Legendary head coach Phil Jackson was officially announced as the new Knicks president, supplanting Steve Mills, who will now only execute his duties as the franchise’s general manager.
While no one bothered to ask the displaced Mills any questions during Tuesday’s one-hour press conference, there was plenty to be asked of Jackson and his new boss, owner Jim Dolan.
Jackson began his presser by saying he didn’t have any prepared remarks and would be “shooting from the cuff.” He was direct when spouting the old adage of “no ‘I’ in team,” harkening to the 1970s when the Knicks were winning championships and epitomizing ball movement, sharing and unselfish play.
“I believe in system basketball,” Jackson said, adding he thinks the fabled, yet often-maligned Triangle offense can work in New York — although he won’t “insist” on the team using it.
Jackson reasoned basketball “isn’t for rocket scientists,” adding the game should be played in harmony, much like a “symphony.”
Dolan provided his own wonderful music to Knicks fans’ ears when he humbly noted Jackson and Mills will be the men in charge and he’ll do as little meddling as possible because he knows basketball is not his true forte.
“The two gentlemen to my left are experts in basketball. I’m not an expert at basketball,” admitted Dolan. “My expertise lies in managing businesses. … I’m a fan [who is] out of my element when it comes to being a decision-maker for the Knicks. … I’m willingly and gratefully [stepping aside].”
As the Knicks usher in a new era, the new team president also said his goal is to facilitate a new era of media relations where it’s not as contentious as it is now. Since Dolan officially gained control of the franchise in 1999, he’s fostered an atmosphere that was adversarial amongst the front office and the local media who covered his team.
Jackson, known for his Zen-like qualities, said it’s time to repair that bridge.
“This organization has suffered over the years,” said Jackson. “I think we need the media’s support, and the fans and players deserve a positive atmosphere. … I’ll be assessable [but] there will still be some closed walls in regards to media at times.”
The league’s most accomplished coach ever said while it’ll take a while to mold the Knicks in his vision, he indeed has a plan — a plan that includes star forward Carmelo Anthony, should the Knicks convince him to re-sign with them once he becomes a free agent this summer.
Jackson believes the free agent class this summer isn’t very promising, but is interested in seeing how the summer of 2015 unfolds, especially when the Knicks will finally have a first-round pick and tons of salary cap space.
“We know that we’ll need another solid contributor along with Carmelo,” said Jackson. “I have no doubt [and] no problem committing in saying that Carmelo is in the future plans. … No doubt we can build around Carmelo.”
Anthony, who is averaging 28 points per game and a career-high 8.3 rebounds, is widely known as one of the league’s best pure scorers today. But while that accolade is nice, the forward has yet to really stamp his mark on the postseason annals. Jackson said he thinks he can change that thinking should the star re-up with the Knicks.
“I definitely believe that Carmelo is one of the most gifted scorers in the league,” said Jackson. “But I also believe that he can take his game to another level.”
Jackson used Anthony’s time as an Olympian as an example that the star can conform to team play and execute a set role.
It’s still unknown if the Hall of Fame coach can make a seamless transition from the sidelines to the executive suite. Though Jackson’s credibility is engraved in those 11 rings as a head coach — and two more as member of the Knicks in the 1970s — he’s still a neophyte when it comes to running a front office. Jackson’s contemporary — and rival — Pat Riley is a measuring stick for Jackson. Riley went from leading the Heat from the sidelines during their 2006 championship run to being the man behind the scenes as the franchise’s top executive. And it was Riley who was mainly responsible for forming the Heat’s “Big 3,” culminating with Miami currently being the league’s two-time defending champion and a participant in the past three NBA Finals.
There’s no assurance Jackson can have the same type of sway as a recruiter and builder.
Larry Bird, a Hall of Fame player who once also led the Pacers to the Finals in 2000 and is now the franchise’s exalted executive, is another measuring stick for Jackson. But to many who know both Riley and Bird, they are basketball lifers who actually enjoy the daily grind of being ruler of everything basketball for their respective organizations.
The jury, however, is still out on Jackson’s desire and grit to roll up his sleeves and build a moribund franchise from the ground up.
He assured the masses — and more importantly Dolan — that he’s in it for the long haul and will use the entirety of his five-year contract in making the Knicks a winner again. Jackson even admitted he’ll make his residency in New York despite having a home in Southern California, being engaged to Lakers executive Jeanie Buss and joking that just a couple days ago he was enjoying the sun and warmth of 80-degree weather in California only to arrive in New York in a 28-degree chill.
Jackson acknowledged he’ll be going back and forth between Los Angeles and New York time to time, but he’s all in toward being a full-time executive and not just someone whose name and reputation will be merely a figurehead.
“I’ll be making my residence here. New York is a wonderful place to live,” said Jackson, who admitted the first contact with Dolan was back in December. “I knew from our talks with Jim that I’d have to do this the right way.”
Whether this all works out is still a mystery, but Jackson’s vision is not. He’s roundly considered one of the sharpest basketball minds in the league’s history, and will likely use his out of the box thinking to carve his niche, as he’s not seeking a traditional role as the franchise’s overseer.
His role is to set the agenda, establish a new culture and values system, identify the type of players and coaches a team should pursue — whether that’s current coach Mike Woodson or not — and install the offensive and defensive philosophies his coach should implement. Jackson has gone on record in the past saying he’s “fascinated” with the new-age analytics style of running a team. And while Woodson has also gone on record in the past regaling the old-school scout’s eye version of coaching over analytics, Jackson is confident he and his current coach can work together.
“I think he’s shown that he’s a good basketball coach,” Jackson said, adding he won’t totally get the chance to evaluate Woodson right now. “We’ll have conversations after the season.”
One conversation will likely be about the Triangle offense. Woodson’s offenses favor isolation and the pick-and-roll, while Jackson’s philosophies center on even-shot distribution, players cutting and moving and crisp passing — features that severely lack in the current Knicks offense.
“I’m willing to educate anyone who wants to learn the nuances of the Triangle,” said Jackson, adding his primary goal is to help Woodson in any capacity as they’re trying to rally for the eighth and final playoff spot. “We’re in the midst of trying to make the playoffs and playing better lately. … We’ll make it here.”
Knicks notes …
»Mills was merely a silent participant in the press conference, but the lack of attention paid to him is understandable considering it was Jackson’s day and Dolan speaks to the masses about once every six years. Mills, who was suddenly hired in September to be the Knicks general manager and team president will only retain the general manager tag. But as Dolan noted, while Jackson will have final say, Mills’s input and expertise in the analytics side of basketball is greatly valued and will be put to great use.
»Dolan assured Knicks fans that even with Jackson aboard he won’t raise ticket prices — yet: “That’s not going to happen … but I can’t promise that next year [2015 when the team will likely go on a free-agent spending spree].”
»Jackson’s credentials read like an extended scroll. He won two championships as a player with the Knicks in 1970 and 1973. He was the head coach of the Bulls from 1989 until 1998, during which time Chicago won six NBA titles. His next stop was with the Lakers where he won five NBA titles from 2000 until 2010. In total, he’s won 11 NBA titles as a coach, surpassing the previous record of nine set by Red Auerbach. He also holds the NBA record for the most combined championships as a player and a head coach (13). In 2007, Jackson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1996, as part of celebrations for the National Basketball Association’s 50th anniversary, Jackson was named one of the 10 greatest coaches in league history.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.