With training camp less than two months away, we’re examining the burning questions facing the New York Knicks.
Today’s question: How would you grade Phil Jackson so far?
When Phil Jackson took over as Knicks president in mid-March, he had the tall task of rebuilding the Knicks in his desired image of team ball, keeping Carmelo Anthony, fixing the Knicks’ salary cap and finding a new coach.
In just a few months, Jackson has already put his finger prints on the organization. To be honest, I have been somewhat surprised at how much Jackson has done in a short time already.
Let’s start with his biggest win to date as first-time team president –- keeping Melo. Sure, Jackson had the cards stacked in his favor with the ability to pay Anthony more than any other team. But Anthony could have easily left to join Derrick Rose in Chicago or Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles or Dwight Howard in Houston.
Anthony says his decision came down to the Knicks and Bulls. Chicago pulled out all the stops as Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls organization did their best to convince Anthony that the Bulls were his best chance to win a title in the near future.
But Jackson provided Anthony with enough of a plan to convince him to stay. Without a doubt, money ($124 million) played a role in keeping Anthony. But Jackson did convince Anthony to take $5 million less than the max to help a bit with the cap. His steady demeanor, calming influence and all those championship rings certainly were a factor in Anthony’s decision.
Anthony bought into Jackson’s vision and plan for the Knicks’ future. A rebuilding project that will be directed by Derek Fisher. Jackson’s second-biggest move of his tenure thus far was the hiring of Fisher.
Fisher may be unproven having never coached before. And he was Jackson’s second choice behind Steve Kerr. But after losing Kerr, Jackson got the next best option and really the only solid alternative left from his coaching tree to sell to the fan base.
Jackson absolutely needed Fisher. He wanted a coach who was molded in his image. A coach who was familiar with the intricacies of the triangle, a proven winner and someone with the type of personality to handle New York. Fisher fits the bill. And look, it’s possible that Fisher ends up being a better coach than Kerr, who also has never coached before.
Jackson will mentor Fisher and be able to establish the team-first culture he wants through the former Lakers point guard.
If these had been the only two moves Jackson had made going into the new season, the Zen Master would have had a successful summer. But he also made other moves that showed he isn’t standing pat and waiting until next summer to start changing the Knicks’ identity.
I felt the Knicks lost value in Chandler’s defense/rebounding and his expiring contract. But in order to get rid of Felton, Jackson had to do it. Also, Chandler seemed like he was ready for a fresh start elsewhere and Jackson cited chemistry as a reason for doing the deal.
Calderon will be a slight upgrade over Felton. Reason I say that is his defense certainly will be exposed on some nights. He should be a better shooter and distributor than Felton and likely a better fit in the triangle. By all accounts, Calderon is a well-liked player in the locker room so that bodes well for chemistry. But again, defensively, Calderon could struggle.
Dalembert will help replace some of the things Chandler gave the Knicks. He can rebound and block shots. His basketball IQ may not be as good as Chandler’s though. Chandler was the defensive quarterback of the team.
Larkin is the wild card in the trade. I do like Jackson getting the former first-round pick back in this deal. Even if Larkin doesn’t pan out, it is worth seeing if the speedy guard can reach his first-round potential under Fisher’s guidance. If he does, that would be a very pleasant surprise.
Jackson also was able to get the Knicks back into the draft after initially having no picks due to previous trades. He used one of his second rounders on Cleanthony Early, who could end up being a contributor. At the very least, Early provides the Knicks with some more young legs and a potential asset as Jackson wants his team to get out in transition.
The Knicks president wasn’t done wheeling and dealing. He signed center Jason Smith in free agency, providing the Knicks some much-needed height and depth inside. Smith could be a terrific fit in the triangle with his ability to hit from the outside and he can be a shot-blocker as well if he can remain healthy.
All in all, Jackson was probably busier than most would have predicted in his first few months on the job. He could have stood pat and just re-signed Anthony and hired Fisher. But he made other moves to try to improve the team for this season and retain cap flexibility.
Obviously, he has many more moves to make with next summer, which is a critical offseason for him. That is when he will truly earn his big bucks. But through the first six months on the job, Jackson deserves a B+ so far.
Question: What grade would you give Jackson so far?