Much like a college basketball team getting its first loss out of the way before the NCAA tournament hits, perhaps it is best New York Knicks owner James Dolan and president Phil Jackson had their first disagreement about something as relatively benign as the firing of unnamed staff this month. Just a chance to reiterate just who is who in this relationship, before it comes time to start arguing about coaches, general managers, players or disclosures with the media.
That’s the report from Frank Isola at the New York Daily News, who revealed Dolan got in the way of Jackson firing several members of the Knicks staff, citing loyalty as the reason. What role this staff did or will play with the Knicks wasn’t listed, but we do know Jackson and Dolan have already just about signed off on the fact that, no, Phil really isn’t completely in charge here.
Just one month into his role as Knicks president, Jackson has already clashed with Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, over personnel decisions, the Daily News has learned. According to a team source, Jackson is looking to remove several staff members, which is commonplace when a new administration takes over, but Dolan opposes removing certain employees.
According to the source, Dolan’s reaction to Jackson’s request was to tell the 11-time NBA championship coach to simply focus his attention on building a winning team. To say that “minor friction,” as one Garden source called it, can be classified as Jackson’s honeymoon with Dolan being over may be stretching it a bit.
But at the very least it proves that Dolan — surprise, surprise wasn’t being entirely truthful last month when he claimed he was “willingly and gratefully” giving up control of the basketball decisions to Jackson, the Hall of Fame coach.
The semantics behind the clash are simple. Dolan is allowed to point to his role as head of business operations at Madison Square Garden, and claim that certain staff members fall under his jurisdiction, rather than Jackson’s basketball umbrella. And in many ways, for once, Dolan may come off as the sympathetic figure – protecting the jobs of however many staff members in response to Jackson’s first month pangs in a new gig, looking to clear house without regard to MSG history.
Of course, MSG doesn’t have all that much history worth beaming over, and Dolan reportedly is the same man who harangued a security guard into a temporary loss of a job, just because she didn’t recognize her top boss.
Jackson met with the media on Wednesday to discuss his new team, one that is in flux following the firing of head coach Mike Woodson on Monday, to refocus the media and fans’ attention on chewier topics – finding a coach, and the potential re-signing of star forward Carmelo Anthony.
Much in the same way Jackson used to plant a seed in the referees’ brains between playoff games, angling for future calls, the new Knicks prez brought up the potential for Anthony to accept less in New York to help the team better build a winner around him. Anthony is on record as saying that he cares more about winning than he does money with his next deal, so Jackson smartly made a point to call Carmelo on his bluff. From the New York Times:
“Yeah, sure,” he said to a question about whether he hoped Anthony would take less than the roughly $130 million Anthony could make, thus providing the Knicks greater flexibility under the salary cap.
During the season, which ended last week with the Knicks out of the playoffs for the first time in four years, Anthony said that he would be amenable to earning less to help upgrade the roster.
But Jackson indicated that the reduced rate was now his expectation. In a 24-minute discussion with reporters at the team’s practice facility, he said: “You’ve got to have people making sacrifices, financially, so we hope Carmelo is true to his word and will understand what it’s going to take. And we’ll present that to him at that time.”
Phil went on to say the "precedent" has been set by players in Miami and San Antonio for taking less, although distinctions should be made here: Tim Duncan took less in San Antonio to help his front office maintain its roster, but he’s nearing retirement age. And while LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade took less to help the Heat create some semblance of depth around them, it wasn’t a huge potential pay cut.
Anthony could choose to take less from New York this summer to aid in the team’s rebuilding efforts, he could sign a five-year and nearly $130 million deal this summer with the Knicks, he could merely opt in to the last year of his contract at $23.3 million to see what his options are in 2015, or he could hope teams in Chicago and Houston could finagle their way round the salary cap enough to create either sign-and-trade options or outright free-agent offers that somehow approximated the maximum money he could make on the free-agent market.
This isn’t a Dwight Howard situation, though. There isn’t a championship-contender out there with enough money under the cap to offer a max deal. With the Knicks ways away from winning much, and teams in Los Angeles and Dallas no sure championship thing, Anthony truly is going to have to choose between winning and money. Jackson is hoping to convince him that he can have his cake and eat it too in the Big Apple. From the Times:
“I’m all about moving forward,” he said, pointedly. “Just deal with what is and move forward. If it’s in the cards, man, are we fortunate. If it’s not in the cards, man, are we fortunate. We’re going forward, anyway.”
Anthony is in his prime, and though he’s been accused of inefficient or, at worst, selfish play in his past, most ardent triangle offense observers agree Carmelo would be fantastic in Phil Jackson’s preferred offense.
Who is going to lead that offense, though? Steve Kerr admitted on Sirius XM radio on Monday that he “anticipates” hearing from Jackson sometime this week about the job, and Kerr was the only coaching candidate Jackson discussed by name while discussing his team’s future with reporters on Wednesday. From Newsday:
"I know philosophically we have a strong connection," Jackson said. "Whether he's able to take a job like this, I don't know. I'll get in the conversation with him later on this month and talk to him about it, and see where he's at as far as his desire to coach, and come out in this direction."
Kerr would be leaving a cushy gig that he’s quite good at – basketball analyst for Turner Sports – in order to take on his first-ever coaching job in the toughest media market in the league for a team with few initial draft and salary-cap options, an entire continent away from where his family lives. This is why Kerr’s ascension to the throne is no sure thing.
And it’s also why Ron Harper, who started ahead of Kerr in Chicago and played on five championship teams for Jackson, is also expecting a call of some sort, for whatever role. From the New York Post:
“I would expect so,” Harper said of interviewing for a coaching job. “A few guys are expecting to hear from him. We’re in a wait-and-see mode. Whatever he needs me to do, I will do. He knows that.”
Harper, who lives in Wayne, N.J., works part-time for the NBA doing overseas camps and also helps run a basketball program called Overtime Sports in New Jersey. He was a Pistons assistant coach under Flip Saunders for two seasons in the mid-2000s after playing 15 seasons in the NBA. But he hasn’t been an NBA coach since 2007.
“One thing Phil wants to do is teach what he knows and teach the triangle,” Harper said. “I know it like the back of my hand, inside out, and he knows I love the game.”
Harper initially struggled with the offense in his first season with the team in 1994-95, but he acclimated soon after and excelled to a point where Jackson began starting the longtime shooting guard at point guard on his championship Bulls squads. And when Phil took over in Los Angeles, he immediately moved to sign Harper to start alongside Kobe Bryant with the Lakers.
And, look! We just spent hundreds of words discussing everything but the report that Phil Jackson and James Dolan butted heads on behind-the-scenes personnel matters! Nicely done, gents.
Jackson did not dismiss the report, saying: “I like to know that the people who are here want to buy in and they want to be part of it and throw their entire being into what we’re trying to do. If they have a brand or stamp on them that puts them as Phil Jackson’s guy or whatever, that’s not important. It’s important that we join forces and minds and work together.”
Jackson not only cleared out the Lakers coaching staff when he took over in 1999, he pushed to reassign several longtime assistant coaches and scouts, and brought over significant members of his former Chicago Bulls medical staff to also throw his brand around a bit. His influence was so prominent out of the gate that then-general manager Jerry West left the only team he’d ever known after nearly four decades and yet another championship in 2000. This is how Phil works. If he doesn’t like your aura, you’re off the bus. Sometimes literally.
Perhaps this is why he’s found a kinship with James Dolan.
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