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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Knicks’ challenges continue into offseason

Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks with reporters Friday,

Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks with reporters Friday, April 14, 2017, for the first time since September 2016. Photo Credit: Richard Harbus

As terrible as the Knicks’ season was, their offseason might be even worse — and it’s only a few days old.

Team president Phil Jackson helped create an environment that led to Kristaps Porzingis staging a protest Friday, when he skipped his exit meeting with Jackson and other team officials. A source told Newsday that the young Latvian cornerstone player is frustrated about the ongoing drama and the direction of the franchise.

Jackson already had gotten everyone’s attention Friday when he essentially said the Knicks haven’t won with Carmelo Anthony and that he would be better off playing for another team.

You appreciate the honesty — especially given that he hadn’t spoken to the New York media in six months. But Jackson’s remarks lower Anthony’s trade value and make the Knicks less attractive to free agents who see how a marquee player is treated. This after Jackson alienated Anthony for most of the season.

Then the Porzingis news broke long after the news conference ended. That was a loud and strong message sent by the 7-3 forward to the organization and the league, which always keeps a watchful eye on the Knicks’ dealings.

All of this is on Jackson. The man who won 11 rings as a coach was hired to bring order to the Knicks and develop a winning culture. To quote a famous Jackson tweet, “How’s it goink?”

The Knicks are 80-166 in the three full seasons in which Jackson has been in charge and have lost at least 50 games each season. Jackson probably isn’t going anywhere, either. Last week, he and the Knicks picked up their options for the final two years on his deal.

During his candid 49-minute interview, Jackson took the blame for the Knicks’ struggles for about five seconds and then distributed it everywhere else.

“I never took a jump shot,” Jackson said, “never made a substitution, but the buck stops here.”

His remedy to fix the Knicks: move Anthony, turn over the roster again, rebuild, make sure the triangle offense is run at all times and be more hands on, even if it means undermining coach Jeff Hornacek.

Jackson didn’t go out of his way to praise Hornacek, who guided the Knicks to a 31-51 mark after being forced to run the triangle even though he never had coached it before.

When Hornacek was hired, it was understood that he could blend his fast-paced offense with triangle aspects. But that changed in February when the Knicks went all-in on the triangle.

“We kind of let it roll until things didn’t roll well,” Jackson said.

The moral of the story: It’s Phil’s way or no way.

He basically called Hornacek an inexperienced coach and said associate head coach Kurt Rambis can teach the triangle.

If this is the case, Jackson should have removed the interim tag from Rambis’ title last summer and made him head coach. Instead, he hired Hornacek and made him take Rambis on his staff.

“Kurt Rambis has all the knowledge that I have,” Jackson said. “I thought as a combo, they could fit in pretty well.”

That move and the return of the triangle let the players know that their head coach had no power. It’s been reported that Hornacek lost the locker room, and Jackson implied as much without acknowledging his role in it.

“He is amenable to players,” Jackson said. “He is a young coach, he has only coached, what’s this, 2[/DROPCAP] 1⁄2 seasons? It is not like he has got a menu of 10 years of coaching. I think he listens. We have communication going back and forth.

“I think there’s disconnect sometimes with this team and I think there was some rebelliousness with this team that created some of the discord during the year. And I think it has to stop and that will stop.”

Jackson said the Knicks have to be identifiable with something, a system, and brought up the Patriots in the NFL, the Spurs, and his Lakers and Bulls teams. The difference in all of those examples is that the coaches ran what they wanted to run, not what they were told to run.

But Jackson believes he can help the team by being more involved, in essence coaching more. He actually believes that when he spent a few weeks on the West Coast over the holidays, it contributed to the Knicks’ skid.

“I think I’ve got to do a little bit more on-scene, on-target mentoring,” Jackson said.

He said he’s stopped practice a couple of times to teach the Knicks the right way to do things. Jackson also held a triangle tutorial with the guards late in the season. Fans, and the players themselves, can expect more of them.

“I’ve tried to do some of that but not intrude in the coaches’ direction,” Jackson said. “I think that that is something that has to be done because we have to know who we are and what we stand for and how we’re going to play, and that has to be continually offered as an ideal, or goal — this is who we are — so if I have to do that from different forms or places, I’ll try to do that.”

The Knicks are Jackson’s team, for better or worse. He’s going to run them the way he wants, pushing the triangle, coaching when he feels the urge and hoping they eventually have an identity.

Right now, they’re known for drama and dysfunction. Porzingis already is tired of this identity that Jackson has helped create.

New York Sports

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