Above: Phil Jackson at the Ceremony Honoring Los Angeles Lakers Owner Jerry Buss with the 2,323rd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Image by s_bukley / Shutterstock.com
Can the Zen Master Save the Knicks? On Tuesday, March 18, 2014, Phil Jackson was officially announced as the President of the New York Knicks, after agreeing to a US$60m contract for four years. The Hall of Famer has won 11 NBA titles as a coach for the Bulls and the Lakers. He also got another one as a player with New York, in the historic 1973 NBA Finals. That was the last time the Knicks won a title.
Legends like Bernard King and Patrick Ewing have shone under the Madison Square Garden lights, yet they haven’t been able to bring that elusive championship to the city. In spite of always having one of the highest payrolls in the league, the Knicks have been committed to mediocrity for far too long. They’ve barely made the playoffs in the last decade, and some of their off-court issues have brought nothing but drama and dysfunction to one of the most historic franchises of the NBA.
Most people tend to put a lot of the responsibility on owner James Dolan, whose repeated poor management decisions have made the Knicks simply embarrassing to watch. At Tuesday’s press conference, though, Dolan went out of his way to point out that he’s stepping out as a front office executive, and Jackson will be calling all the shots. Real autonomy, I would assume, was a key element for Phil to sign with the Knicks.
The idea of developing a culture was the reason that brought him to New York. This is something the team has been missing for a long time, and although they have some bad contracts on the books already, Jackson brings the championship pedigree that might actually be appealing to the big crop of free agents that will be available the next couple of summers.
The Zen Master is known for handpicking his personnel to fit his very specific style of play. Steve Kerr has been rumored to be the main candidate for the coaching job. Kerr, a member of five NBA titles himself, has some experience as a General Manager in Phoenix and is currently an analyst for TNT. He’s an excellent communicator with a high basketball IQ, who also happens to be very familiar with the Triangle Offense, after playing for Jackson in Chicago; not to mention his valuable experience under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio.
There’s understandable skepticism about Jackson, considering this is a brand new position and he has no executive experience, but just his presence alone gives the Knicks’ front office a proven winner that might help recruit the talent they need to finally be a contender. In the more immediate future, it’s a huge step towards resigning Carmelo Anthony and trying to sell their superstar player on the man who led Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to all of their titles.
I would certainly like Phil to have a better farewell than his last early-playoff exit with the Lakers. Kerr seems like a sound choice to run the team. If the Zen Master can keep ‘Melo, convince another superstar to go to New York, and manage to lure savvy veterans to be a part of a bigger thing, this team may actually start competing as their payroll suggests they should.
This will be no easy task, as the franchise is in need of a complete organizational restructure; but if you’re a Knicks fan, the future certainly looks much brighter than it did a couple of weeks ago. Sure, they might not make the playoffs this season, but as New York fans have been reluctantly aware of for four long decades: There’s always next year.