Commentary: Can Phil Jackson Make the Knicks a Winning Team?

“Zen Master” tries hand at building a winner from scratch, something he never did in L.A. and Chicago.

Posted: 03/17/2014 04:48 PM EDT
Commentary: Can Phil Jackson Make the Knicks a Winning Team?

Phil Jackson is now a New York Knick, which means he’s going to put his pristine credentials to a test they’ve never faced. Some people aren’t sure the 68-year-old “Zen Master” is up for it.

Look at it as they do: What has Jackson ever built from scratch?

During his career, he has never been tasked to build a franchise. The two he led to titles were ready-made for success. Who couldn’t have led Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to six NBA rings?

Same, too, for the Los Angeles Lakers, who already had Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal when Jackson came to “Tinseltown” and added more championship banners to the rafters inside the Staples Center.

Yet in agreeing to take over the Knicks, Jackson has a wreck of a team that’s a long way from championship-caliber. Sure, he inherits a superstar player in Carmelo Anthony, but Jackson has already expressed his doubts about ’Melo, who has proved to no one that he’s capable of taking a team to a title.

And, Jackson or no Jackson, who knows if ’Melo even wants to be in New York anymore?

Yet more troubling than ’Melo is the size of the payroll. The Knicks are in salary purgatory, so far over the league’s salary cap that Jackson might not be able to work with it. Not that money will trouble owner James Dolan, whose pockets are deeper than the Hudson River.

Dolan will let a rock star coach/GM like Jackson spend, just as Dolan let former GM Isiah Thomas spend freely. So the problem in New York will not be money; it will be talent.

The Knicks have so little of it.

For aside from ’Melo, they are a team that is old and slow. If Jackson wants to play up-tempo basketball, he will need to rework the roster, releasing or buying out the contracts of old men like Kenyon Martin, Tyson Chandler, Pablo Prigioni, Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton. They are the team’s yesteryear.

Even ’Melo might fall into the old-man category, which means he might not be worth keeping either. But if not him for the Knicks, whose name would get the star’s billing on the Madison Square Garden marquee – the knuckleheaded J.R. Smith?

Not hardly.

Those are the concerns that come with Jackson’s job, and they are enough to cause anybody restless months of sleepless nights. At his age, Jackson will need his sleep.

He will also need to work a miracle. While his won’t be in the same category as parting the Red Sea or walking on water, Jackson will have challenges that are far more taxing than he ever faced as a coach. He has much to prove as a front office executive, a former Knicks beat writer said.

“Phil may or may not know how to construct a team,” the writer said. “But how many bad GMs have we had?”

Plenty, and Jackson, the $12-million-a-year executive whose 11 NBA rings were earned with help from somebody else, might be the latest in that unending line of mediocrity. 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh

(Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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