Phil Jackson was introduced as the Knicks’ basketball boss three years ago at a large and festive news conference in Madison Square Garden’s glitzy new lobby, the world full of possibilities.
On Friday, when he tried to make sense of his current predicament, he found himself in a quiet corner of the Knicks’ practice court before a small audience limited mostly to skeptical reporters asking questions on behalf of skeptical fans.
It was a little depressing — as it should be after three lost seasons.
The news of the day, if you can call it that, was that Jackson is ready, willing and (let’s hope) able to move on from the Carmelo Anthony Era, and presumably vice versa, a no-brainer that will happen because it must.
But the bigger question as Jackson, 71, stood behind a lectern answering questions for 49 minutes was whether fans can or should trust this man to lead their team out of the NBA wilderness. And the answer is . . . well, why should they?
After not speaking since September to reporters who cover the Knicks regularly, Jackson’s tone was calm and cordial — patient, even — although he did speak in his customary curlicues more than in straight lines.
But he made it clear that while he understands that losing basketball games is a bad thing, he has no plans for major changes in his approach to building a team, or to how the game should be played.
“I think our fans have seen our progress, if not in the win-loss column, but I think they’ve seen progress,” he said. Actually, no, they haven’t.
Jackson lamented that he “faced resistance at the top” to his offensive principles, which he said includes some departed players who did not get with the program. Presumably Anthony has been resistant as well.
Jackson insisted that the triangle offense is “not an impediment,” but even coach Jeff Hornacek had to be negotiated with to come on board in his first season, initially agreeing to a hybrid style and then to a course-correction midstream and . . . oh, whatever.
Look, Jackson did not announce on Friday that Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal will be coming out of retirement to join the team, which left him touting young players on the roster, young players who might arrive in the draft and young players who might arrive in a trade of Anthony.
Well, at least he has a potential franchise player in Kristaps Porzingis. Does he think KP is ready to make the team his own in his third season? “No, I don’t,” Jackson said. “He’s 21 years old. That’s a big load for anybody to take on.”
Jackson quoted Red Holzman, his mentor, who said basketball “is not rocket science.” He said he needs to do better in mentoring others, up and down the organization, but he also acknowledged that some of what he would like to do is limited by the fact that he is not the coach.
He said there was “rebelliousness” in the team that has to stop. He said “the buck stops here,” but only after noting that he never took a jump shot this season. He said he “can’t go back and regret” re-signing Melo in 2014. He denied he ever meant to criticize Anthony in social media or in interviews.
He did say that after listening to Charles Barkley question the value of tweeting, he has decided no longer to do so. Whew.
“I didn’t come here particularly to win a championship,” Jackson said, but rather to establish an identity. Good thing, because he is under contract for two more years, and a championship by 2019 does not appear to be in the offing.
Jackson has not gotten any shorter since 2014, but he is diminished. And those 11 championship rings as a coach can’t save him. “That stuff is just rings in a safe deposit box,” he said. “It doesn’t hold any weight right now for me.”
It doesn’t for the rest of us, either.