James Dolan: Phil Jackson, Steve Mills calling shots
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Nearing the end of a Knicks season he said has "horrified" him, James Dolan announced Tuesday that he has ceded full control of basketball operations to Phil Jackson, and expressed relief that he can instead focus on his other duties as executive chairman of Madison Square Garden.
"First off, the two gentlemen to my left here are the experts in basketball," Dolan said at a news conference, referring to Jackson and general manager Steve Mills. "I am by no means an expert in basketball. I'm a fan, but my expertise lies in managing companies and businesses. So I think I'm a little out of my element when it comes to the team. I found myself in a position where I needed to be more a part of the decision-making for a while.
"It wasn't necessarily something that I wanted to do but as chairman of the company, I felt obligated to do. And I'm happy now that we have a team of Phil and Steve to do that, and my whole job here now is about supporting them in winning a championship, and that's a lot easier than what I've had to do in the past."
Jackson's autonomy and concerns that Dolan will meddle in basketball affairs have been a consistent theme among fans and journalists in the run-up to Jackson's hiring.
But both men said the matter was discussed fully and settled mutually during the process that led to Jackson's hiring as president, something Jackson insisted upon. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be here," he said.
Later, on ESPN New York Radio, Jackson said: "That's been what we shook on. That was the agreement we made. That means whatever changes that have to be made, I'm authorized to make those changes, and he said, 'You've got it. That's the job I want you to do.' "
Dolan, who rarely answers questions from reporters, did so not only at the morning news conference at the Garden but again later during in-studio visits to ESPN Radio and WFAN.
He reiterated in both radio interviews that Jackson and his staff will be in complete command. "They're the ones with the strategy; I'm the one with the checkbook," Dolan said on ESPN.
Jackson's authority extends to deciding who will coach the team in 2014-15, as well as Carmelo Anthony's future. Dolan said he thinks Anthony will re-sign with the Knicks and that both he and Jackson want him back.
"I think we have a much better chance of convincing him with Phil than without him," Dolan said of Anthony.
Dolan promised Walsh autonomy in 2008, but that relationship appeared to sour around the time Dolan reportedly got involved in the trade that brought Anthony from the Nuggets.
Asked about that during the ESPN interview, Dolan said, "It's a little hard to talk about situations like Donnie, and there have been others, without going into the negative. I like Donnie Walsh and I think he's a good guy and I think he tried for us . . . I prefer to just leave that in the past."
What about the surprising decision to part ways with general manager Glen Grunwald in September?
"We went in a different direction and Glen wasn't on board with that direction," Dolan said. "A lot of it had to do with player development. It just became time to make a change."
The Knicks have won six games in a row but are four games out of a playoff spot.
"None of us expected, including any of the players, to have a season like this," he said. "To be honest, I don't have an explanation."
Dolan has been a lightning rod for criticism for years, but he told ESPN being liked is not a priority. "My goal isn't to be loved," he said. "My goal is to win."
The hope is that Jackson will help make that happen at last. "It's like bringing Albert Einstein in to do your math homework," Dolan said.
Dolan touched on many topics he has not addressed in years during the two radio interviews, including his concern over the cost of attending NBA and NHL games. He floated the idea of a Knicks game in a large venue such as Yankee Stadium as a way of offering more affordable tickets.
He said the Knicks will not raise ticket prices next season. "Instead," he said, "we'll have a great year next year at the same price and hopefully everybody will find that that product is more valuable and probably after that we'll raise ticket prices."
Mostly, he reiterated he will be hands-off, not only because Jackson wants it that way, but because he does. He wants to spend his time on the growth of the company and allow his basketball and hockey experts to do their jobs.
"He didn't have to convince me to give up the authority," Dolan said on WFAN. "That was easy."
The Dolan family owns
controlling interests in the
Knicks, Madison Square
Garden and Cablevision.
Cablevision owns Newsday.