Like most things related to the New York Knicks, the relationship between team president Phil Jackson and star forward Carmelo Anthony is pretty dysfunctional. The duo has waged a minor feud via the media for several months of this season, with Jackson apparently doing his best to alienate Anthony in the hope of getting him to waive his no-trade clause. Somewhat bizarre rumors regarding a Melo trade have swirled for weeks — with LeBron James calling the most prevalent one “trash” on Monday night — and the overwhelming impression has been that the 32-year-old scorer is the victim in the situation. It’s hard to feel especially confident in the Zen Master’s vision as he attempts to fix a team in need of significant repair. If anything, he’s only creating more problems.
Jackson’s most recent social media post will not inspire any more faith. On Tuesday morning, Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report published a column casting Anthony as a very good player who lacks a champion’s will to win. Here’s a representative sample:
Jackson undoubtedly overestimated his own ability—perhaps you’ve heard something lately about the no-trade clause he gifted to Melo in 2014—to kindle Anthony’s evolution from superstar to winning superstar.
Anthony is a likable person who just happens to be nothing near Jordan or Bryant in will to win. No, Jackson never thought Anthony had that fire, but he thought he could balance Anthony’s ball dominance by teaching teamwork and converting talent into a clear net positive. […]
A solid start to the 2016-17 campaign has deteriorated. Anthony is avoiding anything outside his comfort zone, bristling at criticism of his style and resisting attempts for Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek to incorporate more team ball. […]
Maybe LeBron James will be the latest to believe he can get more out of Anthony and force a Carmelo trade to Cleveland. It sure seems logical to think Anthony, especially by a longtime friend, can be sold on the idea of getting individual glory as a difference-maker for a team that goes on to take the title.
Except that goes back to others thinking he would or should want something more than he actually does.
We’re overrating Anthony’s will to win again.
There’s more there, including the oft-repeated idea that Anthony is most interested in building his personal brand and the suggestion that his lack of intensity filters down to the rest of the Knicks. Effectively, though, Ding makes the same points repeatedly — that Melo can’t be the leader of a contending team and that Jackson has exhausted all his available options in trying to make the situation work.
Anyway, here’s how Phil Jackson responded to the column:
Bleacher's Ding almost rings the bell, but I learned you don't change the spot on a leopard with Michael Graham in my CBA daze.
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) February 7, 2017
The smugness is nearly suffocating, though we’ll skip past the forced attempts at hip lingo that devolve into mixed metaphors and stick to the substance. On the most basic level, it is not clear why a team president would ever agree with a column criticizing his star player for lacking the extreme will to win of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. For one thing, few players in the history of the sport have reached that level — it’s akin to blaming a playwright for not being Shakespeare. From another perspective, such an outlook often gets proven wrong as soon as players win titles. Media members used to say the same thing about LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, and others, only to have to recant or adjust their takes beyond all recognition once they hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Any executive with a sense of history would recognize that winning a title depends on more than the will to win — the players around the star, the quality of opponents, injury luck, etc.
Jackson’s response isn’t much better if we concede he’s right about Melo. A team president still has to find a way to work with his most visible player, especially when that guy has a near-maximum contract with a no-trade clause he doesn’t seem inclined to waive. Jackson offered that deal to Anthony and should have the integrity to accept its consequences. Endlessly alienating Melo less than three years later isn’t even rational. How can Jackson exercise any leverage when negotiating a trade if he doesn’t seem to want Anthony on the team?
"Hey everybody, Carmelo doesn't care about winning….Now give me draft picks for him." — Phil Jackson.
— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) February 8, 2017
Yet it’s possible that criticizing Jackson on a tactical or historical level misses the point. The overarching impression of that tweet isn’t that he’s bad at his job, but that he’s childish, irresponsible, and just plain mean. Jackson doesn’t appear to be someone who would be fun to sit with for an hour, let alone work for. That impression reflects poorly not just on him, but those who continue to employ him. This sordid episode won’t be salvageable even if the Knicks come out of it with a beneficial trade. At some point it’s worth asking why anyone involved with the franchise thinks this is an acceptable way to act.
– – – – – – –