The New York Knicks have no clue how to build a championship winning team. It’s been almost 40 years since the last Knicks world championship and the immediate future does not look all that promising either. The roster is flawed and the management is in bed with Creative Artists Agency. Considering those are the most pressing issues, it would seem the Knicks may be able to make a few wise basketball decisions and get themselves back to a level of consistent contenders. The problem is the Knicks problems run much deeper than just that.
The Knicks biggest issue is a meddling owner who cannot seem to get out of his own way. James Dolan thinks he knows the game of basketball. It is fairly obvious though to any outside observer, that James Dolan does not know the game of basketball. If he did, he would interject appropriately, imparting knowledge that may be helpful and beneficial to the direction of the franchise. Instead he forces deals for overrated “superstars” giving up a bounty in the process. He also hands out bad contracts to coaches who are poor fits for the rosters they are given. I like Mike Woodson, but I don’t think his trial run replacing D’Antoni was enough for me to hand him the job without interviewing any candidates outside the organization.
Futility is not a result of happenstance, just as success is rarely a direct result of pure luck. There is a reason the San Antonio Spurs are the best franchise in the NBA over the past 15 seasons and it has less to do with Tim Duncan being on the team than one might think.
Duncan is one of the greatest players in league history, and there was a good amount of luck involved in the Spurs winning the lottery in 97’ after finishing the regular season with the leagues third worst record. I contend that they may have been just as successful the last 15 years if they didn’t win the lottery and were forced to take Chauncey Billups third overall as the Celtics did. I know this sounds crazy but stay with me here. Chauncey Billups is not a top 15 player all-time, but Popovich (and later R.C Buford) would have found the other pieces they needed to build a championship team because the Spurs work harder than any team in basketball. They understand how to win and what it takes to build a winning team. They understand the salary cap, the draft and the importance of chemistry and they properly value all these things accordingly. When they need new pieces they tear down what they had and rebuild all the while maintaining a level balance.
The Knicks don’t understand any of these things to even half the degree that the Spurs do. The Knicks biggest issue in my eyes is their lack of understanding when it comes to judging value. Dolan values stars. It is why he hired Isiah Thomas. It’s why he traded for Marbury and allowed Donnie Walsh to tear down and make a frantic run at LeBron James.
That’s why it is so inconceivable to me that Dolan didn’t call the biggest star in the history of NBA coaching to see if he would be interested in the Knicks job. Everyone close to Phil Jackson said that he was waiting by the phone. His friends said he felt rejuvenated and was ready to get back to work, he was just waiting for a call. Creative Artists and Madison Square Garden felt that CAA’s new client and Glen Grunwald’s college teammate was the right man for the job, and they could not have been more wrong. The right man for the job was spending his spring in Montana recharging his batteries and waiting for a phone call that never came.
Here is the sad part of the Knicks missing out on Jackson. I do think that he was ready to come back and was interested in the Knicks job. I also think that he was the only man on the planet that could have walked in the door day one and commanded the respect of the entire roster. Jackson would have implemented the triangle, which may also have been the only way for Carmelo and Amar’e to co-exist happily within the same offense. Now flawed defensive players are going to be expected to ratchet up that aspect of their game for Mike Woodson, and the offense is going to run isolation sets through Carmelo Anthony. I guarantee the Knicks would have played the same level of defense they played this year under Woodson for Jackson, because Phil expects the same out of his players.
I’m also afraid that the locker room is fractured to a degree. I do think there are players who were supportive of D’Antoni and his vision for the direction of the Knicks offense. Lin, Stoudemire, Jeffries and Chandler most certainly were D’Antoni supporters. Anthony and Bibby were most certainly happy to see Woodson take over. The minute Phil Jackson would have walked in the door, this team would have been undivided, wholeheartedly together under a mantra of Zen basketball.
Unfortunately we will never get to find out what the Knicks could have looked like under the greatest coach in NBA history. We won’t get to find out if the winningest coach in league history wanted to head back to where to all began to bring a championship back to the Knicks using what he learned under the great Red Holzman. All because this organization didn’t bother to pick up the phone, all because the owner meddles when it’s unnecessary and sits on his hands when his craving for stars would have actually satisfied a legitimate need.
The main reason we won’t get to see a championship in New York anytime soon is because the Knicks don’t understand value. They don’t understand the value of the draft and building from within, the value of holding onto your salary cap space to splurge when it can put you over the top and most importantly how the value of a great coach can be the last piece of the puzzle. The Knicks won’t get the importance of value until they have their awakening. Sadly it didn’t come soon enough to bring in the Zen master himself to finish the job as he always has.