By: Randy Cruz (@cruzr83)
Phil Jackson definitely had that E.F. Hutton presence yesterday morning, because when he spoke at the podium at Chase Square at MSG for his press conference, all of New York listened.
If there was ever a time that The Rock could say one of his legendary catch phrases for this historic moment, it would go, “FINALLY…Phil Jackson HAS COME BACK…Home” – and the roar from the crowd would be insurmountable.
Jackson, 68, was officially introduced to the media as the President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks – a day that most Knicks fans, whether new or old, would never have saw come to fruition.
This is the guy that went on to coach in thirteen NBA Finals, winning eleven of those (six with Chicago, five with Los Angeles) and won two championships as a player with the Knicks (’70, ’73).
This is also the same guy that coached against the Knicks in several epic playoff series as coach for the Bulls in the 90’s – including the lone series win for the Knicks against the Bulls in 1994 that went to seven games.
For the record, Phil Jackson is 22-12 all-time in the playoffs against the Knicks as head coach – I’m guessing Knicks fans can forget about every time Phil, Michael, Scottie and company defeated them in the postseason because he’s with the team now. Right? Ok, maybe not.
Arguably one of, if not, the greatest coach in American sports, Jackson automatically brings a winning mantra and pedigree to an organization that hasn’t won a championship in 41 years. The Knicks have been to the NBA Finals twice since their last title, (’94, ’99) but were defeated by the Houston Rockets in seven games and the San Antonio Spurs in five games.
After weeks of speculation of Phil Jackson coming to the organization and what role he would play since coaching was out of the question, “in charge of all basketball decisions” is what was uttered out of Jim Dolan’s mouth at the press conference that quickly resonated to Knicks fans across the world.
Dolan, who has hired many general managers, coaches and president’s of basketball operations since 2000, in the eyes of many, finally made a decision that fans are in favor of, as well as a decision that can finally turn this franchise around – and it begins with the much needed change of the culture.
“Developing a culture”, Jackson said early on in the press conference. A franchise that has only one playoff series win in the last fourteen seasons hasn’t quite had the greatest of cultures and Jackson knew that right away.
Jackson would continue to display to the masses some of the criteria he would like to change during his front office tenure: 1) Players should have security and feel supported, 2) building a team together, 3) developing the right mind set and system, 4) a health record to limit and prevent injuries and 5) believing in system basketball.
It almost felt as if Jackson was giving us the audio version of his book “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success” at the podium. He talked about things that can mean so little to others, but greatly to him in the game of basketball, such as players in today’s NBA using incorrect footwork – players making three to four steps to make a move (to him it’s too much) and passing better.
When asked about the media policy that Madison Square Garden possesses, Jackson answered candidly, “I want to have an open relationship and a good one.” He also pointed out that the media and press aspect is part of the reasons for the lack of continuity with the team and organization. “Players need a positive atmosphere”, Jackson stated as one of his many things he’s looking to implement going forward.
The question was asked about him attracting players to come to New York – given the current state of what they can and can’t do this and next season – “we have to work the bushes to get players” Jackson said. He knows the daunting task of trying to make moves with the little resources he has. Players such as Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire and Andre Bargnani are on the books until 2015 and would be very difficult to move prior to a summer from now. Can Phil work something out? It shouldn’t be counted out – but the roster that’s currently constructed could be the same roster going into next season with a few tweaks here and there.
As is pertains to the summer of 2015, Jackson acknowledged that the Knicks need another solid contributor – a scorer to help Carmelo Anthony – players that have winning experience (Rondo?) and providing the team with talented and competitive players.
If you noticed, I did put Rondo’s name there. Once 2015 comes around, some of the unrestricted free agents the Knicks can target are players like Rondo, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Brook Lopez, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Goran Dragic. Sounds like the greatest Christmas wish list right? But if the Knicks fail at landing Rondo or Love in 2015, players who Knicks fans have stated they would want, the other aforementioned players wouldn’t be a bad backup plan.
“One step at a time”, Jackson went on to say – and Knicks fans are going to have to have faith and patience in a guy that has spent his entire career winning. There’s not much the Knicks can do this off-season – tweaks at best – in order to build a playoff and contending team. He knows that, the fans know that – and being a playoff and contending team going forward starts with one player – Carmelo Anthony.
“He’s the best – if not one of the best isolation players in the league,” Jackson countered when asked about his impressions of Carmelo Anthony and if he’s someone you can center your team around. The big question this off-season is whether Anthony would resign with the Knicks and that has to be priority number one for Phil Jackson. “Carmelo is in the future plans”, Jackson said shortly after – and that statement had to make Knicks fans a little happier, a sense that their main star will not bolt the team once the summer arrives and ultimately ends his career as a member of the Knicks.
Carmelo has stated that if Phil wants him to change his game up a bit, he’ll do so. Jackson at the presser talked about where Carmelo is now and where he can go skill wise, “Carmelo still has another level he can go to”. Fans are just hoping he can go to that next level in an orange and blue uniform.
The subject of Mike Woodson’s remaining tenure as Knicks head coach will be another decision Jackson has to have an answer for. “Mike shows he’s a good coach,” Jackson stated. “We’ll have discussions with Mike after the season.”
Probably one of the brightest moments yesterday morning during the press conference was when Jim Dolan said he was “willingly and gratefully” stepping back and letting go just a bit – giving full reign to Phil as far as the basketball decisions are concerned.
Fans have been wanting to hear that for years…
“I’m no expert in basketball,” Dolan continued. “I will be supporting them and it’ll be easier to do so than in the past”.
Giving Jackson full autonomy had to be the number one thing on the list of reasons for him to come to New York – because he wouldn’t have accepted this challenge of a role if it weren’t. “Jim knew I wasn’t going to come if this didn’t happen”, Jackson told reporters when asked about finally coming here.
That has to be the single most important aspect of this hiring. Letting the basketball people take care of the basketball side of things without looking over your shoulder on whether you can sign off on it or not. Dolan was known to be involved in the basketball aspect of things – notably the Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011 when he unloaded four players and a few draft picks on a non-stop flight to Denver. Donnie Walsh had one plan, Jim Dolan had another – low and behold, Denver may end up with a lottery pick courtesy of New York if the Knicks don’t make the playoffs this season.
Phil Jackson coming to New York, being in the front office, taking over as President of Basketball Operations, is in the end a good move for the franchise. Some will criticize of course by pointing out he’s never had a front office job before – or he’s never taken over a mediocre team – or he’s never had a team without a superstar.
Does he have a fear of failure? “No, I don’t”, Jackson replied. “I look at this as an opportunity to do something I love, create a team that loves each other and plays with each other”.
We may not see the results right away – but in due time, everyone will notice the Phil Jackson era in New York – and right now, it has already brought a tunnel light of hope for the stampede of Knicks fans and supporters who have been waiting for this day to happen for so many years. We’ve seen what he did in Chicago as coach, in Los Angeles as coach – we all await to see what he does as President of the New York Knicks.
Welcome back home Phil Jackson.