Even while they were licking the wounds wrought by losing out on Steve Kerr, many fans of the New York Knicks couldn’t help but recoil at a single, nagging thought: We don’t know how he did it, but James Dolan clearly screwed this up.
Ever since Kerr spurned the Knicks and opted instead to become the new head coach of the Golden State Warriors, the search for the smoking gun has been on.
How about a military-grade bazooka with enough black smoke billowing out to cause the next ice age?
Jim Dolan was not going to tell Phil "you can't hire Steve Kerr" but as a person involved in the talks said, "he sabotaged it."— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) May 17, 2014
Here’s what we know: According to Newsday’s Al Iannazzone, Kerr’s deal with Golden State is expected to be for five years and $25 million. The Knicks, meanwhile, were only willing to offer him four years—this, after begrudgingly upping it from three.
Kerr’s California roots also factored into the decision, a sentiment that was all too apparent in this interview with NBA.com’s David Aldridge shortly after the hire:
Phil because of what I think of him and what he's done for my career. When Phil Jackson asks you to coach the Knicks, how do you say no? I think they're going to turn it around, but going to be a big undertaking and it's going to take time. The idea of doing that 3,000 miles from home, it just didn't feel right.
So the Warriors wielded a bigger payday and an easier travel load. That’s all well and good, until you remember Dolan—who, per Forbes’ Kurt Badenhausen, once shelled out $124 million for a team that won 23 games—hasn’t exactly been the paragon of fiscal prudence.
The best part about that whole story: Larry Brown collected a $30 million paycheck just for that season.
I get not wanting to make the same mistake twice, but come on.
There have been murmurs that it was Jackson who low-balled his former player and longtime friend. Our friend Frank Isola vehemently disagrees:
Yes, Phil making $12 million per played hardball with Dolan's money, risked losing his only choice & ended up with egg on his face. Sure.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) May 17, 2014
FYI: There is no salary cap for coaches and everyone at MSG is overpaid. But it was Phil who played hardball with Steve Kerr. Sure.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) May 17, 2014
Clearly, this was Dolan’s doing. The question is: Why? Why would Dolan, who agreed during Jackson’s initial press conference to give his new president of basketball operations full autonomy over personnel decisions, renege so flagrantly and on such a franchise-altering decision?
As recently as April, CBS New York’s John Schmeelk reported that rumors of Dolan intervening in Jackson’s decisions—the most major of which was to fire head coach Mike Woodson and his staff—amounted to the media making mountains out of mole hills:
The much less exciting fact is that whenever any franchise wants to fire an employee, it goes through the owner’s office. The fact that Dolan might have made a case for Herb Williams (if he was, in fact, someone Dolan wanted Jackson to retain) before he was fired shouldn’t surprise anyone. Jackson and Dolan discussing decisions is something I still expect to happen in this new arrangement. The fact Dolan felt it important enough to try to save someone like Herb speaks more to his loyalty than anything else. The bottom line is that Herb is still out the door despite Dolan wanting him in the building is the ONLY thing that matters. Jackson did what he wanted and Dolan stepped aside.
The Kerr situation feels different. If the decision were truly up to Jackson, Kerr would’ve gotten that fifth year—no questions asked.
Perhaps Dolan expressed concern with paying $30-plus million to someone with absolutely zero bullets on his head-coaching resume.
Perhaps the Cablevision scion really is backing away from his previous intentions and is actively seeking out a more collaborative front-office relationship.
Perhaps Jackson’s attempt to reconfigure New York’s locker room into a triple-purpose Eastern-philosophy library, Mandan sweat lodge and juice bar was a Chase Bridge too far.
Perhaps you should not fact-check that last sentence.
Whether New York winds up going with Derek Fisher or Kurt Rambis or any of the other triangle denizens that have been linked to the Knicks job since Woodson’s firing, Jackson will eventually get his man.
He just didn’t think he’d have to go through another man to do it.