It wasn't long ago that New York Knicks owner James Dolan stood before a sea of reporters and cameras and granted Phil Jackson complete control of the organization with a smile on his face and sincerity in his voice.
And fingers crossed behind his back.
UPDATE: Wednesday, April 23, at 11:30 a.m. ET by Dan Favale
Untrue to Dolan's typical form, Jackson says the Knicks owner has actually been true to his word, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley:
On the report that he has clashed with #Knicks owner James Dolan, Jackson says Dolan has been "loyal" to promise of giving him autonomy.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) April 23, 2014
Situations such as these are complicated. Normally, we should be skeptical of what's actually coming out of the Knicks' camp, but this is Jackson we're talking about. If there was ever anyone in the Knicks' employ who wouldn't protect Dolan, it's him. So, this is good news.
Barely a month into Jackson's Knicks tenure, the New York Daily News' Frank Isola says the team president is already butting heads with the notoriously meddlesome and self-destructive Dolan:
Phil Jackson's formidable task of rebuilding the Knicks and establishing a professional, winning culture at Madison Square Garden has already hit a familiar roadblock: James Dolan.
Just one month into his role as Knicks president, Jackson has already clashed with Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, over personnel decisions, the Daily News has learned. According to a team source, Jackson is looking to remove several staff members, which is commonplace when a new administration takes over, but Dolan opposes removing certain employees.
According to the source, Dolan’s reaction to Jackson’s request was to tell the 11-time NBA championship coach to simply focus his attention on building a winning team. To say that “minor friction,” as one Garden source called it, can be classified as Jackson’s honeymoon with Dolan being over may be stretching it a bit.
Dolan has been making a mockery of the Knicks for years, interfering whenever and wherever he sees fit, turning them into a slapstick franchise that is both funny and sad. The Zen Master's arrival was supposed to change everything. Suffering through a season like this past one was a wake-up call.
Once crawling with promise, the Knicks' 2013-14 campaign quickly turned ugly, lacking the championship purpose so many—Dolan included, per Begley—thought they would have. Not even the despotic owner could ignore their abrupt and unexpected demise. It was enough for him to loosen his ironclad grasp, to relinquish control.
Dolan says Phil Jackson has full power. If Jackson wanted to let Carmelo walk, Dolan says "It's his decision, that's my agreement with him."— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) March 18, 2014
Few will doubt the validity of Isola's report. Clashing with the franchise's self-coined savior is so Dolan, a counterproductive act that's become all too familiar over the years.
To be sure, the significance of Jackson and Dolan's lover's spat could indeed be overblown. Or it could be exactly what we think it is.
As Isola explains, this could all be nothing, or it could be something so ridiculous it hurts:
Dolan’s interest in keeping certain employees could be something as innocent as wanting to remain loyal to workers with whom he has grown close. The more plausible theory is that Dolan doesn’t want to fully cede control of the team and that certain employees who serve as pseudo organizational spies are too valuable to lose.
Let's go with something so ridiculous it hurts—it burns.
Understandably, Dolan may not want to sever ties with all his employees, be it because he fears ceding all of his control, or because he's genuinely loyal. But that doesn't matter.
Bringing in someone like Jackson doesn't make any sense if you're going to curb his power. The Knicks' once good name is now stained with disappointment and failure. If Jackson wants to clean house, let him.
For this marriage to work, Dolan will have to get out of Jackson's way. Better yet, he must get out of his own way.
Will Jackson ever have full control of the Knicks while working under Dolan?
Trust that Jackson can successfully rebuild the Knicks on his terms. Allow him to fire, hire and trade whoever he wants to.
This is why Dolan is paying him, after all: To do everything humanly and Jackson-ly possible to fix New York's expensive, deeply dyed disaster. If he's not prepared to offer Jackson complete autonomy, this relationship will fail, just as it did with Glen Grunwald and Donnie Walsh.
"I am by no means an expert in basketball," Dolan admitted at Jackson's introductory press conference, per ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi.
No, he's just someone apparently making life difficult for and lying to the people who are.