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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Knicks insider: Phil Jackson fights back; now if the Knicks will, too . . .

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson watches action

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson watches action between the New York Knicks and the Phoenix Suns in an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

All those championship rings aren't weighing down Phil Jackson's fingers. He used them plenty to defend himself and his team on Twitter this week.

It was more defense than the Knicks played all season.

But Jackson responding three times to a reporter and twice to the outspoken Charles Barkley shows that the Zen Master is -- as Barkley said -- a little sensitive.

When you're 5-24, you have to expect criticism and plenty of it, especially when you play in New York and have the league's highest payroll.

Like Michael Corleone said in "The Godfather": It's not personal, it's business.

This was a transition year for the Knicks, but nothing has gone the way Jackson or anyone involved with the team thought. Unless they turn things around or shake up the roster, the critics will keep piling on. But you're starting to see how losing is affecting the people in charge.

Derek Fisher also responded to his critics this week. Yet he did it much differently, with more effectiveness and earned some praise for it.

Fisher hasn't shown much emotion on the sideline or with the media. But he pulled all five starters at the same time in the first quarter of Tuesday's loss to the Mavericks. Message sent.

Following the game, for really the first time, Fisher was critical of his team's effort. It was long overdue.

Everyone had been waiting for that from Fisher, who was known to speak up and challenge Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and some of his other superstar teammates. It was surprising it took this long for him to do it to Carmelo Anthony and his teammates.

"You can't go to the well too many times with anything, whether it's [being] nice or not being nice," Fisher said. "There are ways to be confrontational and let guys know how you feel without being angry and out of control. But as time goes on, the longer I'm here, the more you'll see."

Jackson's Twitter spats got the expected reaction. But for those covering the Knicks, it would be better if he made himself available a little more often. Jackson is a smart guy, with volumes of basketball knowledge and his words carry weight.

Remember how Jackson used the media to get his message across and impact how those memorable Bulls-Knicks' playoff series in the 1990s were called.

Few in basketball have more street cred than Jackson for what he did as a coach. He's still proving himself as an executive.

Jackson took umbrage to the basketball website, which said he was "fleeced" in the Tyson Chandler trade. Jackson's defense is you have to wait four-to-five years to grade trades, but early indications are the Mavericks are the immediate winners.

He didn't appreciate Barkley's assessment of the Knicks and the triangle offense. But that's Barkley and part of his shtick. He rips the Knicks all the time.

But Jackson knows this: The best way to silence the critics is by getting results. The way the Knicks have performed this season, everyone is free game, especially Jackson.

It's not personal Phil, it's business.


'Tis the season

Right around the holidays is the unofficial start of the trade season and it opened in full swing this week with the Celtics sending Rajon Rondo to Dallas in a six-player, two-draft-pick blockbuster.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, a definite Executive of the Year candidate, have acquired Rondo, Chandler and Chandler Parsons in the last six months. The Mavericks clearly are all-in, but the West is so strong.

The Knicks would be willing to move anyone other than Carmelo Anthony. They don't have much that teams want in players or assets.

They can't trade their own first-round pick until 2018. The Knicks are trying to acquire young, talented players and assets (picks) who can help now and in the future. Cavaliers wing player Dion Waiters remains on their radar.

Of course, the Knicks would like to deal J.R. Smith. But he's not well-regarded by opposing executives or coaches. He also has a $6.4-million player option next season that many expect he will pick up.

That's a deterrent for teams, including the Knicks. If they can't move him, it will dip into how much they have to spend in free agency this summer.


Chicago fine without Melo

The flip side of the argument that Anthony should have signed with the Bulls -- and if it was all about winning now, he should have -- is that they might not have been as good or deep if he had.

Anthony would have made a major impact on the offensive end. But to clear salary to fit Anthony, the Bulls probably would have had to part with valuable members of their team.

Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and maybe Jimmy Butler could have been moved, and the Bulls wouldn't have been able to sign Pau Gasol, who might be their MVP this season.

Butler and Gasol are the Bulls' top two scorers and are having All-Star seasons. Gibson and Dunleavy Jr. are fourth and fifth in scoring. So the Bulls have recovered nicely from Anthony turning them down.

"We've got a pretty good team," Dunleavy Jr. said. "Sometimes it's nice to have a Bentley, but a Honda Accord will get you there, as well."


Buzzer beaters

Knicks point guard Jose Calderon, who was with the Mavericks last year, joked about Dallas' acquisition of Rondo: "I think they were missing me, maybe. I don't know."

The Hawks own the East's third-best record, thanks to a 13-2 mark since back-to-back losses to the Cavs and Lakers dropped them to 5-5. Atlanta's roll has included road wins in Washington and Cleveland. The Hawks began the weekend first in the NBA in assists (25.4) and the only team in the top five in field-goal percentage, three-point accuracy and free-throw percentage.

Winning matters more to Dirk Nowitzki than money. The Rondo acquisition made Nowitzki the lowest-paid Mavericks starter.

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