LOS ANGELES — Phil Jackson has more championship rings as a coach than he has fingers, so it’s hard to tell him his way may not work. But more than 140 games into his reign as Knicks president, Jackson’s way hasn’t worked.
The Knicks are 44-105 since Jackson took over the franchise. They’ve improved from last season, but still aren’t a playoff team. Yet Jackson isn’t backtracking. He believes in his vision and believes in his system.
But the game is different, and he hasn’t assembled the kind of personnel his former executives got him en route to those 11 rings.
Carmelo Anthony is a great scorer, but he’s not a generational player like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal.
He coached three Hall of Fame players in Chicago — Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman — and at least two, maybe three with the Lakers in O’Neal, Bryant and possibly Pau Gasol.
Jackson acts as if it’s the system, not necessarily the personnel, that won the championships. It’s one of the many reasons he wants to keep Kurt Rambis as coach next season, but the Knicks need to have a really strong finish to even remotely justify that. Rambis sees the game the way Jackson does.
Jackson believes the triangle is hard to defend, and still doesn’t think the Knicks need a top flight point guard. That’s a tough sell, especially in New York, where the fans have been begging for a top point guard for years.
In his State of the Knicks’ address Friday, Jackson said “chasing a point guard, where it becomes just an obsession isn’t necessary. It’s not necessary. We can play the game without that. But we still need to have good performers.”
Jackson’s reasoning was “it works and we know it works.” Yet he failed to mention Jordan played in the backcourt for Chicago and Bryant for the Lakers.
The irony is Jackson soon will find himself in a very unfamiliar position again, one he was never in as a coach for 20 NBA season — out of the playoffs. And he doesn’t seem willing to be more flexible, particularly since he thinks the Knicks are moving in the right direction.
“What I wanted to accomplish I think we got accomplished,” Jackson said. “The fact that we had a competitive team, I was telling our group of guys at some point, even in January, I feel like every game we have a chance to win. That changed. I felt like that was a part of it that I didn’t like to see. So we see the holes that this team has.
“We see that some of the things that we wanted to accomplish got accomplished. We like the fact that we have an interior presence. We have some things about our defense that is good. And so that part feels good but coming to an end, April 12, our final game, I’ve never been in these positions before. It’s like going on spring break and I don’t have any place to go. There’s no place. Even the NBA (trade) market doesn’t start opening up until May.”
Jackson will be busy, trying to land players that fit the system. He should realize the players are more important than the system.
Derek Fisher wrote a 1,087-word essay for Sports Illustrated.com entitled “The Truth” so he could tell his side of the story about his firing from the Knicks. Two things he never did: take responsibility nor mention Jackson.
Jackson deserved a shoutout for giving him his first coaching job. Jackson entrusted his team and reputation as an executive with Fisher. He was Jackson’s first coaching hire and the results reflected poorly on the Zen Master.
Beyond that, Fisher wrote he just wanted “to make sure my voice is now heard.” He spent most of the essay defending his personal life and saying his well-publicized altercation with Matt Barnes over his relationship with Barnes’ estranged wife wasn’t the reason he was fired. Fisher blamed the media for its coverage of it and defended his “character” and “integrity.”
If the Knicks had that kind of defensive mentality, Fisher might still be coaching them. But Fisher was defensive almost from the moment he got the job, and he rarely took responsibility. The essay was another example of that.
This is normally the time to start wondering who the Knicks and Nets can draft to help them after this difficult season. The problem is both teams traded their first-round picks.
The Nets sent theirs, which could be in the top five, to Boston when they acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013. The Knicks’ pick went to Toronto a few days later for Andrea Bargnani. Denver can swap picks with Toronto as part of the Anthony trade from 2011.
It’s one of several reasons Jackson wants the Knicks to finish the season strong.
“We want to have some momentum, and we don’t want Toronto to have a good lottery pick,” he said. “They’re in a conference and they’re in first place in our division.”
If not for the Bargnani trade, the Knick’ point guard issues might be solved. They were very close to acquiring All-Star guard Kyle Lowry in Dec. 2013. Lowry said recently the deal was all but done. The snag was the Knicks didn’t want to give Toronto another first-round pick.
Denver coach Mike Malone, a Knicks’ assistant for four years and son of longtime NBA coach Brendan Malone, wasn’t shocked Fisher was let go after the Knicks’ Feb. 7 loss to Denver.
“Unfortunately I’m not surprised by anything,” Michael Malone said. “Being in the league 15 years myself and more importantly being around the game my whole life through my father, getting fired myself, so nothing surprises you.
“If you get into coaching for security you got in for the wrong reasons,” said Malone, who was fired last season as Kings head coach. “My first four years in New York I was with four different head coaches. Nothing surprises me in the NBA and nothing surprises me in New York City.”
Malone worked under Jeff Van Gundy, Don Chaney, Herb Williams and Lenny Wilkens with the Knicks from 2001-05.
Onetime Knick Baron Davis played his first game in nearly four years last week for the Delaware 87ers of the D-League and his first basket was a breakaway two-handed dunk. Davis’ last game before then was May 6, 2012 with the Knicks when he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee in a playoff game at the Garden.