What do you get for the man that has everything? An NBA Championship. What do you get the man who has 12 rings? A championship in a title-starved basketball metropolis. Phil Jackson and James Dolan's legacies are now intertwined.
This is the circle of life for NBA powerbrokers. First you play, then you coach and if you exhibit the necessary gravitas booming orders to coalesce 12 individual egos over the roar of 20,000 fans on the sidelines of NBA arenas successfully, the glow of the executive office awaits you in your coaching afterlife. Pat Riley, Red Auerbach, Jerry West and Larry Bird occupy the executive Mount Rushmore office. Danny Ainge may one day get his face chiseled onto the mountainside if he completes the Boston Celtics’ complete makeover.
The bright lights of New York City is inverse to the dim prospects of the New York Knicks future. Knicks fans newest hope is that Jackson’s halo brightens the Dark Ages plaguing Madison Square Garden.
Jackson faces his most challenging task yet in New York City. For the first time in his illustrious career, the 68-year-old, 11-time champion as a coach will be confronted with the challenge of flipping a perennial loser into a champion. Much of his career, the only criticisms of Jackson could be that he coached the three most dominant players of the past two generations.
Carmelo Anthony is a scoring glutton, but he doesn’t have that Midas Touch to lift his teammates into a higher echelon. When Carmelo Anthony manipulated his way to New York three years ago, the native New Yorker was cited as the franchise savior. As Anthony prepares to ease his way out, Jackson is wiggling into the picture as the next in line to restore the Mecca’s basketball aura. Jackson is more Darth Vader to Anthony’s Anakin.
Ironically, the most likely alternative for Anthony’s future is that he ditches the Knicks for Jackson’s original coaching stomping grounds in Chicago. The Bulls are the antithesis of the Knicks. They're gritty, blue collar and the names on the jerseys matter as little as the effort on the floor. The Knicks seem a obsessed with Q-scores and Madison Avenue endorsement opportunities than they are with final scores. They've also got a X's and O's savant in Tom Thibodeau.
Jackson is the double rainbow Dolan has been chasing for years. If my admittedly sparse knowledge of Irish mythological is accurate, then a pot of gold awaits at the culmination of their journey. Dolan’s newest get c’hip quick scheme has great intentions and may pan out, but it’s a familiar archetype.
The Knicks have become a franchise that sacrifices the present for the future. That philosophy doesn’t appear like it will be changing. The goal in 2014 is to re-sign Carmelo Anthony and target Kevin Love in 2015. Nevermind that the pair reek of an incompatible pair that eats up cap space preventing them from filling out the supporting cast.
The Miami Heat are an anomaly that benefitted from the friendship of three NBA players who germinated in the same draft class. Constantly retooling your roster in pursuit of corralling superstars to fill out your empty cupboard is a Ponzi Scheme. Without LeBron James or a superstar with a similar cache, it doesn’t work. Just peep the top seeds in both the East and the West besides the South Beach Superfriends.
San Antonio drafted Tim Duncan, then selected Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili after the 28th pick in the NBA Draft. They’re able to afford their three because Duncan sacrificed millions to keep the Spurs from going into the red paying the luxury tax. They’ve also invested in players that specifically fit into the scheme their Hall of Fame coach implements thanks to the synergy between RC Buford and Gregg Popovich.
Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti is one of the most brilliant talent evaluators in the entire league. Three years in a row, Presti reeled in perennial All-Stars in the lottery. But first they had to face plant before they could soar above the West. If the Knicks suppress their egos and stop doling out money that Dolan prints in his basement to every All-Star at the end of his rope (see: Vin Baker, Jerome James, Stephon Marbury, Amar’e Stoudemire), they can go the free agency and draft route.
Neil Olshey’s hiring by Donald Sterling in 2010 eventually lead to the machinations of a trade that dropped Chris Paul into the lineup for L.A.’s B-list franchise.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is considered one of the early advanced analytics practitioners to control an NBA front office. Last summer, Morey finally caved in a bit by combining his math with NBA reality after standing with a fishing net underneath James Harden and Dwight Howard. However, the Rockets’ compilation of three-point shooters lining the perimeter is by design. Check his D-League
The Pacers strategically paired Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert with Frank Vogel’s defensive teachings. They just didn’t realize their ascension would occur so quickly.
The Old Testament says it took God six days to create the Earth. Dolan can’t expect the Zen Master to terraform the Knicks toxic atmosphere, lack of draft picks and cap situation overnight. Fortunately, the most recent CBA shortened the length of contracts teams trapped themselves under which is what differentiates this from Donnie Walsh’s reconstruction project leading up to the 2010 free agency bonanza.
We can only presume that Jackson will attempt to transform the Knicks to fit his image. Anthony shouldn’t be a part of that makeover if he wants to spend his prime competing for a championship. Rock bottom can be a blessing in disguise.
This could be the Knicks chance to start over and follow a blueprint that doesn’t mimic 2 Chainz strip club tipping strategy. Knickerbegging on the 3-train to free agents is a faulty long-term plan.
However, Jackson’s hiring is emblematic of the Knicks missteps. Another gray-haired hoops legend in a league that’s begun incorporating analytical trends and energetic young front offices is relying on name brands instead of fit and actual value
If Jackson were coaching, I’d have a different perspective on his addition to the Knicks. But he’s not. He’ll barely even be touch ground in New York. Reportedly, as part of his agreement, this will be a gig that enables him to spend most of his time in Los Angeles and Montana. It’s a stark difference from Pat Riley’s presence hovering over Eric Spoelstra in the stands on a nightly basis.
Unfortunately, it’s foolhardy to just slap a name on the marquee. It’s also not in the Knicks DNA to entrust their franchise with a young, energetic exec like ESPN’S Tom Penn, Toronto’s Masai Ujiri or Indiana’s Kevin Pritchard. Instead, they recycle Dolan’s sloppy seconds, country club members or family and latch onto any name that will restore stockholderrrr…. Fan faith in the faltering franchise’s fortunes.
The Timberwolves went the risky sportswriter route before by hiring with David Kahn. Why not make a splash and throw a few bands in Zach Lowe or Grantland Editor In Chief Bill Simmons’ direction? Simmons probably has an anthology of Dolan jokes waiting to be published, but he’s got aspirations of following John Hollinger into the NBA's sweltering hot stove. Best part of the job, is that he'd be allowed to remain in Los Angeles. Simmons is a congregant of the Boston Celtics church of champions, but Dolan needs a team of rivals who'll tell things to him straight, not a country club.