Bernucca: Jackson’s Resume Alone Not Nearly Enough To Fix Knicks

220px-Isiah_ThomasPhil Jackson won’t be awful as president of the New York Knicks. He certainly won’t be as bad as Isiah Thomas was in running the club. And he will almost certainly be better than David Kahn, Bryan Colangelo, Joe Dumars, Otis Smith and Geoff Petrie have been in recent years.

But Phil Jackson isn’t Isiah Thomas, or David Kahn, or Bryan Colangelo. He’s Phil Jackson, with a reputation of all things basketball that he touches turning to gold.

And that’s exactly what Knicks fans – now with three generations of folks waiting for another NBA title – will expect from Jackson.

They won’t care that Jackson and the gravitas of his 13 rings (11 as a coach; 2 as a player) aren’t actually coaching the team. They won’t care that Jackson is being given $60 million over five years to do a difficult job which usually requires some sort of apprenticeship. They won’t care that Jackson is nearly twice as old as many of the people doing the same job. They won’t care that Jackson never has negotiated a contract other than his own (with the help of his agent, Todd Musburger). They won’t care that Jackson is somewhat steadfast in his philosophies regarding on-court strategy and analytics.

They should.

They should care that Jackson’s health could impact his ability to thrive in a job that has virtually no down time. They should care that for all his success, Jackson’s coaching tree really should have many more branches. They should care that Jackson’s former team, the Lakers, didn’t have a representative at the annual Sloan Conference as recently as last year.

And most of all, they should care that Jackson’s interest in running a team is something more than an opportunistic money grab from arguably the NBA’s worst owner that eventually devolves into a power struggle played out in the tabloids, ending with accusations, depositions and settlements while disabling one of the league’s anchor franchises for another decade.

But don’t take our word for it.

Speaking on ESPN Radio, Larry Brown – whose lone blemish on a Hall of Fame career as a coach came in a disastrous season in New York – plainly said, “I don’t get it, to be honest with you.”

Here is what Knicks fans should care about once Jackson takes the reins:

AGE: Jackson turns 69 later this year. He is actually a couple of months younger than Heat overlord Pat Riley, who turns 69 on Thursday. But Riley and his glimmering track record as GM are the exception, not the rule.

Ryan McDonough GM SunsMasai Ujiri is 43. John Hollinger is 42. Sam Presti is 38. Sam Hinkie is 36. Ryan McDonough is 34. Rob Hennigan is 31. This is the new breed of GM, young hotshots who have the energy and drive to spend all of their time on the phone or poring over advanced metrics or watching tape of obscure players.

Will Jackson be able to keep up with colleagues young enough to be his grandchildren whose motors are always running? Will he be joining them at the D-League Showcase, draft camps and international tournaments, trying to uncover the next unpolished gem? Will he even be able to put aside his massive ego and become “one of the guys”?

It is entirely likely that the Knicks – with Jackson’s approval – will hire someone to do the majority of the Zen Master’s legwork. But who?

STAFF: It has already been determined that Knicks current president Steve Mills will remain with the team in some capacity. Don’t be surprised if his new job description loosely translates to “company spy,” keeping an eye on Jackson for the always meddling Dolan.

Jackson likely will hire his own people to complete his staff. Among cronies with previous experience, former Suns GM Steve Kerr has been mentioned but has said he does not want to return to management. Another option is John Paxson, who would have to be lured away from his position as Bulls VP. And Derek Fisher, who had an eventful tenure as NBPA president, may be looking for an entry-level team management slot after this season.

With all due respect to Jackson’s belief in Native American philosophy, he needs to go off the reservation and hire a thirtysomething go-getter who is entirely tapped into contemporary NBA management techniques from scouting to analytics to salary cap flexibility and is encouraged to present a dissenting view.

Two candidates who come to mind are Rockets EVP Gersson Rosas, 36, and Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren, 38.

COACH: There was already talk of Mike Woodson being shown the door at the end of this season, and Steve_KerrJackson’s arrival virtually assures it. But as we said earlier, you would think that a guy who has coached 20 years with as much success as Jackson would have a few more proteges sprinkled across the league from which to choose.

Kerr has said he is intrigued by the idea of coaching, which makes him the front-runner if Jackson wants the Knicks to run the triangle. Ironically, Kerr has less experience as a coach than fellow Jackson proteges Brian Shaw, Jim Cleamons, Kurt Rambis and even Lindsey Hunter.

It is unlikely that Jackson will dismiss both the triangle and his ego and make a glitzy hire such as George Karl, Stan Van Gundy or Lionel Hollins. A better route may be to poach a hot assistant from elsewhere such as David Fizdale or Kelvin Sampson who would operate in Jackson’s shadow – which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

ROSTER: We’ve got some bad news for Jackson. Even after Tuesday’s media conference, he won’t be president of the Knicks. Carmelo Anthony holds that title. How and when Jackson begins a full rebuild of the Knicks – which is what they need – hinges entirely on Anthony’s decisions this summer.

If Anthony opts out of his contract as planned, Jackson must address his superstar’s situation first. His powers of persuasion are well-documented, but it will be difficult to convince a 30-year-old player still looking for his first trip to the NBA Finals to stick around for another year of heavy lifting while waiting for the cavalry to arrive.

If Anthony leaves, Jackson should have the Knicks mail in the 2014-15 season and allow the combined $50 million of Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani to come off the books. He should move melochandlerIman Shumpert for a 2015 first-round pick. He should fill the holes on his roster with players on one-year deals.

That will allow Jackson to enter the 2015 offseason with two first-round picks and as much as $45 million in cap room for a free agent market that could include Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap. It’s not a title contender, but it’s a start.

This is a big  job. It can’t be done from Montana. It can’t be done on laurels. It can’t be done with outdated thinking. It can’t be done with cronies and yes-men. And it definitely can’t be done by simply touching it and expecting it to turn to gold.

TRIVIA: Who is the only coach to eliminate Phil Jackson from the playoffs more than once? Answer below.


  1. jerry25 says

    The reason PJax could succeed is that I don’t see LeBron staying with Heat when they lose this year and next (the media stories haven’t begun) and if there are viable options to start up another Super Team.

    Rondo has refused to extend with Celtics.
    Kevin Love isn’t happy with Wolves.

    I read somewhere that the salary cap could be as much as 65 million for 2015??
    True that Knicks (assuming Melo leaves), still have about 11.9 million committed for the 2015-2016 season, but it may be possible to rid much of that salary (by offering valuable assets like Hardaway and Shumpert as motivation), Knicks could have enough cap space for a Super Team.

    LeBron, Love & Rondo? If Melo stays he’d be in year 2 of his contract. Salary? Could PJax convince LeBron to take a salary cut for the future?
    LeBron, Melo and ?

    Without LeBron, the best I can see is Melo, Love and Rondo, which wouldn’t be bad.

    However, its a roll of the dice. If the FAs don’t come, Knicks could be a laughingstock for the next decade, and that is more probable than becoming a contender again.

  2. jerry25 says

    As usual, this Chris raises the level of Sheridan Hoops.

    Regarding PJax, I don’t see his task being hard. I consider this as a roll of the dice, with about a 5% chance of succeeding, and mostly by attracting free agents, and to disregard the Dolan history of Knicks. However, despite only about a 1 in 20 chance of succeeding, until July 2015 the Media and Knicks fans will be obsessed with HOPE. In that regard Dolan has already succeeded, short term.

  3. Daniel says


    I’m going to avoid what I normally do – which is lambast the columns on this site (which more often than not, they deserve), because I really respect your knowledge of the game.

    Instead I’m going to offer this: why can’t the media just let this play out and see what happens? So many journalists have had every opinion under the sun, ranging from the practical to the hair-brained, it’s almost impossible to keep up.

    And honestly, what’s with all the undermining of Knicks fans’ intelligence? We understand the game. We know this addition is no sure thing. In my opinion, the media continues to create this ill-conceived image of New York because it’s red meat for the readers in Oklahoma… and Tennessee… and any other small market city with a quality team. Why sink to that level? This site has nothing to lose by saying, “Hey, we have no idea how this is going to pan out, and neither does anybody else. The end.”

    I just don’t get it.

    • says


      I don’t think we undermine Knicks fans intelligence. I personally think they are among the most knowledgeable fans in the league, along with Boston’s. I have a biased view, because those are the arenas where I have seen the most games in my lifetime. But I do believe that there is not a blind support for the Knicks simply because they are the home town team and can do no wrong in the fans eyes, such as there is (or has been) in Orlando, OKC, San Antonio, Utah and Portland. People in OKC are drinking the Kool-Aid of an owner who is robbing them blind (third-highest average ticket price in the league) and lining his own pockets without financially competing with other contenders.

      As you know, we write a fair amount of opinion pieces here. My weekly column is a chance to give my opinion, and my opinion is that Jackson can succeed in this role, but not with the perceived arrogance (by his peers) he has shown as a coach. And you’re right; we don’t know. No one knows. But in the interweb age, no one wants to read “I don’t know.” They want to read what will happen now. I agree with you that the tidal wave of opinion – much of it kneejerk – is a bit much at times. But we do have something to lose by writing “we don’t know” and that is page views and readership in a crowded market that is already force-feeding that to NBA fans. So Sheridan and I (and others here) try not to kneejerk so much and present thought-out opinions and analysis, which I thought this one was. You may disagree and you are entitled. But I hope you will continue to read us – and continue to disagree when you do.

      Thanks for reading. CB

      • Daniel says

        As always, thanks for writing back, Chris. I appreciate it.

        I honestly just think Knicks fans have absolutely HAD IT with the media – our own local media as well as the national media and the net. The NYK bias is real, and we’ve just absolutely had enough of it. We as fans didn’t do anything to deserve the treatment we get in the media – and honestly, ownership/front office (aside from the Thomas years and the Ewing trade) hasn’t run the organization into the ground completely. If they had, there wouldn’t be anymore true blue Knicks fans (even though I know many have jumped ship). But it just seems that the national media wants exactly that – a New York Knicks franchise pounded six feet deep into the dirt. You know, I’d love to write a column about how THAT is what’s going on in hoops journalism right now!

        You mentioned a very real scenario regarding OKC, but would you ever hear a peep about that anywhere else? Never! Because as far as other media sites are concerned (and maybe even this one), Sam Presti is a boy genius (although I know you, personally, called him out on the Harden trade). To other media outlets, Durant is the second coming, and everything is amazing in OKC. But last I checked, they haven’t won a championship yet – and may never as currently constructed. But no one ever wants to write about that. God forbid!

        Everybody talks about what a genius Daryl Morey and his advanced stats are. But have the Rockets won a championship lately either? No, they have not. What have Morey’s stats given him in terms of championships? Nothing.

        And let’s not forget Memphis. Did anyone seriously rip the front office for letting Lionel Hollins go? I know the Worldwide Leader didn’t, because their boy Hollinger is calling the shots there now – with his graphs and charts.

        I mean, look – 3 teams have dominated the league the last 15 years – the Lakers, the Spurs, and the Heat. That’s it. All these teams like OKC, Memphis – even the Clippers – have MASSIVE front office and roster flaws, but no one bothers to call that out as long as Lob City brings in the oohs and ahhs, right?

        But if the Knicks even breathe the wrong way – it’s front page news! I know we’re a big media market, but what’s going on now is beyond the point of rational journalism.

        I mean, NYK fans aren’t stupid. We know we have a meddling owner. We know ownership has screwed the pooch on more than one occasion. But let me ask you, because I’d seriously love to know your opinion: has Jim Dolan really been much worse of an owner than Donald Sterling has been as steward of the Clippers? Has Dolan been worse than Robert Sarver, even?

        Every little thing the Knicks do is always prematurely criticized. I always laugh with my friends that, if you put a Knicks uniform on the Playmate of the Year, every hoops journalist would say she’s ugly. It’s getting SO out of hand. And I understand online media, I understand you guys need site hits so you can keep bringing us quality news.

        But Jesus, man… Maybe not so much yourself (or this site in particular), but journalists have got irrational axes to grind with the NYK. That’s why it disappoints me to see Sheridan taking up ranks with Isola of late. Everybody in New York knows that Isola thinks he’s the Bob Woodward of Basketball with an ego just as large as Dolan’s. He’s pissed about the media policy at MSG, so he causes trouble in the papers. But fans don’t care about the media policy! We just want to win.

        Stephen A. Smith wrote today that Knicks players fear that their lockers are being bugged! I mean, is that not the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard.

        You know, Knicks fans are happy today. Our team now has a link to its championship past – however far removed – in the front office. Oh, and it just happens to be Phil Jackson. It’s not a guarantee of anything, but would it kill the media to share in the optimism that New Yorkers have right now? In all honestly, I’ve read nothing but negativity across the entire blogosphere/online media outlets.


        • jerry25 says

          Knicks fans may be knowledgeable about watching the game and making their opinions known on talk radio, but they are also the most Delusional fans in the country. The Knicks get the most undeserved media coverage in the NBA, whether good or bad. Evidence is that the Knicks have been given equality to the Heat in National TV coverage, and way more coverage than teams like Indiana and San Antonio.

          Again, Knicks fans are overly optimistic (Delusional) and have little understanding of the CBA (nor do most of the media people who mention the Knicks).

          Even Phil Jackson said that team won’t be good next season. So all Knicks fans will have (especially when they don’t make the playoffs), is HOPE.


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