The New York Knicks have pulled off another one.
In the midst of what’s become one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, James Dolan and the rest of the front office have turned an army of wailing fans into hopeful supporters. How in the world did they do it?
Phil Jackson—New York’s new team president. That's how.
The Knicks are currently four games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, and the Atlanta Hawks, whom New York is chasing for that coveted final playoff spot, have won five straight. As disastrous as this season has been, the 27-40 Knicks were hopeful that a playoff berth was possible.
At this point, it’d be a miracle.
But don’t worry, everyone. Jackson, a 13-time NBA champion (as a player and coach), will simply wave a magic wand and purge NYK off all its deficiencies for years to come.
Give me a break.
Say what you will about Dolan’s basketball acumen, but the man knows how to spin a tale of hope and get fans to buy into it.
Is it a shrewd move to bring in one of the best basketball minds and accomplished legends in the history of the game? Absolutely. But to the think that the 68-year-old, who has never handled a serious front office role before, will be able to make the Knicks an instant winner is ridiculous.
You can learn a lot about basketball just by listening to Jackson talk. He’s a true professor of the craft, and has proven throughout his career that he’s a bona fide winner.
But how can he win with nothing to work with?
Between now and 2017, New York has just one cold, lonely first round draft pick (2015)—as well as a 2014 second-rounder from the Sacramento Kings.
That leaves Jackson’s influence to come in the summers of 2015 and 2016, when a laundry list of big-name free agents will be available. But there’s absolutely no guarantee that any of those guys, such as Rajon Rondo or Kevin Love, will come to the Knicks.
According to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, Carmelo Anthony is set on leaving the Big Apple when he opts to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. And if Melo is serious about wanting to win a championship, leaving town would be the wise move.
Jackson found success as a player and will go down as one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, so it’s difficult to say with certainty that he won’t thrive in the front office.
But with this team, at this time and with this owner, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Dolan, Phil will never last
On March 12, before it became clear that the former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach would accept a front office role with New York, B/R’s Howard Beck noted that Dolan has pulled off similar stunts before.
And it’s a safe bet that Jackson would not risk his reputation without getting strict assurances that he can work without interference from those same forces—and freedom from Dolan’s infamous media policies.
Donnie Walsh sought similar assurances before becoming team president in 2008. He resigned three years later, fed up with the incessant meddling by owner James L. Dolan and his advisers, including CAA (Creative Artists Agency) and the ubiquitous power broker William Wesley.
We’ve seen this show, it’s the same old song and dance. The Knicks lose, fans attack Dolan for mindless decisions (Andrea Bargnani for New York’s best three-point shooter and a first-round pick, anyone?) and then he makes a great P/R move.
This time, it’s Jackson.
“I am by no means an expert in basketball,” Dolan said when the team introduced its new President with a press conference on March 18, as per the New York Daily News. “I’m a fan, my expertise lies in managing companies and new businesses. So I think I’m a little out of my element when it comes to the team.”
The chairman of Madison Square Garden went on to say that he will “willingly and gratefully” relinquish authority to Jackson.
That sounds great, and as with the majority of marriages, there will be a honeymoon phase. But can an outspoken, straight-shooter like Jackson coexist with a meddling owner who enforces a notoriously strict media policy?
Not a chance.
Why the timing is genius
The night before any summertime pool parties of my elementary school days, I’d always do a bunch of sit-ups and push-ups, hoping to transform from a chubby little kid to LeBron James overnight.
Did that do anything? No, but it made me feel better about myself.
That’s what the Knicks’ playoff push is—it’s fruitless and will make no difference in the end, but fans will feel better about the season with the team going down swinging.
With morale up in New York, especially now that the team has put together a handful of wins after that dreadful seven-game losing streak, the timing of Jackson’s arrival couldn’t have been better.
The Knicks honored Jackson at the press conference as if he had just won an NBA title, posting enormous “Welcome home, Phil,” banners inside and outside of the Garden and then selling retro Jackson jersey t-shirts.
The whole scene screamed “See? Everything is going to be okay," which is exactly what Dolan & Co. want everyone to think.
And right now, people might believe it—it’s easy to. The Knicks, one of the most polarizing franchises in sports, bring in a basketball legend to run their team. Jackson saves the day, turns New York into a perennial contender and rides into the sunset on a noble steed.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Well, it might not sound as sweet a year or two from now when Jackson and Dolan are clashing over the media, executive decisions and/or personnel moves.
But for now, the Knicks front office, which has always been great at redirecting attention from the present towards the future, has pulled off another heist.
They’ve somehow gotten the basketball world to believe in a team that’s done nothing to warrant any type of true promise since the days of Patrick Ewing.
And in reality, the Knicks have a better shot of starting Ewing at center next season than Jackson's arrival alone taking the team to the promised land.