have only gotten more urgent. He'll undoubtedly opt out of his contract with New York to test the waters of free agency, but that in no way indicates he plans on leaving his current squad behind.
Jackson's arrival into one of the MSG offices will impact 'Melo's decision.
More Likely to Stay
'Melo may be feigning indifference to the upcoming arrival of Phil Jackson, but he'd be foolish to ignore the news completely. Nonetheless, he explicitly stated after a team practice that Jackson's hiring wouldn't have any impact on his free-agency decision, as relayed by the New York Daily News' Peter Botte:
I don’t think it’ll have any effect on me, just as far as what I’m thinking or my decision or anything like that. Like I said, I haven’t talked to Phil yet, just to get his insight on a lot of things, what’s his plan, what’s his future plan. Because everything’s in his hands now.
Throughout the season, the superstar forward has preached that he hasn't made up his mind when it comes to his inevitable foray into free agency during the 2014 offseason. Maybe he'll stay with the New York Knicks, re-signing for either a max deal or a discounted price meant to ease the rebuilding process. Maybe he'll take his talents to Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago or some other location.
He doesn't know what he'll do yet, and we certainly don't either.
But Anthony has also maintained that he's willing to hear out the Knicks management and that he's likely to stay if he looks favorably upon the long-term and short-term plans.
"At the end of the season, [that] is the time that everything has to be laid out on the table, from both parties," the scoring machine said earlier in the season, as relayed by ESPNNewYork.com. "If it's something that we can grow with, we can build on, we can compete at the highest level, then we're rolling."
Regardless of what Anthony does in terms of salary, New York has its work cut out for it in the offseason. The Knicks are completely capped out, and they won't be able to make any free-agency plays until the 2015 offseason, which makes it rather tough for them to convince 'Melo they have a successful plan.
But Jackson's presence changes that.
The Zen Master doesn't have the ability to magically give the organization a contractual "tabula rasa." He's not going to reshape the rules of the collective bargaining agreement to make the rebuilding process easier, and he's certainly not going to convince other teams to trade superstars for role players.
All he brings right now is credibility, something that hasn't been lost around the league.
"When you look at people who have been in that position before with that team and what they've done or haven't been able to do," Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw told Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post, "I'd be willing to take a chance on a guy who has had as much success as he's had to try to build something and create a buzz around there that's been missing for a long time."
Shaw both played for and coached alongside Jackson, so he's presumably a bit biased. But he still accurately summed up the general thoughts about this hire.
Previously, New York owner James Dolan was thought to scare people off. Players were hesitant to sign with the Knicks—market size be damned—because the owner was so unpredictable. Coaches knew they wouldn't have control over their team, at least not to the extent they desired.
At the root of the problem was a businessman with little basketball acumen trying to make basketball decisions while surrounding himself with yes-men and CAA influences. But no longer.
Jackson wouldn't have taken this job if he was going to be subject to Dolan's whimsical basketball fantasies decisions. He wouldn't have marginalized his talent just to give New York another headline. His collection of rings speaks for itself, and it ushers in a new level of appeal for the downtrodden franchise.
In one fell swoop, the Knicks reacquired their status as a marquee destination, both for on-court and off-court talent.
That alone should swing 'Melo's decision-making process rather significantly, even if doesn't guarantee he remains in Madison Square Garden.
Impact of the Triangle
Jackson isn't going to hesitate when it comes to making sweeping changes within the New York organization.
He'll hire people, sign players and do a bit of wheeling and dealing if he must, but he'll also implement his coaching philosophy for the on-court product. And as anyone who followed the Los Angeles Lakers of the early 2000s or the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls already knows, that means things are about to get geometric.
Yes, we're talking about the infamous triangle offense, one that preaches ball movement and making the extra pass at all times. Isolation plays will inevitably be replaced by plenty of player movement that leaves defenses scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to guard such unique sets.
And as Harvey Araton of the New York Time hints at, Jackson isn't going to wait long to make his mark:
At 68, Jackson is not likely to embark on any five-year rebuilding plans unless he is given no choice. Given his track record, and ego, he would have every reason to think that implementing the triangle would make Anthony a more selective and team-oriented scorer in the way it helped Michael Jordan shed his early-career reputation as a premier solo act.
The triangle isn't a heavily used system throughout the Association, but Jackson maintains it's not difficult for teams to learn. And it won't be if he brings in coaches who have experience either playing for or working with him.
Steve Kerr, anyone?
Araton reports that an anonymous "Jackson acolyte" claims Dennis Rodman and Kerr were the two players with the greatest understanding of the offensive philosophy, and it's not like The Worm is going to be pacing the sidelines for any team that doesn't play home games in North Korea.
Mike Woodson might as well start packing his bags, but that's a topic for another time.
Let's go out an a very sturdy limb and assume that Jackson hand picks the men he has shaping his players on a day-to-day basis, which means that the triangle will immediately be put in place. Will that help out Anthony?
In a word, absolutely.
There are plenty of benefits from such a system, so here's a brief snippet of each one:
- It will make Anthony's looks easier, put him in a position to dominate from the post and give him plenty of opportunities to earn easy points from the free-throw line.
- It lessens the need for an elite point guard, which the Knicks don't really have, because the ball moves so freely and changes hands from one player to another regardless of position.
- It helps maximize the talents of marginal players, making it easier for them to contribute with confidence.
Isn't that exactly what he should be looking for?
Not only is it a system that's proven successful when Jackson decides he has the right personnel to run it, but it's one that shores up a number of the Knicks' biggest weaknesses. If you really think about the flaws of this season, they all tend to revolve around the lack of contributions from role players and secondary scorers.
Oh, and defense, so that's a new puzzle for Phil to figure out now that he's at the helm.
It's not often that a front office figure can have such a large impact on both the present and the future of a team, but Jackson isn't an ordinary basketball mind. The streets he walks on may as well be paved with both respect and gold, and they all tend to lead toward rings.
The former coach has the ability to make the cloud of negativity swirling around Madison Square Garden vanish in a single poof, and his style and inevitable hires can make the Knicks offense even more potent, both of which should appeal to 'Melo.
Should the All-Star forward stay, which still isn't a guarantee, Jackson's presence will have an indelibly positive impact on the next chapter of his NBA career.