NEW YORK – The New York Knicks need fixing, and Phil Jackson is as good a candidate to make them better as anybody. With 13 NBA championship rings, he obviously knows what it takes to win. And in his 20 years of coaching the Bulls and Lakers, he’s dealt with superstars and role players, and he’s brought out the best in them.
There are plenty of questions as Jackson takes over the Knicks as team president and most of them remain unanswered after his introductory press conference at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. He did say that Carmelo Anthony is “in the future plans,” but obviously wouldn’t say much of anything regarding Mike Woodson‘s future.
It’s clear though that Jackson understands that fixing the Knicks won’t happen overnight. When asked about what it would mean to bring the Knicks another championship, he admitted that was a “long ways away.” He knows that the franchise’s biggest problem over the last several years has been a lack of patience and continuity.
Since Jeff Van Gundy left in 2001, the Knicks’ longest-tenured coach has been Mike D’Antoni, who first oversaw two years of tearing down the roster and was dismissed less than two seasons into his real tenure, which included an Amar’e Stoudemire-led squad, the Anthony trade, the addition of Tyson Chandler, the emergence of Jeremy Lin, and no continuity whatsoever.
In his playing days with the Knicks, Jackson’s coach was Red Holzman, who was on the bench for more than nine seasons (and then came back for 3 1/2 more after a hiatus). Jackson, who used the word “continuity” early in the press conference, clearly believes the Knicks played the right way back then.
“This is a franchise that developed a team back in the 60s that was consistently playing team basketball for seven, eight years,” Jackson said.
Jackson wants team players. He brought up the “there’s no I in team” cliche and the thought of “building a culture” less than 30 seconds after taking the podium. But he knows that he can’t exactly flush the roster of its J.R. Smiths right away. He sees 2015, when the Knicks will have cap space and a strong free agent class to shop, as his chance to truly make an impact on the roster.
“Next year does have a group of guys together,” Jackson said. “Steve [Mills] and I are going to work on how to manage the roster and our financials so that we can have an impact in that area. We need another solid contributor.
“We’re looking forward to it, but we’re not losing sight of the fact that we are in a game-to-game basis in this business, that we want to provide a team that’s talented, a team that people will want to come and watch, and a team that’s truly competitive.”
Mills is the general manager who was brought back to MSG (he previously worked on the business side) at the beginning of the season, and who is tasked with helping Jackson deal with some of the grind (like dealing with agents) of his new job.
“I think that we have a teamwork situation here,” Jackson said, “that’s going to be really quite swift and capable of making some important changes as we move forward. And I hope my vision will stimulate that.”
And James Dolan? Well, the owner, who reportedly meddled in the Anthony trade negotiations in 2011, said that he’s “willingly and gratefully” ceding control of basketball decisions.
“I am by no means an expert at basketball,” Dolan said. “I think I’m a little out of my element when it comes to the team. I found myself in a position where I needed to be more a part of the decision-making for a while. It wasn’t necessarily something that I wanted to do, but as the chairman of the company, I felt obligated to do. And I’m happy now that we have the team of Phil and Steve to do that. And my whole job here now is about supporting them in winning a championship. And that’s a lot easier than what I’ve had to do in the past.”
Jackson said that he “wouldn’t be here” if he didn’t have control. And by “be here,” he says that he will be moving to New York, though family and medical ties will take him back to Los Angeles periodically.
“I have to jump in with both feet,” he said. “I got to move to New York, and I got to do this job the right way.”
That doesn’t mean that he’ll traveling all over the world to scout college and international games.
“I really want to focus on NBA teams,” Jackson said. “There are players that are on benches that are going to be available, maybe not in high-price contracts, that can come in and assist and help build a team. So there are a variety of ways in which we think we can build talent.”
If he has the right staff around him, whether Jackson is at an Iowa-Wisconsin game in January probably doesn’t matter. His job is to guide the franchise in the right direction and provide the continuity and patience that the franchise needs.
“It could be a wonderful opportunity to do something that I love,” Jackson said, “and that’s be with a basketball team and hopefully create a team that loves each other, plays with each other.