As the Knicks managed to pull out another close game, despite some suspect shooting by Carmelo Anthony, the image that struck me the most was Phil Jackson sitting in his old stomping grounds looking up at the banners and the big screen and hardly looking like he enjoyed the Knicks’ 118-112 victory over his former Lakers squad.
The Knicks are 14-10 and sporting the best record they’ve had in The Phil Jackson Era.
If Jackson didn’t seem overwhelmed with joy, forgive him because he has had a rough couple of weeks dating back to his ill-advised and overblown comments on LeBron’s “posse.”
Jackson doesn’t want to admit what he inevitably knows to be the end result of his tenure as the Knicks’ high-paid executive savior. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t turn the franchise around. Drafting a gift that fell from the heavens in Porzingis and giving us some cheap thrills that we hope will result in a playoff berth this season isn’t where Knicks fans wanted to be as they enter year three of the Zen Master’s MSG Takeover.
When Jackson took over the Knicks' basketball operations department from president and general manager Steve Mills, New York fans were supposed to be getting the class act of class acts and a basketball genius who would use his 11 c’hips accumulated as a former New York baller and HOF coach to “change the culture” and make the Knicks a championship caliber team after 41 seasons of title failure.
When he inked his five-year, $60 million deal, it was supposed to be all worth it. We know he joined a franchise that was cap-strapped and dealing with Carmelo Anthony’s refusal to immediately sign another contract. NY had no first round picks so Phil started cleaning house and getting rid of large contracts.
Then he made his first big free agent splash this offseason, bringing in some veterans and upgrading the talent.
The Knicks are slightly better on the court, but the relationship between Jackson and his star player has been rocky of late. The class and tactical superiority that Jackson is credited for exhibiting as he won three-peats with Jordan in Chicago and then Kobe/Shaq in LA has not translated to his stint as Knicks President.
Jackson, famously credited with being calm in the midst of turmoil, hasn’t done a good job in protecting and boosting the confidence of Anthony, even if his public criticisms of his star are valid. Maybe the way Melo had the Knicks waiting to overpay him like a desperate side piece during his last free agent extravaganza tour pissed Phil off.
He’s no Kobe or Mike in terms of killer instinct or enhancing players around him. But Melo is one of the most lethal scorers the game has seen, and guys of his stature aren’t usually blasted by management in the middle of a positive season.
Instead of focusing on the fact that the Knicks had moved to three games over .500 for the first time in The Jackson Era last week, the Knicks president said in an interview that Anthony slows down the triangle flow because he often holds onto the ball too long.
The remark was out of the blue and expressing that Anthony likes to pound the rock in isolation and pop is not a Zen Master revelation. The basketball world already knows this. A championship leader with Jackson’s resume should know that criticizing your franchise player during a win streak is no bueno. The loss to Cleveland in which Anthony scored just eight points, was the birthplace of the madness.
King James and his court jesters bottle-flipping towards the end of a blowout game was just adding insult to injury and rubbing it in. It was Cleveland’s way of sticking it to Jackson for his comments earlier in the season.
Phil’s been doing a lot of putting his foot in his mouth lately.
His recent comments irritated Anthony enough to the point that he sent out two controversial Instagram posts aimed at Jackson, including a famous picture of his idol, Muhammad Ali, with arrows being flung at him.
Melo was undoubtedly ticked off, but he handled the situation professionally for the most part and kept it trucking.
"We had a little session,” Anthony said on Saturday. “We talked. We had a conversation this morning. He said his piece. I said my piece. Two men spoke. He said what he had to say. I don’t want to tell you all what he said. The conversation was good — to hear his perspective on what happened, how it all went down.”
That’s two times in the past couple of months that Jackson has been chastised by one of the NBA’s young leaders for his use of words. Everybody is saying the right things in response, but cringing deep down inside.
Anthony basically doesn’t trust Phil Jackson any more. I wouldn’t either. Why would he say such things at this point?
“It’s not surprising,” Anthony said. “At this point in your life, it’s water off your back. You try not to read too much into things. This is one of those situations. He’s got to be careful the choice of words uses. He understands that.”
Maybe Jackson’s age has caught up to him. That happens. It seems as if the Knicks are playing well, but the front office is causing unnecessary distractions due to a lack of political correctness. Maybe the Zen Master’s methods aren't as effective 20 years later and with him not having the presence and direct authority of a coach.
Or maybe Phil knows what he's doing. Maybe he wants to run Melo out of town so he can start implementing his plan for further success. Either way you slice it, the Knicks are winning but the confrontation between Melo and Phil is brewing.
There’s a philosophical difference between these guys. Most fans and ownership want Melo to give up some shots to Rose and Porz and do more of the dirty work. Melo probably took too many shots on Sunday night, going 4/16 from the floor, but Melo also had eight rebounds and seven assists and showed hella' hustle when needed.
He’s trying, but he’s still not completely buying in and he’s pissed at Phil. Watching his body motion in the game, when Porz or Rose or Jennings -- all capable of superstar moments -- took control of the possession, Melo was still calling for the rock and seemed uncomfortable not being included in the immediate offense.
Seems as if Melo is also pressing more now offensively. I see a battle between our two most important people in the organization, who are both missing the mark right now.
That can’t be a good thing moving forward.