The 5 worst decisions Phil Jackson made as Knicks President


When Phil Jackson was first brought on as Knicks President back in 2014, many (like myself) chose to ignore New York's pernicious history of signing people based on past glories and looked forward to a bright future of NBA relevance. Even though Jackson was to be an executive and not a coach, we were all optimistic that he would work the same magic from the sidelines that resulted in 6 championship rings for the Jordan Bulls and another 5 for the Kobe Lakers. Now that this partnership has ended in perhaps the Knicks'iest way it could have - mere days after owner James Dolan re-upped Jackson's contract - we can take off the rose-tinted glasses and look at Jackson's presidential tenure for what it really was. 

All of the nuanced wisdom that previously flowed from the Zen Master in the '90's has now turned into crotchety ramblings. He remained hopelessly committed to an offensive system that turns point guards, currently by far the most talented position in the NBA, into mere warm bodies on a court. He alienates star players both young and old with his boorish comments on how "they'd be better off somewhere else", or entertains public trade discussions regarding them when they skip player meetings. He was full of more quasi-spiritual malarkey than the goofiest hippy at Burning Man, and all of his instincts sucked. 

Now, as New York prepares for yet another rebuild, let's have a quick look back at how we got here with the 5 worst moves (in no particular order) Phil Jackson made while President of the New York Knicks:

1. Hiring Derek Fisher as Coach

One of Jackson's first acts as President was to fire Mike Woodson as coach, who in turn was to be replaced by the just-retired Derek Fisher. Not that Woody was ever what New York needed, but hiring a guy who had literally zero coaching experience in his place and also had a previous relationship with Jackson (Fisher played point guard during Jackson's tenure in LA) thoroughly smacked of nepotism.

Looking back on it, this was the first clue that Phil wasn't looking to be malleable and adaptive with his personnel (you know, those traits that make present-day coaches like Greg Popovich and Rick Carlisle so consistently great at their jobs) and was going to institute a policy of his-way-or-the-highway from day one.

2. Trading Robin Lopez for Derrick Rose

There were other pieces involved in this trade as well - Chicago also got Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon while Justin Holiday and a 2nd-round pick also came over to NY with Rose - but what everyone will remember from this is how a good center on a good deal (Lopez) was shipped out of town for a 1-year rental of a battered point guard with low assist numbers. Lopez's interior defense was sorely missed this year, and even with Rose putting up his best numbers in a while for New York isn't enough to consider him part of any long-term plan. 

3. Re-signing Carmelo Anthony to a 5-year deal, specifically with a no-trade clause

Just to clarify, I don't think bringing back Anthony was a mistake here. The big oopsie in this case, and was something that came directly from Phil, was the no-trade clause included in Melo's five-year, $120 million contract. At first, you might think, great, more power in the hands of the player. They're the ones playing the game, they should be able to decide where they play it, right?

Ultimately it meant that Phil had no control over whether or not he could move Anthony, thus handicapping any potential for a full rebuild. He clearly regretted that decision as he sub-tweeted Melo throughout the season while making not-so-cryptic public statements about Melo's jab-stepping style of play; it was crudely obvious Jackson was trying to make Anthony waive his no-trade clause. When someone who has no physical power over you still wants to torment you, they go with name-calling. It's bush league mind-games at best and was downright embarrassing to see from a man who was previously heralded as one of basketball's greatest thinkers.

4. Signing Joakim Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract

High-energy centers known for their defense typically don't age well, especially injury-prone ones. In 2016, Noah looked like he too was on this path, as he had lost his starting position in Chicago to Nikola Mirotic and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury not long after that. 

With this in mind, you would have to think Jackson was only considering Noah's 2014 efforts, in which he earned a DPOY award and a first-team All-NBA selection, in justifying handing over such a large contract to a player who really hadn't done anything lately to earn it. Giving out extraordinary contracts to players aged 30 and above was a hallmark of the woeful Isiah years, so how does repeating the same mistake lend itself to any kind of a culture shift? Most Knicks fans at the time thought the contract was trash, but vainly hoped (myself included) that Noah would bounce back from his decline and return to something resembling his 2014 form. Our fears were collectively confirmed around 10-15 games into the season when he started losing minutes to Kyle O'Quinn. He would be downright unplayable at times, with no offensive skills and a defensive shell of his former self.

Then, there was this:

Then, he missed the last 10 games of the season due to violating the NBA's Anti-Drug policy (this suspension will carry over into next season by the way; he'll sit out another 10 games before he even suits up for the 2018 season).

Oh, and at some point in the season, he tore his shoulder again, requiring surgery and 4-6 months of rehab.

Four years and seventy-two million dollars.

5. Publicly entertaining the idea of trading Porzingis

At some point at the end of the season, Kristaps Porzingis, the sole bright spot in New York's bleak future and the only reason people watch Knicks games now, probably meditated on the cavalcade of dysfunction he had witnessed. The horrible treatment of Knicks legend Charles Oakley, the public dragging of Anthony by Jackson, the fact that Rose went AWOL for a game and people just acted like it was nothing. He took all this in and thought to himself, I'm gonna skip that last meeting with Phil.

Phil, in return, responded by consulting other teams with what they could offer for him. Just to let KP know that he was just as tradeable too. 

Admittedly, if Jackson could get back a king's ransom for Porzingis we might be singing a different tune. Except no team was offering anything like that, and all it did was further alienate a player who you should be doing your utmost to keep happy and build around. It just made no sense other than for reasons motivated by ego, and it completely kaput any perceptions of Jackson having a vision for the team going forward.

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