Phil Jackson will never be nominated for a U.S. ambassadorship. He affirmed as much last Friday during his gathering with the media after the Knicks’ fourth straight regular season finishing below .500 and devoid of a playoff appearance.
Jackson’s assessments of and counsel for his two most significant players, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, as well as head coach Jeff Hornacek, were blunt, lacking diplomacy and at times callous. They were also in many respects accurate and pragmatic.
The Knicks were a disappointing 31-51 this past season. They had the talent to be much better but never developed chemistry, a clear positive identity or consistent productivity. As much as Jackson, the franchise’s team president and chief architect of their messy season, attempts to absolve himself of a bulk of the accountability, he is most responsible for the Knicks, yes his Knicks, finishing tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the sixth worst record in the 30-team NBA.
“I think there’s disconnect sometimes with this team,” he surmised, “and I think there was some rebelliousness with this team that created some of the discord during the year.” Jackson went on to say that the dysfunction must stop and will stop. Yet it won’t if he does not demonstrate more effective leadership skills that will galvanize the team.
Few followers of Jackson’s cryptic missives pertaining to Anthony that were a source of much of the discord and rebellion were gullible enough to be persuaded to believe the 32-year-old veteran was the primary reason the Knicks struggled. In fact, Anthony is the sole reason they didn’t wind up with the most ping-pong balls in next month’s draft lottery.
But Jackson was simply stating the obvious when he shared these thoughts on Anthony’s once presumed status as a transformational player.
“We’ve not been able to win with him on the court at this time,” said Jackson. “I think the direction with our team is that he is a player that would be better off somewhere else and using his talents somewhere where he can win or chase that championship.”
Depending on Anthony’s priorities, he indeed would be better off somewhere else if winning a title takes precedence above all else. He’ll turn 33 May 29 and has two years remaining on a five-year, $124 million contract. But reality dictates that he won’t taste a championship in New York as Jackson made it clear the Knicks desire to rebuild with younger players three to five years away from being a championship caliber core.
“Right now we need players that are really active, can play every single play defensively and offensively,” added Jackson. “That’s really important for us. We’re starting to get some players on the court who can do that. That’s the direction we have to go.”
Jackson said he was direct with Anthony in offering career advice. “I just said that you haven’t won here. You don’t want to end up your career not winning,” Jackson shared with the media. “This is not something that you want to have labeled on your career. You want to get to that territory where you have a chance to win.”
Jackson evidently didn’t ingratiate himself with Porzingis, who did not attend his scheduled exit interview with the man who drafted him fourth overall in 2015. Jackson was prudently tepid in anointing Porzingis as a player the Knicks were committed to bestowing the designation franchise player. The jury is still out as to whether he will evolve into a night-in, night-out impact player. However, getting Porzingis to buy into his blueprint should be paramount to Jackson. The success of any play he has put in place is heavily contingent on Porzingis, 21, becoming a cornerstone of the foundation.
It will be a long and interesting offseason for Jackson and the Knicks. And the only measure of his value, all five-years and $60 million of a contract with two more years remaining, is tangible results.