Why Kristaps Porzingis is unhappy with Phil Jackson and the Knicks

Adrian WojnarowskiThe Vertical
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5464/" data-ylk="slk:Kristaps Porzingis">Kristaps Porzingis</a> averaged 18.1 points and 7.2 rebounds this season for the Knicks. (AP)
Kristaps Porzingis averaged 18.1 points and 7.2 rebounds this season for the Knicks. (AP)

As the New York Knicks completed perfunctory season-ending meetings with Phil Jackson, league sources say that some players emerged perplexed over the contents of the conversations – which included game-show questions. The Knicks president sent his team into the summer in a similar state as to how they staggered through another lost season: bewilderment.

As Jackson publicly pushed for Carmelo Anthony to waive his no-trade clause and accept a move out of New York on Friday and disparaged coach Jeff Hornacek’s connectivity to the locker room, a bigger issue emerged: Kristaps Porzingis made a stand about the unprofessionalism and routine chaos that has lorded over his work environment.

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Porzingis passed on the exit interviews, as ESPN’s Ian Begley first reported, and league sources say Porzingis is planning a long trip back to Latvia that may not include a return to New York until closer to the start of training camp.

Porzingis isn’t alone. Players are privately fuming that they want no part of the organization’s summer slate of triangle offense regimen at the team’s suburban New York practice facility, league sources told The Vertical. In reality, there’s an open rebellion to the triangle – for the offense itself, and by extension, the discord and dysfunction that its implementation has burdened upon everyone.

It isn’t only Jackson’s laborious organizational emails about the triangle – demands of emphasis on schooling players on the reverse pivot move, or the proper passing techniques – but his increasing insistence on the coaching staff and players that the obsolete offense become fully functional for the 2017-18 season.

Phil Jackson’s management style hasn’t helped the Knicks. (AP)
Phil Jackson’s management style hasn’t helped the Knicks. (AP)

Inside and outside the Knicks, people see a franchise in disrepair: Jackson’s open war with Anthony, the failed trade for Derrick Rose and the $72 million contract albatross of a broken-down Joakim Noah. Players grumble of a support staff that is far more concerned about creating an illusion of hard work with management and ownership than facilitating winning, a media-relations staff that is suffocating and intrusive, and a management/coaching dynamic that’s made Hornacek look like a puppet.

Beyond moving Anthony out of town, Jackson sees the resolution of the franchise’s issues through the prism of an offense the coaches don’t want to teach and that the players don’t want to run.

“To Phil, the culture is the triangle,” a league source involved in the dynamic told The Vertical.

After his first season as Knicks coach, Hornacek is still trying to incorporate a system that is foreign to him, armed with a Jackson-installed assistant coach, Kurt Rambis, who is beyond unpopular with the players, league sources said. When players want coaching and teaching, they get yelling, sources said. Most wonder about Rambis’ allegiances, because after all, he’s Jackson’s guy, not Hornacek’s.

The Knicks will revisit Anthony trade talks closer to the NBA draft in June, but Jackson’s strategy of publicly pushing Anthony out of town has backfired. So far, it’s made Anthony want to dig in to the final two years left on his contract and outlast Jackson’s regime.

For the Knicks and Jackson, though, Porzingis’ growing disillusionment threatens the Knicks’ flimsy foundation. Two years ago, Porzingis walked into New York as an earnest, eager 7-foot-3 talent who has been relentless in his work habits and appetite for professional growth. He trusted former coach Derek Fisher and the individual instruction delivered to him, league sources said. Beyond Jackson’s anger with Fisher moving away from the triangle, there were disagreements about how to use Porzingis in the offense and about how to approach his skill development, league sources said.

After Fisher’s firing, Jackson made Rambis the interim head coach and pushed for his longtime aide to become the permanent head coach until pressure inside and outside the organization forced Jackson to abandon the plan. Jackson hired Hornacek, who had been fired in Phoenix and had no leverage to command the chance to run his own system, or dispatch Rambis from the coaching staff.

Porzingis has educated himself on how successful NBA organizations are run and knows now that the Knicks – from ownership to management to coaching – are nowhere near delivering him the platform to develop into the cornerstone of a winning team.

It is possible that Porzingis will connect with Jackson before he departs for the summer, but he appears in no rush. Porzingis has been a dutiful teammate and employee for two seasons, but the franchise’s most important player since Patrick Ewing is preparing for his third NBA season across the world – far from Phil Jackson, the triangle and the chaos of the Knicks organization.

For now, Porzingis’ message appears to be unmistakable for New York’s lost cause of an organization: You’re on the clock with me, too.

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