GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- With the Knicks off to the worst start in their 69-year history, team president Phil Jackson said Monday that his team is in a "crucible'' and that he is worried that during their eight-game losing streak, they have developed a "loser's mentality.''
"Obviously, we're disappointed,'' Jackson said at the team's practice facility. "I think guys understand what we're trying to do . . . There's some resistance to discipline and order and culture change and things like that.
"I will call it a crucible for what we're going through here. The process, maybe the heat, is going to refine some of the stuff so that we come out and be a pretty good team after all is said and done.''
The Knicks (4-18), who have lost close game after close game, have as many losses as the 76ers, a franchise that has been accused of trying to lose intentionally to get a high draft pick. That certainly wasn't the idea Jackson had when he took over the Knicks last March. Before the season, he said they could contend for a playoff spot. Now he just wants them to get a win to build on.
"It's about a loser's mentality,'' he said. "It's not about the skill or the talent level.''
Jackson also was frank in admitting that he fears that all the losing could sway what potential free agents think about the team.
"Yeah, and I'm not happy about that,'' he said. "We have players that are part of our long term that must consistently perform at a level in this system of offense to demonstrate they're progressing and what the advantages are to what we're doing.''
Jackson went on to talk about several players. For the most part, he's happy with the scoring ability of Carmelo Anthony but would like to see him "flesh out the rest of his game.'' Jackson said he recently talked with J.R. Smith about getting back to being a leader of the second unit, and added that he's happy with how Smith has responded.
Jackson also let it be known that he's not happy with how nagging hamstring and calf injuries have kept Andrea Bargnani from playing. Jackson said he hopes Bargnani will be on the floor next week but added that he doesn't want to put a timetable on it.
"We're so disappointed in Andrea's condition,'' Jackson said. "He's so disappointed. He's expressed to me this has never happened to him as far as strained hamstring, calf, whatever it is . . . I don't want to have happen that we can treat him like a leper around here.''
Finally, Jackson, who won 11 NBA titles as the coach of the Bulls and Lakers, continued to back rookie coach Derek Fisher. As the Knicks continue to lose games in the final minutes, Fisher has come under increasing pressure as his substitution patterns and late-game play-calling have been questioned. Jackson praised Fisher for his "resilient attitude'' and "determination.''
Said Jackson: "I think he'll make it work.''
Jackson made it clear that he has not been in the least bit tempted to return to the bench.
"I did end up having the urge to yell during the course of the game,'' he said when asked how he was feeling Sunday night while watching the Knicks' loss to the Trail Blazers.
"Get back on defense. Just simple, stupid stuff that a coach could yell to his players. I do know that there's some part of me that still has that in his game. But there's no desire to be down on the floor.''