For a little while, things seemed so perfect. Madison Square Garden was celebrity-rich in the front and loud as hell in the back. Woody Allen’s newfound ingratiation with the team’s ownership allowed for an even better seat for the famed director of ‘Whatever Works.’ New York Knicks big man Amar’e Stoudemire got the start and was alternately hitting cutters with passes, destroying Chicago on the glass, and finishing in and out of the paint. Samuel Dalembert looked like the sort of post passer New York needed. Unheralded guard Shane Larkin was making life hell for Chicago’s Derrick Rose. New York was leading Chicago by five midway through the first quarter, and Carmelo Anthony hadn’t even gotten started yet!
As you well know, you national television viewer you, things eventually fell apart for the Knicks. Just a quarter later, Chicago would be up 15 points. During one stretch of the fourth quarter, the Bulls boasted a 33-point lead. The New York defense faltered, the triangle offense deflated, and the crowd left early. A late New York surge in garbage time allowed for a palatable 24-point loss, but even that didn’t seem like an accurate enough description.
Still, whaddya want?
Chicago is supposed to contend for a title this season. They’re not just supposed to be something that annoys, or a boot-strapper’s chic pick to somehow make it out of the East. They’re built to win it all.
New York, meanwhile, is built to act as a proving ground. Something to help Derek Fisher to get his feet wet with. Something to help Carmelo Anthony acclimate into the sideline triangle offense, and a team bent on luring free agents once 2014-15 ends. An 82-game attempt to introduce Phil Jackson’s particular lingua franca to what has been a hellhole of a franchise for too long, working in front of a fan base that deserves far better.
President Phil, the Big Bemusement, spoke briefly with reporters that chased him down before disappearing into a waiting ride following the loss. From Ian Begley at ESPN New York:
"Not ready for showtime, were we guys?" the Knicks president said to reporters before getting into the passenger seat of his SUV.
"I can't say how long it's going to take," he said.
Jackson, a 13-time NBA champion, added that he largely expected the Knicks to struggle as badly as they did on Wednesday.
"Sure did," he said.
Jackson, watching the game alongside right-hand man and former Chicago Bulls deputy architect Clarence Gaines Jr., showed no outward embarrassment or anger as their former team took it to their new employer. It was one game out of 82 in a season that absolutely no one has a handle on, and on top of that extended view the Knicks were playing without lead guard Jose Calderon, while featuring a starting frontcourt (with Stoudemire and Dalembert up front) that had yet to start together in the exhibition season.
The man who hired both Jackson and Gaines in Chicago, former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, was finally caught on record discussing his expectations for Phil Jackson, the Executive, as he works under James Dolan, the Boorish Owner.
"Phil definitely has the intellect to be a very good general manager, but it's going to depend on what Dolan lets him do," Krause said. "Phil has to scout, too, and I don't know if he can physically do that at his age . When I was the Bulls GM I did more scouting than the scouts did. I didn't have any scouts when I was hired. Phil's also going to have to work it in the draft, and he's going to need some luck there."
"Phil is one of the best brain-pickers I've ever been around. He picked Tex Winter's brain until Tex was blue in the face; they used to sit around for hours and hours talking about the triangle. Michael wasn't really for the triangle, but Phil convinced him. Michael finally got the idea, 'Holy crap, I can score easier in the triangle than out of it.' Without the triangle, Michael might've been a worn-out 30-year-old who took a ton of shots every game."
Jerry joined the rest of the chorus in pointing out that “nobody knows” if Phil can turn this team into champions. Even the best general managers can become stuck in the way of bad timing and bad luck – Krause (who decimated his Bulls to clear cap space in the hopes of sending massive contracts at free agents, only to be cut off by the NBA’s new salary limits and “maximum contracts”) knows this above all.
It’s precisely those salary limitations that could help Jackson in his efforts. It’s true that he was able to outbid other teams for Carmelo Anthony’s services last season, the benefit of being able to bid on your own free agents, but because competing teams can offer only a set amount in bidding for another team’s free agent, the lure of New York would seem to be a tipping point with all financial things being equal.
That’s the hope, at least. The continuing hope for scads of New York Knick general managers, dating back lo these many years.
Still, Chicago forward Pau Gasol took less money to become a Bull last summer, and he thinks it is “possible” his brother Marc could do the same this summer in glomming onto all of New York’s available cap space. From Zach Braziller at the New York Post:
“We’ll see what happens next year, what he decides. Hopefully he’ll have a strong year and all the options in the world, because he’s one of the top centers, interior players in the league, so any team would be fortunate to have him,” the 34-year-old Spaniard said of his younger brother, before the Bulls demolished the Knicks, 104-80, Wednesday night at the Garden. “It’s a personal decision. I talked to my brother enough about Phil that he knows what he brings to the table.
“I don’t know how much he’s involved in the team, really. He’s in an upstairs position, management position. He’s not on the court every day, so it’s something that [his brother will] consider when he gets to that point.”
The player option for J.R. Smith (he may opt-out in order to take on a much larger contract, and Jackson may let him) and impending restricted free agency for Iman Shumpert (who struggled on both ends on Wednesday) will have to be dealt with, but the Knicks will have Gasol-sized cap space this summer. And Marc Gasol is Jackson’s picture perfect center for the triangle offense, to say nothing of his defensive gifts.
That triangle did not look all that great in Game 1, but that’s usually how these things work. The spacing was good, but the ball stuck to players’ hands as they seemed uneasy about initiating movement and letting loose of their instincts. It’s a work in progress, no matter the talent involved.
“Not ready for showtime” is the perfect malapropism for a man in Phil Jackson that spent the 1970s in New York City, and the last 15 years near the waves of Malibu. On Wednesday, these Knicks weren’t even ready for basic cable, but that’s just how it’s going to have to be for a little while.
They’ll play LeBron on Thursday.
- - - - - - -