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Phil Jackson, a baby boomer that grew up in an era that was replete with brusque bumper stickers, decided to rely on one in order to describe the miserable season that his New York Knicks are about to wrap up:
“S--- happens,” Jackson said to laughter. “That’s something that we all know. . . . And this season it did happen to us.”
The comment was made in a discussion with Knick season ticket holders and various scenemakers that rank above the Madison Square Garden hoi polloi. As he usually does, the Knicks president matched the nasty bits with his usual sense of Jackson-ese:
“This is something that I know about, something I’ve had success with, how people sublimate their game and their ego for the betterment of the goal and the good of the goal. It’s a gestalt idea.”
Of course, building a team that produces as a unit greater than the sum of its parts is tough to do when you essentially punt the season midway through, or trade a defensive-minded center in Tyson Chandler for a big man you’d eventually waive, and a point guard in Jose Calderon that seems at odds with your ball movement-heavy offense.
In the talk, Jackson talked up acquiring a Tyson Chandler-esque center as he approaches his scouting turn at the NCAA Final Four:
“I think it’s gonna be worth watching,” Jackson said. “A draft pick can move an entire organization forward.”
Notably, Jackson also admitted “a good starting point would be a guy like (former Knick) Tyson Chandler, a defensive (big man).”
When asked if he knows whom he would draft with the top pick, should the Knicks win the draft lottery, Jackson said, “I do.”
Jackson, you’ll recall, is not allowed to discuss undeclared draft prospects by name – as is the case with all NBA executives and coaches currently, regardless of what will likely be a 2015 NBA draft full of underclassmen. Jackson was reminded this (or, perhaps, as also is his custom he gave zero expletives) when he was fined by the NBA after briefly discussing Ohio State freshman D’Angelo Russell on record.
New York is 14-61 and has the NBA’s worst record. If the lottery odds hold up, the team will have the top pick in the draft. The team isn’t guaranteed the first selection, it has a three in four chance of losing it, but lottery rules make it so the Knicks can’t drop below third in the draft. Kentucky freshman Karl-Anthony Towns’ season isn’t even over yet, and he obviously hasn’t declared for this year’s draft; his length, however, defensive ability, athleticism and even ability to pass adeptly and make free throws possibly has Jackson drooling as he readies for his first real draft.
(Of course, there is always the chance that Phil could go goofy and essentially draft what could be an All-Star version of himself in Willie Cauley-Stein.)
Phil Jackson is being paid handsomely to bottom out and punt the 2014-15 NBA season, and while he should have to answer to ticket holders, he should hardly have to answer to Knicks owner James Dolan – a man who previously squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on foolishly-built Knick teams for over a decade.
With that in place, none of the questions we asked of Phil Jackson 13 months ago have been answered.
He’s right to be frank about how his initial attempts at team-building have gone, but he also has the built-in excuse of demolishing a mediocre (at best) team and the patience a proper turnaround requires. Several other NBA teams are similarly attempting to bottom out in order to start over, including Phil’s former Los Angeles Lakers, but none of those teams openly copped to playoff potential prior to the season. This delay shields Jackson from most criticism.
Most alarmingly, both the Knicks and Lakers (despite their billion dollar price tags) work with skinflint front offices while hardly acting bothered long enough to learn new information that might challenge notions they’ve had about the game for four decades. At least we have higher basketball respect for Jackson’s crew, which includes Clarence Gaines Jr. and Steve Mills, and at least Jackson will go on record – unlike his former combatant in Los Angeles, Jim Buss.
Even after potentially drafting a teenager this June, Jackson will have to start moving up the standings quickly after his season gone amiss. Different s--- has to start happening, and soon.
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