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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Phil Jackson must rely on his power of persuasion this offseason

Knicks President Phil Jackson talks to the media

Knicks President Phil Jackson talks to the media during a Knicks press conference at the MSG Training Center in Greenburgh, New York. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Phil Jackson must really believe in his own power to persuade.

We all know he got Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant to buy into his system and beliefs, but he was the coach then. As the Knicks' president, he doesn't have a track record the way Pat Riley did when he met with LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010.

Jackson has 11 championship rings as a coach and two more as a player that he can throw down on a table when he meets with free agents this summer and next. That will be impactful, of course. How can it not be? But will it be enough to land marquee free agents?

Remember, Jackson won't be coaching. Derek Fisher will. The players have to trust in Phil but also believe in Fish. He has a good relationship with players and relates well to them. But will that be enough to get the stars?

Will they believe in the triangle offense after the season the Knicks have had running it? Will they believe in it if Jackson isn't the one coaching?

These are fair questions the Knicks have to ask themselves and answer honestly, given that they're banking on free agency to help turn this team from worst to first in the not-so-distant future.

Fisher said Thursday that there is a challenge getting current players to believe in the system because no one has run it or won a championship with it since Jackson stopped coaching.

J.R. Smith, whom Jackson traded to the Cavaliers last Monday, said he thinks the system will work, but "you have to have the personnel to run it." He cited the need for "two legit bigs," a wing scorer and "a point guard who distributes and can also score."

You'll have to forgive Smith for denigrating basically the entire roster, but the Knicks do need all of those things. If they had the players, they wouldn't be 5-35.

Jackson is looking to start fresh. Trading Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland for a 2019 second-round pick, cap space and roster flexibility was the start.

It's been well documented that Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge are expected to re-sign with their teams. Jackson might have to pursue second-tier guys and be creative with restricted free agents to make it difficult for their teams to match offers.

But unless the Knicks can acquire some real assets -- first-round picks -- it's going to be difficult to make big trades. In Jackson's three deals thus far, he hasn't gotten any.

The Cavaliers have dealt four first-rounders since July -- two this past week for former Knick Timofey Mozgov, one for Kevin Love and one to cut salary to make room for LeBron James. Boston used two in 2010 to acquire Kevin Garnett and is stockpiling them again.

The Celtics have landed two first-round picks in the past three weeks and were poised to acquire a third in a deal with Memphis. They could have 11 first-rounders in the next four years. The Knicks currently have three in the next four years, and they can't trade their own until 2018.

But the Knicks have plenty to offer free agents: the big stage of New York and Madison Square Garden, playing with an established star in Carmelo Anthony and what succeeding here can do for a player's legacy.

They also have Jackson, all his bling and his powers of persuasion. In time, we'll find out whether that's enough.

Then and now

When the Knicks set their old franchise record of 12 consecutive losses -- April 13, 1985, in Milwaukee -- Darrell Walker, Louis Orr, Rory Sparrow and Ken "The Animal" Bannister were their leading scorers. Jose Calderon, Jason Smith, Cole Aldrich and Travis Wear were their top scorers when they broke it Wednesday in Washington.

The Knicks won the draft lottery after the '84-85 season and took Patrick Ewing. They obviously hope for a similar result after this one, when Duke center Jahlil Okafor is expected to be the prize rookie.

Not so Cavalier

The Cavaliers haven't looked like a championship contender with James, Love and Kyrie Irving, so they shook things up, adding two new starters and a key reserve in less than 48 hours. Dion Waiters, who was sent to Oklahoma City, was the only rotation player they gave up in the two trades, so the Cavs improved by getting Shumpert, Mozgov and Smith.

When he returns from his dislocated left shoulder, Shumpert will defend hard and try to prove he's worth a big contract this summer. If James is a good leader, he should be able to rein in Smith the way Jason Kidd did in his one season with the Knicks in 2012-13. And Mozgov is a more than serviceable big man.

But it's risky for a team with championship expectations to undergo such major changes at midseason. They have to jell quickly and build chemistry ASAP if they are going to challenge in the East. The Cavaliers are sixth in the conference, one game above .500.

GM David Griffin endorsed coach David Blatt this past week. But now the pressure really is on Blatt.

Fast breaks

Bad timing: The Cavaliers were in Philadelphia on Monday and Philly native Dion Waiters was in the starting lineup. His name was about to be called during introductions. Waiters said he was "literally about to walk out" when he was tapped on the shoulder and told he was about to be traded.

Cavs GM David Griffin on Cleveland trading four first-round picks since July: "People look at the picks we've given away and think, 'Oh my goodness, they've given away the farm.' Well, we had an unbelievable farm, so we were putting it to work."

The Grizzlies will honor Knicks legend Earl Monroe, onetime Knick Chauncey Billups and former Net Jason Collins for their contributions to civil and human rights when Memphis hosts Dallas on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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