In February, Knicks owner James Dolan was emphatic in his contention that he would not relieve Phil Jackson of his duties as team president before the conclusion of his five-year contract.
“Three years ago, I signed a contract with Phil Jackson,” Dolan said during a radio interview on “The Michael Kay Show” on ESPN. “The man who has more championship rings as far as I know than anybody else. He was the best guy we thought we could find to run the New York Knicks. And I made an agreement with him.”
Dolan continued, “The agreement didn’t say that you have to have this amount of wins by this time or anything of the sort like that. And that is where I am at. Whether I like the results or don’t like the results, I am going to honor that agreement, all the way to the end.”
That was then. Wednesday, Dolan dramatically reversed course and wisely ended Jackson’s jagged tenure with the franchise. “After careful thought and consideration, we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction,” Dolan said via statement. “Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA. His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched. We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the Knicks as both a player and an executive.”
Jackson’s exit was necessary. He was brought here not as a savior, but to put the franchise on a course of sustained success, meaning regular appearances in the playoffs. The underpinning of the plan was to have Jackson use his unmatched resume as a coach to attract some of the NBA’s best free-agents to the Knicks. Instead, he at once strategically, arrogantly and self-destructively derided and alienated the franchise’s signature player, Carmelo Anthony, and fostered a wide chasm between himself and the team’s rising young star, Kristaps Porzingis. Players around the league, many of them extremely close with Anthony, took notice and eliminated the Knicks from their list of teams they would consider joining either as free-agents or by a trade.
Furthermore, Jackson’s insistence on imposing the triangle offense on former head coach Derek Fisher and current head coach Jeff Hornacek, a system Jackson’s own players and a plethora of NBA stars alike rejected, undermined the franchise’s ability to execute an effective rebuilding campaign.
With Jackson being jettisoned, Steve Mills, the team’s general manager, will oversee the basketball operations as the Knicks begin play in the Orlando Pro Summer League this Saturday. Jackson’s legacy with the Knicks has yet to be written. Porzingis may wind up being a perennial All-Star and 18-year-old Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks’ first-round pick (No.8 overall) in the draft could in time emerge as the desperately needed top-tier point guard the Knicks have been searching for since Stephon Marbury.
Nevertheless, today, his reputation as a historic winner, a pragmatist, a genius in bringing disparate personalities and talents together to function as a cohesive unit and an intellectual has no doubt been tarnished.