By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
VIDEO: The Knicks have won a season-high six straight games
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The New York Knicks’ optimists would tell you that the mere prospect of Phil Jackson joining their beloved team as the president of basketball operations has inspired a season-high six-game win streak.
Who knows? There might be something to that … the power of Zen is strong in Jackson.
In reality, the Knicks are just riding the ebb and flow of completely predictable season of unpredictability. When we assume these Knicks are ready for a dirt bath, they rise up and surprise us. And just when we’re ready to assume that they’re poised to give serious chase for that eighth and final spot (currently occupied by the Atlanta Hawks and their 3.5 game lead over the Knicks) in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, they’ll crash and burn in the coming days.
That’s why the focus in New York has to be on Phil and his first move(s) as boss of the Knicks. I know Mike Woodson has his heart and mind set on grinding to the finish and stealing that playoff spot from the Hawks. But it’s of little consequence to just about everyone else involved.
Jackson, of course, has more important matters to consider. He has Carmelo Anthony‘s future with the franchise to consider. He has Woodson’s future to consider as well. My suggestion, cut bait with one and build with the other. And I think it’s safe to assume that it’s easier to build around Anthony, something that wasn’t done strategically with this current Knicks team, than it is to mold and shape the philosophy of a proud coach like Woodson, who is a branch of the Larry Brown coaching tree.
Gauging the general mood of the Knicks, there seems to be genuine excitement about Jackson taking over. Melo called it a “power move” and lauded the Knicks for going after and landing the greatest winner the game has seen, coach or player, since Bill Russell.
“I’m a chess player. That was a power move right there. You know what I mean?” a smiling Anthony told reporters after a win over the Milwaukee Bucks. “So, now we’re going to see what’s the next move, but that was a great power move.”
Getting a buy-in from Anthony is the first order of business for Jackson. And he shouldn’t have a hard time convincing Anthony to get on board with the plan (provided there is one already mapped out), what with the $30-$34 million more the Knicks can pay him than he could stand to make in free agency.
As for future plans, this will be the most challenging endeavor in Jackson’s career. He had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen as foundation pieces in Chicago, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Finding a competent and quality supporting cast for future Hall of Famers isn’t necessarily easy to do, but it is decidedly different challenge compared to crafting a championship roster around Anthony.
Is Anthony’s Horace Grant or Brian Shaw or Rick Fox or Ron Harper already on the roster? It’s hard to tell. I could see Tyson Chandler being a player Jackson would like to keep around, but Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and some of the other current high-dollar Knicks don’t seem to be good fits. We know that second superstar is not on the Knicks’ roster right now, so that’s already a huge void that must be filled by Jackson.
Jackson’s presence, in theory, has already led to that mini-surge mentioned earlier. Anthony swears by it, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com pointed out:
“Phil knows what to do, how to build teams, and how to win,” Anthony said. “That’s the most important thing. When you know how to win — whether you’re a coach, whether you’re in the front office — that stands out.”
Anthony said all of the speculation surrounding Jackson helped the Knicks focus in recent days. New York has won a season-high six in a row, including a 115-94 rout of the Bucks earlier Saturday.
“It’s not a distraction at all,” he said. “If anything, it made us come together more as a team, as a unit, to really kind of keep that on the outside. We’re excited and happy that it got done, instead of all the speculation that’s been going on. So finally, it’s signed, sealed and delivered.”
Jackson, one of the most brilliant basketball minds of all-time, has every reason to be cautious in his approach to reshaping the Knicls. But I would suggest that he be as aggressive as possible in taking this current roster apart. This group clearly does not operate with the same chemistry and synergy that it did a year ago, albeit with seven new faces added to the mix this time around.
Woodson didn’t suddenly become a bad coach during training camp this season. And Anthony, who was lauded for his relentless work a season ago, didn’t wake up this season with selective amnesia about his role.
That said, there is a chance Jackson will want to go in a different direction in both instances. He might want one of his own in that crucial position he knows so well. Woodson, of course, is saying all the right things …
“Anytime you can get a great basketball mind that comes into your organization, I mean, it can’t do nothing but help,” Woodson said. “I mean, Phil’s been through the ringer. He’s won titles. He’s dealt with players individually. He’s dealt with players as a team. I mean, there’s probably not a lot he hasn’t seen from a basketball standpoint, so I think it’s got to be a plus.”
Woodson’s words of praise might not matter. He’s under contract next season, but there was rampant speculation before Jackson came on board that his job security was dwindling and that he might be replaced at season’s end.
Anthony is the sort of high-scoring anchor Jackson-coached teams have been built around in the past. But no one will confuse Anthony for MJ or Kobe. He’s a great scorer and an extremely hard worker but not the sort of dynamic alpha dog that Shaq or those other guys were and, in Kobe’s case, still are.
It requires an exquisitely manicured plan, but letting Anthony test the free agent waters might be just the sort of escape hatch Jackson needs to restart the Knicks in a different image.
No one knows for sure what his plans are. But it’s safe to say Phil Jackson’s first move or series of moves with the Knicks will be telling. We’ll know much more about Front Office Phil after he starts chipping away than we do now.