The Knicks formally introduced Phil Jackson as team president this week, and both Jax and his new boss, James Dolan, have been on a press tour that makes Miley Cyrus look shy and introverted by comparison. But what have we really learned about the Knicks and their short-to-medium term future? Jamie O’Grady, Jonah Kaner and Charlie Zegers gave their take on the announcement, Dolan’s “coming out” party, and what’s next.
1) What’s your take on Jackson’s press conference? Was there anything in particular that you liked hearing? Anything have you worried?
JO: What’s NOT to like?! For the first time since Pat Riley was running the show — if we’re being honest, there was always this sense that James Dolan’s guillotine was hanging over Donnie Walsh’s ill-fated head — someone employed by the Garden managed to speak with clarity, transparency, honesty and, most importantly, confidence about the franchise. A with Jackson now in the mix, we have seen an extraordinary and unprecedented public relations tour from Dolan, highlighted by his self-admission that he isn’t the best guy to be making basketball decisions. The whole thing is surreal and nothing short of astounding. Even if you are a pessimist who points to Phil’s lack of executive experience, it is undeniable that his success at each and every level of his professional career — as player, coach, author, motivational speak, etc. — is beyond reproach. And for the historically wayward Knickerbockers, his presence can only viewed as a net positive.
JK: The biggest worry I had when the Phil Jackson rumors started was whether or not James Dolan would cede full control of basketball operations to Phil Jackson. So it goes without saying that I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Dolan would, in fact, be turning over the power, acknowledging that he’s “a little out of [his] element when it comes to the team’
CZ: Yeah, I felt the same way. Maybe Jackson isn’t an ideal candidate. He’s not a proven commodity when it comes to running a team, and he’s a little long in the tooth to be embarking on a new career. But it needed to be a big name to get Dolan to step back. I suspect Jackson will assemble a front office team the way he used to assemble a coaching staff; he’ll have some personnel genius that will be his Tex Winter.
2) What are we to make of the suddenly press-friendly Jim Dolan?
JO: As I mentioned earlier, not only has Dolan’s openness has come from out of left field, it’s been refreshing to discover that the Knicks’ owner is less caricature, more something resembling a human being. An awkward, uncomfortable human being, mind you, but it more difficult to hate the man when he reveals how much the losing has affected him personally. When you consider how much money he’s doused in gasoline and lit on fire in furtherance of making the Knicks “better,” Dolan actually manages to look like a sympathetic figure when he’s stuttering and stammering through interviews. Ultimately, the press tour won’t mean much if he can’t stay in the Garden shadows, letting Phil do his thing, but perhaps there is reason for optimism. After all, if the Dolan-Jackson marriage doesn’t work out, it’s not like Pat Riley is walking back through that door!
JK: Honestly, I think it stems from Phil Jackson. When thinking about Phil Jackson, first thing that comes to mind for myself is “culture,” and I think step one in re-branding the fans’ perception of the team has to start with the owner. I think we’ll be in for a heavy dose of interviews, painting a much more personable James Dolan, over the next few months. Change has to start at the top.
CZ: In the absence of any real, direct communication from Dolan, the writers and bloggers and hard-core fans created a profile of what we thought he’d be like… a sort of spoiled rich kid/Dr. Evil/Seinfeld’s version of George Steinbrenner. It’s remarkable how quickly that fell apart. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m willing to forget about the Isiah Thomas years or any number of dumb things he’s done. But I am willing to believe that he’s putting his trust in Jackson to run things. That, by itself, is a huge improvement.
3) Where does Steve Mills fit in all this?
JK: I don’t know. While I’d imagine Phil would prefer bringing in a GM of his choice, from what I can gather, it sounds like Steve Mills will act as a errand boy for Phil, completing all the tedious components of playing acquisition.
CZ: I suspect pretty strongly that Steve Mills will be gone as soon as a face-saving opportunity presents itself. Maybe he winds up back at the NBPA after all.
4) Do you think Jackson’s presence improves the Knicks’ chances of keeping Anthony?
JO: If there is one takeaway from all of this — for me, anyway — it is that there is now an approximately 99.9% chance that ‘Melo stays in New York. Really, what other situations are better for him than in New York? Even if you set aside the fact that he can’t get as much money or years from another team, the oft-cited Garden alternatives are no sure bet, either. Houston? Good luck sharing the ball with Harden and Dwight. Chicago? Does a perennially-injured Rose and a finally-achieving-his-full-
JK: I’m a believer that no matter what, Carmelo Anthony will be a Knick next year. It might not be the best logic, but money talks. With that said, adding Phil Jackson into the mix cannot hurt.
CZ: Jackson is telling people that Melo might be the league’s best scorer, but that he can still get better. Melo, to his credit, seems genuinely intrigued by this. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t stick around.
And Phil also seems to have the right priorities in mind for making short-term improvements to the roster. When he was asked about scouting college kids, he immediately talked about finding talent hidden on current NBA rosters and scouting the Portsmouth Invitational – typically an event that attracts second-round/undrafted free agent types. I think in the short term, we’re going to see the Knicks looking to find more low-cost Chris Copeland/Jeremy Tyler types to fill out the roster.
5) What will the Knicks look like in 2014-15? Who’s coaching the team? Who’s on the roster?
JO: It will be mostly the same cast of characters — mostly due to the Knicks’ lack of tradeable assets and/or talent — but Mike Woodson is a dead man walking. At present, New York has around a 7.5% chance of making the playoffs this season, and it’s tough to imagine Jackson sticking with Mr. Potato Head even the team qualifies for the post-season. If you listened closely during Phil’s introductory press conference, the hints were all there. He wants a team that focuses on fundamentals and works together. Those aren’t exactly hallmarks of Woodson-coached teams, historically. Though there is a significant Steve Kerr scuttlebutt, we may see Phil bring in someone not on the current radar. Regardless, the next coach is bound to be a vast improvement over the goatee-clad Woody.
JK: They might absolutely suck. They might be mediocre. I don’t think they’ll be very good, though.
I’m intrigued with the idea of Steve Kerr coaching, but there’s no way to tell. I do think we can say that Mike Woodson will not be coaching, though. He’s lost this team, I believe, and he showed severe incompetence throughout the season. Like I said before, Melo will be here, but other than that I don’t know.
CZ: The idea of going into next season with the roster more or less intact is less scary this week than it would have been about two weeks ago – seven-game win streaks will do that.
It seems clear that Jackson wants Anthony back. According to reports, he really likes Shumpert — that makes sense, big guards have always been crucial in the triangle offense. He also reportedly likes Chandler and, randomly, Cole Aldrich. I imagine he’ll at least try to move Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire over the summer – and maybe Stoudemire’s strong play down the stretch will convince someone to take a flyer on last year of his contract.
One of his biggest, most immediate challenges might be Raymond Felton, who is due back in court in early June. I wouldn’t be shocked if his legal issues take him out of the mix for 2014-15.