The first piece of Phil Jackson–related news is that on Thursday, the Knicks and Jackson agreed that Jackson will remain the team’s president for the final two years of his contract. Jackson’s five-year deal had an opt-out this summer, and both sides opted in. The team did not announce this, but it reportedly happened.
The second piece of news is that on Friday, Jackson used his first press conference since September to publicly say that Carmelo Anthony shouldn’t be on the Knicks anymore. This is news only in that it’s public. He’d cryptically criticized Anthony in a February tweet and on TV, and there was the Seasoned Basketball Scribe version of “Ether” penned by longtime Jackson pal Charley Rosen, but now Jackson’s opinion is on the record.
First off, a fact check: The Knicks have been able to win with Carmelo Anthony! They made the playoffs each of his first three years with the team, including a 54-win season in 2012–13. (No Eastern Conference team won 54 games this year.) They haven’t been able to win with Phil Jackson. They’ve missed the playoffs by at least 10 games in each of his three full years as team president.
But back to Phil embarrassing himself. Jackson is making these comments for a reason. Anthony isn’t an All-NBA-level talent anymore, but he still has a massive contract, with two years and $53 million remaining. Jackson would like to trade him. But Jackson can’t, because Anthony has a no-trade clause. Perhaps Jackson is trying to reason with Anthony and convince him there is a better way forward; perhaps he’s just trying to make life so uncomfortable that Anthony wants to go elsewhere. Either way, Jackson is responsible for this situation. He’s the one who agreed to a contract extension with Anthony, and he’s the one who agreed to the no-trade clause.
Besides drafting Kristaps Porzingis in 2015, which was amazing, virtually every decision Jackson has made has been a bad one. His first coaching hire was Derek Fisher, who had both on-the-court and off-the-court problems. His second was Jeff Hornacek, who at the very least has only been questionable for basketball reasons.
In 2015 Jackson regeared the team after a tanking year by signing Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, and Derrick Williams. None of those players is currently on the Knicks. In 2016 he regeared the team again by trading for Derrick Rose, who is perpetually injured and hated Jackson’s triangle offense; signing Joakim Noah to a $72 million deal even though he’s perhaps even more perpetually injured than Rose; and signing Brandon Jennings, who lasted only a few months with the team. The best player he has acquired outside of Porzingis is probably Courtney Lee. We were told Jackson would return the Knicks to greatness; he has gotten them Courtney Lee.
During his press conference, Jackson claimed that he was claiming responsibility, saying that “the buck stops here.” And yet the main takeaway from the event is that three years into his tenure, Jackson believes Anthony is the one preventing the team from being great.
Jackson might be right that Anthony is better off elsewhere. He’s got a lot of money and he’ll probably never be part of a winning team in New York again. He doesn’t need to be a part of the Knicks, and every minute he stays here diminishes his reputation.
I wish Jackson had realized the same about himself.