Commentary: Phil Jackson Isn’t a Genius With Knicks Yet

Phil Jackson

Commentary: Phil Jackson Isn’t a Genius With Knicks Yet

‘Zen Master’ must coach the team if he and Carmelo Anthony have any hope of winning a title.

Published February 20, 2015

For Knicks fans out there, I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know, OK? Your season is over, having ended long before Carmelo Anthony told the team he was having surgery on his left knee.

That news finished Anthony’s season, punctuating what has been a disaster of a season for a fan base that’s as unforgiving as the Arctic freeze that paralyzed the Midwest the other day.

Whether Anthony finished the season on the court didn’t matter, because the Knicks that Phil Jackson, the rookie NBA executive, had cobbled together were a wreck from the day he took over the franchise.

What did people expect?

To bank a season on a man with no experience is to risk it coming up bankrupt, which it has for the Knicks.

But I’ve always wondered why Jackson gets his genius label. I wonder because he’s led teams that would have been a success with him or without. Oh, I can see someone else not winning as many championships as Jackson did, but it’s hard to imagine any coach coming up with none as he looks down his bench and sees men like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal at his disposal.

In sports, people like Jackson tend to bring an arrogance with them wherever they go. Their success often makes them think they are smarter than everyone else, and they refuse to see their own flaws. They think they can will things to happen even in the face of challenges too big for them to handle.

For Jackson, the great “Zen Master,” the Knicks were that challenge. I suspect he thought he could ride into Madison Square Garden, roll out the basketballs and turn the franchise into a title contender overnight. But men who’ve never built a thing in their lives are often clueless on how to do so.

I’ve seen that in the brilliant Jordan. His failures at building an NBA contender rival his failures as a baseball player.

Perhaps I do Jackson an injustice to compare his mistakes in the front office to Jordan’s. Yet he came to the Knicks with the greatest of expectations and his successes at building the team have run the gamut from A to B. 

His mistakes, however, go much deeper into the alphabet.

The first of them was Jackson’s decision not to coach the Knicks himself. His second was the hiring of Derek Fisher, the old Los Angeles Lakers point guard, as the team’s coach.

In Fisher, Jackson brought in a man as green as a coach as he was as a team president.

Jackson’s biggest mistake of all, though, might have been his decision to invest $125 million in Carmelo Anthony, whose flashy-but-selfish play has never translated into winning titles.

He’s no Kobe, and Jackson needed someone like a young Kobe to build a winner around.

Now that the season is a full-blown mess – for ’Melo and the Knicks – Jackson can step back and look at what his handiwork has wrought. The Zen Master can ask himself what’s next, what he must do in the offseason to return the Knicks to their glory days.

Pardon me for making a suggestion: Coach ’em.

Jackson’s fame has come from what he’s done on the bench, not in some team’s front office. He’s succeeded at the former; he’s got no record to speak of at the latter.

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(Photo: Brad Barket/Getty Images for The New Yorker Festival)

Written by Justice B. Hill


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