Phil Jackson takes charge of the Knicks; James Dolan takes his cue to get lost
NEW YORK – When New York Knicks executives chased free agents in the summer of 2010, owner James Dolan made himself a part of the presentations. He isn't the most engaging, enchanting man, but Dolan does fancy himself a musician. So, yes, there were player and agent meetings four years ago when Dolan delivered a parting gift on the way out of the room.
"He passed out copies of his CD," said a source, who stuffed his copy of one into a bag and no longer remembers where it's gone.
It featured the melodies of JD and the Straight Shot, Dolan's corner-bar band that bought itself into the opening act on tour with the Eagles. Dolan's world revolves around the Eagles, and no one has helped meld his fantasy camp/groupie life of bad teams and super groups more gloriously than notorious ball-busting Eagles business manager Irving Azoff.
Tuesday, here was Azoff, sitting with Glenn Frey at Madison Square Garden, taking bows, in the words of Dolan, for "brokering" and "negotiating" Jackson's $60 million contract with the Knicks. It prompted Dolan to declare himself out of the business of the basketball front-office business, mumbling something about, "I am by no means an expert in basketball…"
No kidding. Phil Jackson is the shiny Garden toy, but it remains an act of negligence under Dolan's watch that the Knicks have never pursued the NBA's best front office executives. New York needs an organizational restructuring from top to bottom – from the front office and coaching staffs to public relations people – and Dolan has never been inclined to make a run at the NBA's best builders of programs.
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Someone should've informed Dolan that the NBA's best general manager, San Antonio's R.C. Buford, won Frey's celebrity golf tournament in Aspen years ago. Nevertheless, Dolan wanted star power, wanted a connection to the Knicks' championship roots, and Jackson and his 13 championships (two as a player, 11 as a coach) deliver the Garden marquee and news conference caché.
Jackson cut a commanding presence on the podium Tuesday, laying out a clear-eyed vision of the fundamental principles he expects will frame his regime. He deserves a chance to run an organization, but he'll be making a mistake should he simply surround himself with old cronies who've never had success – or even experience – in player personnel jobs.
Jackson has limitless resources to construct a front office, coaching staff and roster. Everything's on him now. Dolan won't be cramping Jackson's style in those big free-agent meetings, because it will be Jackson playing the part of Miami's Pat Riley now. Throwing his rings on the table, selling management credibility born of coaching genius.
And make no mistake: One of the most important things Jackson offered on Tuesday was a nod toward his old Chicago Bulls nemesis and GM, Jerry Krause, whom, he said, set a standard for thoroughness and legwork in the evaluation of talent. All of them mocked Krause, but no one – not Jackson, nor Michael Jordan – would've had multiple titles without him. Or maybe even one.
The NBA is a talent business, and the Knicks' most important asset, Carmelo Anthony, will welcome listening to Jackson's pitch on the future. Anthony heard part of it in the news conference when Jackson went out of his way to suggest the Knicks star's freewheeling, isolation-scoring days are done.
They're going to implement a system here – the triangle offense – and Jackson plans to pursue Steve Kerr to come coach the Knicks. Jackson had convinced Kerr to come to Seattle as his coach, league sources told Yahoo Sports, only to have those plans foiled when a purchase agreement with the Sacramento Kings fell apart.
Anthony has free-agent options, and two have risen above everything else: Chicago and Houston, sources with direct knowledge of his plans told Yahoo Sports. The Bulls have an easier path to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign Anthony, but the Rockets believe they can shed the contracts necessary to offer a third near-max deals alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources said.
"He'll give New York every option," one source with knowledge of Anthony's plans told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. "But he has options – and he's going to explore them all."
Phil Jackson had come back to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, and the bumbling, meddling owner declared himself out of the basketball business. Dolan had the Eagles and Phil Jackson together at the Garden, a hell of a day in his Richie Rich life.
Someday, Dolan declared, the Knicks would be winning by 30 points and Jackson would let him go into the game. All those scared Garden employees laughed and laughed in the back of the room, and even Jackson cracked a polite smile. Real funny and all, but James Dolan has to understand that he's out of the game for good, that this is Phil Jackson's franchise now, his principles and values and vision in the grandest Garden experiment of all.
For all Phil Jackson cares, Dolan can go sit with the vendors selling those No. 18 Phil Jackson Knicks jerseys and throw in a JD and the Straight Shot CD for free. Just stay out of Zen's way, just get lost now.