It’s not Derek Fisher‘s fault. It’s not Carmelo Anthony‘s fault. It’s not the other players’ fault, and it certainly isn’t the New York Knicks’ fans’ fault.
Phil Jackson, in a session with reporters Saturday, said the Knicks’ miserable season is his fault, throwing himself in front of the locomotive of crankiness and criticism over New York’s 5-34 record, 14-game losing streak and consistently feeble offensive and defensive performances. From the way he took the blame, you’d think he was the team’s president or something. Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com was on hand prior to the Knicks’ matinee game vs. Charlotte at Madison Square Garden (in which they fell behind 62-31 by halftime):
“This is a mea culpa. I take responsibility for it,” Jackson said
Jackson reiterated on Saturday that he thought the Knicks would be a playoff team this season. Instead, things have gone horribly wrong for Jackson and the Knicks.
Actually, Jackson set himself up for this when he accepted the job (and his five-year, $60 million contract) last spring. There was no way he, Red Auerbach or David Copperfield was going to wave a wand and magically transform the team’s thin talent base and bloated payroll in the span of a few months. That’s what he inherited from chairman James Dolan and the Knicks administrations that preceded Jackson’s arrival by, oh, a couple decades.
When the most successful head coach in NBA history, in one of his early acts as a team architect, doubled down on New York’s commitment to Anthony – signing him to a five-year, maximum salary contract despite ample evidence Anthony isn’t up to the task as a cornerstone, No. 1 franchise guy for a true contender – Jackson became complicit in the problems facing that club.
He didn’t help himself, either, trading away Tyson Chandler with Raymond Felton as first serious move – as far as players, after hiring Fisher as head coach – to “change the culture.” Chandler is a higher-character guy than Jackson realized, dragged down by the losing and drama in 2013-14.
Shedding J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, while waiving what came back in the three-team trade along with center Samuel Dalembert were solid moves, both for payroll flexibility and for addition-by-subtraction. But like the old joke about 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean, it’s merely a good start.
As for asking fans not to let Fisher hear the brunt of their frustration or in covering for the players’ slowness in executing his triangle offense, Jackson basically was stating the obvious. Whether “blame” was the right word or not, this all had to be – or should have been – part of Jackson’s vision. Getting worse to get better was the only viable option for the Knicks. It was unrealistic for anyone, least of all Jackson, to think that tweaking last season’s 37-45 team would get New York into contention (even in the East).
Was 5-34 in the cards? Or shutting down Anthony for a majority of the season due to his sore left knee, which remains a possibility? No one should have expected that. Playing below even the meager expectations for this group, some of that certainly is on the players and Fisher. The Knicks turn over the ball too much, get beaten on the boards too often and get to the foul line too seldom. They settle for jump shots, frequently from the wrong shooters.
But this job requires sutures and rehab, not Band-Aids. That means another offseason for draft choice, trade acquisition and (with $25 million or more in cap space) free agents. That came up Saturday too:
Jackson reiterated on Saturday that he is concerned that the team’s record will make it an unattractive destination for free agents.
“We’re all worried about the fact that money is not going to just be able to buy you necessary talent. You’re going to have to have places where people want to come and play,” said Jackson. … “But I do think that New York situation holds a high regard in players and agents that have contacted us. We have no lack of agents that have contacted us for their players. We still think that we have a really good chance to develop a team.”
Finally, in the closest thing to news in Jackson’s chin-wag with the media, he said that surgery might be an option for Anthony, who hasn’t played since New Year’s Eve in L.A. due to his aching knee:
“I think for ‘Melo the last resort is surgery, as it should be for anybody,” Jackson said. “Surgery is basically to repair and to correct. He’s got a situation that could exacerbate, could get difficult, could be better with the surgery, but he wants to really try it again and see where he’s going to be at. The next period of time we’ll assess that and we’ll sit down and talk to him about it. I know the All-Star game (at Madison Square Garden) is important for him down the road in February. I know this trip to London (for the Knicks game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan .15) will be important for him to play. He sees possibilities of helping the team get back and be better.”