• John Aiello

Phil Jackson: Why He Isn’t Doing a Bad Job

*Photo via AP

On April 15th, the New York Knicks closed the lid on a franchise worst season with a loss to the Detroit Pistons. When the Knicks announced the hiring of Phil Jackson as the President of Basketball Operations nearly 18 months ago, the fan base rejoiced and celebrated the possibility of becoming a championship contender once again.

Sadly, those hopes were vanquished for many fans after a dreadful season in which the team garnered a massive 65 losses. Now, skeptics are questioning whether Jackson has the ability to transform a franchise, considering things haven’t gone as planned and he has zero past front office experience.

Despite the poor season, it’s too early to claim he lacks talent in his new role. In fact, the maneuvers Phil has made thus far prove that he has the potential to resuscitate the lifeless Knicks franchise. Knicks fans shouldn’t lose hope in the ‘Zen Master’ quite yet.

A Bad Season That’s Not so Bad After All

Since Jackson became President of the Knicks, they were expected to compete for a playoff position and the triangle was supposed to provide a stable offense and accentuate the players’ abilities. Instead, it often looked discombobulated and the Knicks produced gut wrenching plays that embarrassed fans everywhere.

Jackson dealt away a number of guys pivotal to the Knicks’ mediocrity of recent years and they all shined on new teams, which made him look incompetent. Those moves were harshly criticized because they didn’t pay off in the immediate future, but they were cap savvy transactions that put the team in a better spot for the offseason. Plus, if those guys weren’t apart of the team’s future anyways, might as well get some value for ‘em.

Also, even if Jackson intended on putting a winning team on the court, the dismal season put the franchise in contention for a top pick, which is better than being a middle of the pack team with a late lottery selection.

The Chandler Deal

When Phil stepped into his role last March, he preached a “culture change” that would sweep through the franchise like a Nor’easter. By trading Tyson Chandler in the 2014 offseason, Phil enacted this change. This deal sent Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and two second rounders.

The deal was seen from the eyes of many as a bust for the Knicks. The team floated at the bottom of the Hudson River while Chandler performed well in Dallas and helped them reach the playoffs. And, the only guy from the deal who remains with the Knicks is Calderon (who how you say in Spanish, performed muy malo this past year).

It makes sense as to why Jackson made the deal though. At the time, Chandler was an injury-plagued center who didn’t seem like a good fit for the triangle. Plus, Calderon came off a solid year with Dallas. In addition to that, Felton had a $3.5 million player option for this upcoming year (that he opted into), so adding him to the deal rid them of his contract.

Even though Calderon is making roughly $7 million through the 2016-2017 season, it’s worth paying the extra money for a more serviceable point guard (assuming he performs better this year) as opposed to having Felton sit the bench and collect checks.

The Other Moves

When the Knicks’ season seemed utterly hopeless, Jackson initiated “tank mode” by sending JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Alex Kirk, Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas.

It seemed like another boneheaded move by Phil, but Shumpert has been inconsistent and injury plagued throughout his career (plus he has stupid hair) and JR isn’t worth the contract he earned when he was Sixth Man of the Year (plus he’s just stupid).

As an added bonus to getting rid of these knuckleheads, Amundson and Thomas provided blue-collar effort, fit in well with the triangle and earned spots on the roster for next season.

The last move of this season dealt Pablo Prigioni to the Houston Rockets for Alexey Shved and two more second rounders. The fact that Jackson received anything for Prigioni should’ve earned him GM of the year honors.

Draft Night

Jackson showed bravado in the NBA Draft by selecting Latvian Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall selection. ‘The Zinger’ has all the talent in the world (he has his own theme song already!), but he’s a project. It’s easy for Jackson to appease the Knicks’ faithful and trade for more immediate success, but he made the logical move and drafted the guy with the most upside.

Furthermore, he traded away Tim Hardaway Jr., a guy who struggled in his sophomore season, for rookie Jerian Grant. Grant is a capable floor general who was arguably the best passer in the draft not named D’Angelo Russell. He could serve as the Knicks’ long-term option at starting point guard.

Free Agency

Though the Knicks didn’t grab any superstars in free agency, they managed to fill their roster voids with capable talent. Their most notable signing was center, Robin Lopez. Though Lopez’ averages of 9.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for last year aren’t the sexy numbers that Knicks’ fans love, he can protect the rim (1.4 blocks per game last season),

Arron Afflalo is two years removed from a borderline All-Star campaign with the Orlando Magic in which he averaged about 18 points per game. He’s another solid two-way veteran and at $8 million over two years (player option for the second year), there’s no long-term commitment.

The two other new acquisitions via free agency include forward Derrick Williams and power forward/center Kyle O’Quinn. Williams hasn’t lived up to his number two overall selection, but on a two-year deal (player option for the second year) worth about $10 million total, he’s worth the risk. O’ Quinn is locked in for three years (player option for the fourth year), but he’s only 25 years old and that beard is pretty tight.

This team won’t contend for a title next year, but they will be much more exciting to watch than last year’s team. Big name players don’t want to tarnish their reputation and come to New York to be apart of the spotlight if the team sucks. The Knicks need to show improvement before they nab stars, and Jackson realized that.

What Does This Year Bring?

Even though the Knicks should be vastly improved from a year ago, it will be difficult to make the postseason when teams who missed out on the postseason this year, like the Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers, and Detroit Pistons will be better on paper than the Knicks.

It’s important not to label Jackson’s tenure as a disappointment if the team happens to miss out on the playoffs again. The Knicks’ teams of the past 15 years are a product of years of horrendous management. The rebuild was incredibly necessary and inevitable, and sometimes you need someone willing to stand in the fire and take the heat of New York’s scolding inferno. In this case, that person was Phil Jackson.

Without blowing up the team, and constantly trading away future picks for middle of the pack players, the team could never truly flourish. This was much needed for a city and fan base that is enamored with Dr. James Naismith’s beloved creation.

When you fall down, do you immediately jump up from you back? Or does it take a number of steps to finally get back to your feet (I’m so inspirational)? That’s what it will take to build the Knicks back up to a powerhouse in the East. They won’t jump up and be contenders this year, but with the proper steps they could be in a few years and what’s more important is they’ll be able to sustain it over a period of time.

Those steps are crucial, and so far we’ve seen the right steps from Phil Jackson, which should be encouraging for Knicks’ fans.

Stats and salary information courtesy of basketball-reference.com

Follow John Aiello on Twitter: @aielloja15

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