What will Phil Jackson’s legacy be in New York? What should the Knicks do about Carmelo Anthony and the future of the team?
Our crew debates and predicts their next moves.
1. Your take on the Knicks and James Dolan parting ways with Phil Jackson?
A. Good move
B. Bad move
C. Should’ve done it sooner
D. Should never have hired him
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: D. From Day 1, it didn’t seem like Phil Jackson was cut out for the job, which requires round-the-clock management of relationships, worldwide scouting and in-depth knowledge of the complicated CBA. Bottom line: Jackson has lost touch with today’s NBA player. And given his triangle fetish, he’s lost touch with today’s NBA, for that matter.
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Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: D. At a moment when the league was redefining what it means to be a lead executive, the Knicks decided that resume and mystique were more important than vision and skill set. For all his achievements as an NBA head coach, Jackson was so consumed with doctrine and mythology that he disregarded the very basics of how a franchise constructs a roster, cultivates a culture and conducts day-to-day business. It’s a task that’s conquered by an attention to detail, not by a cult of personality.
Jeremias Engelmann, ESPN Insider: C. To me it seemed Jackson wanted out for a long time — too imprudent were many of the media comments he gave on his own players. Jackson simply never looked like a guy who wanted to be there, which raises the question of whether he just stayed for the money.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: C, which I suppose also means A. I advocated starting in December that the Knicks should decline the mutual option in Jackson’s contract, and doing so then would have saved them much of the craziness of the last six months. Jackson’s handful of good draft picks don’t outweigh his poor management of free agency and trades, and most of all the distractions and ill will with players he generated. Better late than never, I guess.
2. Fact or Fiction: The triangle offense is dead.
Arnovitz: Fiction. We might not see a triple-post scheme in the NBA for quite a while — dribble-penetration is now king — but take one quick spin around League Pass during the regular season and you’ll see the influence of the triangle within minutes. Most teams run a corner package, which is essentially a bite off the triangle, and the system’s principles of spacing can be found in the motion offenses that have grown in popularity over the past decade. The Knicks’ problem was never the triangle, it was management and personnel.
Pelton: Fact. I think Jackson’s orthodoxy to a version of the triangle that relied heavily on midrange jumpers for spacing is outdated, but a version of the triangle that incorporated the 3 as a major weapon could still be effective as part of a balanced offense. The problem is relying on it to the point where pick-and-roll point guards — which is to say most modern point guards — aren’t a fit.
Haberstroh: The triangle has its merits but Jackson’s obsession is a classic case of mistaking correlation for causation. The teams he coached were successful because they, quite remarkably, featured Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in their primes, not because of any particular system. Those all-timers were great with or without the triangle, not because of it.
Engelmann: "Dead" may be too harsh an assessment. I’d say the triangle offense is in hibernation. Jackson’s first two implementations of the triangle offense featured two of the best shooting guards of all time: Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. This era is different in talent and style, with few players in the Jordan-Bryant mold. I’m sure we’ll see the triangle offense back in the NBA, but it might take some time.
Could Masai Ujiri turn around the Knicks? Bernard Weil/Toronto Star/Getty Images
3. Fact or Fiction: Masai Ujiri should be the next Knicks president.
New York is reportedly pursuing the Raptors’ president and GM as Jackson’s replacement, though Toronto would have to let Ujiri out of his contract and the Knicks would need to provide draft compensation to make it possible.
Pelton: Faction. Depends on the kind of compensation the Toronto Raptors want in return. Ujiri would be a good choice to replace Jackson, but there are plenty of other good choices who aren’t currently under contract as top decision makers. David Griffin remains a free agent, and unlike the Cleveland Cavaliers with Griffin, the Knicks have a good option in-house in director of player personnel Mark Warkentien, a former Executive of the Year as Ujiri’s boss with the Denver Nuggets.
Engelmann: I’m not as high on Ujiri’s moves as many others — for instance, I despised the Serge Ibaka deal. Ujiri, who is still under contract with the Raptors, would also have to ask himself whether he wants to work for James Dolan. David Griffin would be another option, but I’m not too sold on him either, as I think he could have built a stronger Cavs team after LeBron came back from Miami.
Arnovitz: Fiction, and not because Ujiri wouldn’t be a fine choice, but why would he want the job? The Raptors extended Ujiri last summer and its ownership has given him great latitude in one of the league’s best outposts. Why trade in those professional privileges and a strong quality of life to work for an owner who has demonstrated a manifest cluelessness and disregard for what it takes to build a winning NBA organization?
Haberstroh: Ujiri orchestrated Carmelo Anthony’s exit out of Denver, so he has great experience for the job. I kid, I kid. Unlike Phil, Ujiri has a tremendous track record in the driver’s seat of a front office, much at the Knicks’ expense. Ujiri would be a fine option but so would David Griffin, who deserves a shot after his championship tenure with Cleveland. The question is whether Dolan would mettle with someone who doesn’t have Phil Jackson’s icon status.
4. How do you advise the Knicks to handle the Carmelo Anthony situation?
Haberstroh: Carmelo Anthony has a ton of admiration among players, especially the stars. And that matters if they want to be a destination again. The Knicks have to repair the immense damage caused by Phil Jackson’s antagonistic tenure.
Pelton: At this point, I don’t see a trade that Anthony would agree to and would really do much to help New York. (If the Cavaliers become willing to trade Kevin Love for Anthony, and Anthony is amenable, this would change.) So unless Anthony is willing to give up significant money in a buyout — something James Dolan apparently doesn’t want anyway — I’d ride things out with him.
Arnovitz: The irony of the Phil-Melo iciness was that there was a legitimate case that both parties might benefit from a split. Just as it was with his devotion to the triangle, Jackson erred not in his conviction, but in his ham-handedness. Jackson thought his force of personality and credentials gave him carte blanche to wage a war through the media and shame a player into submission. That’s not gravitas — it’s arrogance.
Engelmann: Aside from his effect on ticket sales, there is little reason for Anthony to be with the Knicks. With his poor defense, it’s very unlikely he can lead New York anywhere. But he’s just good enough to keep the Knicks from getting a high lottery pick. I would work with him on a buyout.
5. What is the Knicks’ future as a basketball team?
Haberstroh: As long as James Dolan is running the show, it’ll be an off-Broadway circus defined by mediocrity. That’s been the case over the last two decades, so I don’t see why that will change. Ujiri or Griffin might bring a brief glimmer of hope with Kristaps Porzingis as the centerpiece. But Dolan always wins (financially) even if fans always lose. The team is valued at $3.3 billion according to Forbes, up 10 percent since last year while the team finished 20 games under .500. Dolan is kazooing all the way to the bank.
Arnovitz: They’ll eventually cycle through Anthony’s deal and Joakim Noah’s hellacious contract and once again have the resources to throw at the NBA’s best free agent talent to place around Porzingis. If ownership would kindly step away from the operation, banish itself to a small private island and leave its planning and leadership to someone capable, the Knicks might just rejoin the ranks of the living.
Engelmann: The Knicks can take an immediate turn for the better by not re-signing Derrick Rose this summer. They don’t owe any future first-round draft picks, which is a big plus. It’ll take them some time to get back on their feet, but with Porzingis and some other good young talent, I don’t see why they couldn’t be a solid team three years down the road.
Pelton: New York has one elite prospect in place in Kristaps Porzingis. Willy Hernangomez demonstrated last season he has a future in the league as a rotation player, and perhaps Frank Ntilikina will join them — though part of the logic in drafting him was surely how much sense Ntilikina made as a triangle point guard. That’s still not the kind of core a rebuilding team needs, so the Knicks will have to remain patient as they add young talent around those players.