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Even when rolling with two of the game’s best players in his starting lineup, or staring down a championship defense, Phil Jackson has always stressed patience. Respecting the journey, working one breath at a time, all that crap. Jackson’s teams employ the triangle offense as a way to break down the instincts players have for better or worse developed over years, hoping to create a foundation that eventually reveals something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The New York Knicks' parts, because we’re too lazy to use another term, aren’t all that great right now. They do have a swingman in Carmelo Anthony that has the ability to lead the league in scoring, there are competent role players on this roster, and the team has playoff potential, but the group hardly reminds of, say, the 1997 Chicago Bulls in terms of executing a fluid sideline triangle scheme.
At a function designed to honor New York’s other basketball team, the Brooklyn Nets, new’ish NBA commissioner Adam Silver decided to take a relatively minor crack at Jackson’s Knicks. Last Friday, the New York Daily News relayed Silver’s quip:
“I watched the Knicks game last night,” Silver said at a Nets community event on Thursday at a City Harvest Food Rescue facility in Long Island City. “Clearly, they’re still learning the triangle,” he said with a laugh. “I still don’t understand it. But they’re learning it. But that’s what the game is all about. You have a new coach, you have a new president of basketball operations in Phil Jackson; you have a couple new players on the team.”
Rather harmless and not entirely off-base, no?
Jackson didn’t like it, though. In the hours prior to New York’s home loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, the Knicks president took on-record umbrage with Silver’s mostly-innocuous crack about the New York offense. From ESPN New York:
"I wasn't so humored by the commissioner actually jumping in on top of that, too," he said. "He doesn't need to get in on that. There's enough focus on [the] triangle. It's not anything. It's a system. It's simple basketball. Just play the game. We're over the triangle; let's get to business and play the right way."
In Jackson’s defense, it must be rather tiring to hear reporter after reporter after bloviator after talking head after blogger after commissioner weigh in on a pet offense that 29 other NBA teams use some variation of at some point. This dates back decades, as Jackson was mocked by fellow coaches in rather humorless and borderline insensitive ways even when his team boasted the top offense in the entire NBA.
Still, Phil, eight games in? Your offense kind of stinks.
The New York Knicks don’t really care much about 2014-15 – they’re looking to eliminate bad habits and turn the season into one long showcase for potential free agents, while breaking in needed offensive and defensive tenets along the way.
This is currently coming at the cost of winning, however. After Monday, the Knicks’ record stands at 2-6, and the team’s offense ranks 20th out of 30 teams. The team’s spacing has improved considerably, but too many Knicks seem unsure with their passes and decision making – the ball is sticking, and players aren’t getting lost in that sort of intangible moment that Phil Jackson wants them to embrace. The fact that the Knicks rank last in the NBA in pace is absolutely telling.
Of course, it’s early. Not yet one-tenth of the way into a season that few will remember some years down the line.
"They're still quite a ways from their execution capability as a team. And this is going to happen," Jackson said. "It's all part of the process."
"I see growth in this team, and I'm optimistic," Jackson said. "It's not always the final score; it's sometimes how you play. I think we're playing the game much better and we're getting some activity that we like to see."
Now, this was stated before Jackson’s Knicks managed only 85 points in a loss to Atlanta. New York has failed to reach 100 points so far this season, and the team’s 26th-ranked defense is even more putrid. Most Knicks coaches, even rookie coaches, would be on the back page hot seat after such a start, but Jackson stressed that neophyte sideline man Derek Fisher is “doing fine,” and that everyone truly needs to chill out.
Save for Adam Silver, ‘natch. Phil Jackson wants you to step off, son.
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