As Phil Jackson's new job became real, if not technically official, the Knicks spoke respectfully, almost reverently, about their incoming top executive. Even the people whom Jackson is likely to get rid of complimented the man Tyson Chandler called "basketball royalty."
Yesterday was the first time the Knicks had gathered since the organization ended wide speculation and acknowledged it will make a major announcement on Tuesday. Everyone recognizes that Jackson is not being brought in to maintain the status quo. How will life change? "I don't know what to expect. Really, I don't," said Mike Woodson, mindful that a new executive usually brings in his own new coach.
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But neither Woodson nor any of his players criticized the environment or snidely called the company "Engulf and Devour," as a Knicks player once did during a rough stretch. That, in fact, was Jackson in 1977, when Gulf + Western owned the franchise.
Truth is, the good old days weren't all that great during Jackson's time as a power forward, although he did play on the 1973 championship team and received a ring for the 1970 title after missing the entire season with a back injury.
Things looked bleak for the team in 1977, when Jackson said, "You have to remember we're owned by a big corporation, Engulf and Devour. They put people out to pasture without much thought. Like the Red Holzman story."
Current Knicks respect Jackson for the 11 rings he has won as a coach since then, and for his motivational and cerebral skills. They believe he won't make any big decisions without thought.
"Phil knows what to do and how to build teams and how to win,'' Carmelo Anthony said after the Knicks' sixth consecutive victory, 115-94, over the Bucks at Madison Square Garden. "That's the most important thing. If you know how to win, whether you're a coach, whether you're in the front office, that stands out."
Anthony, whose future as a Knick (or lack thereof) will be the cornerstone of Jackson's plans, said he has not spoken with the man known as the Zen Master. He also said he probably will not put a lot of weight in any conversation he might have with superstars Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, who excelled under Jackson. "I'd rather sit down with Phil myself and hear his plan and talk to him and try to figure everything out rather than seeking advice from somebody else,'' he said. "I'd rather build that relationship on my own."
Amar'e Stoudemire, who, like Chandler, might best help the Knicks with his 2015 expiring contract, said of Jackson: "With his pedigree, he is a champion, he's a leader. He knows what it takes to win. He's been around great organizations that have been successful. Hopefully that same input will be placed here in New York."
Chandler believes players will want to come to the Knicks because of Jackson and that he will help them flourish. "I don't know him personally. I just have all the respect in the world for him, what he's been able to accomplish," the center said. "I've been in a [playoff] series against him. You can't say much more than he's basketball royalty."
Woodson seemed calm and reflective, insisting before the game that he does not see the final 16 games as an audition in front of Jackson. "I don't think I need to prove anything as a coach," he said.
Woodson also told reporters, "You know, guys, it's basketball. Teams try to reshape, they go through changes. This is no different. You bring in a great basketball mind into your organization and eventually it will be reshaped. So how and who and when, only time will tell."
Whether Jackson is a hands-on presence, as Chandler expects, or less visible, like Rangers president Glen Sather, he surely will bring a new day to the Knicks.
Anthony was asked what he thinks of the future, given that he has promised to take a pay cut if it would help the team build.
"I'm a chess player, so that was a power move right there," Anthony said. "Now we see what the next move is."
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