By John Schmeelk
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There has been an endless stream of national NBA reporters — they know more about the league than I do and are great at their jobs, by the way — who have written about what an impending disaster the Knicks-Phil Jackson marriage is going to be.
The theme is always the same: There is no way this partnership can end but badly, considering the diametrically-opposed personalities of James Dolan and Jackson. They are right in the fact that when Jackson does eventually leave the Knicks, it will probably be ugly. But they are missing the point. It doesn’t matter how it ends. It matters how you get there.
The fact of the matter is that few tenures of general managers and coaches end well in any sport, even highly successful ones.
Joe Torre left the Yankees jaded and the Yankees looked like the bad guys trying to cut the salary of someone who won them four World Series titles. Pat Riley faxed in his resignation to the Knicks. Jeff Van Gundy quit on the team after less than 20 games. None of those endings were pretty, but it doesn’t mean their tenures weren’t successful and didn’t help their respective franchises immeasurably.
Even though Dolan dumped Donnie Walsh after a few years, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good thing that he was hired to begin with. Even Jackson’s time with the Lakers ended poorly, but does anyone consider that part of his career a negative for him or the franchise? That’s the prism in which this potential Jackson hiring needs to be looked at through. Can his honeymoon with Dolan last long enough for him to make a positive impact on the organization? I don’t see why not.
In fact, I see virtually no scenario in which Jackson looks bad coming out of this Knicks opportunity. If he clashes with Dolan and the result is an ugly divorce, everyone would blame Dolan and Jackson’s reputation would barely be scratched. If his moves don’t work out and the Knicks continue to struggle, he can spin it well enough to place the blame on the Knicks’ bad management structure put in place by Dolan and a lack of full autonomy.
Why wouldn’t anyone believe him considering the history of Knicks ownership? In either above situation, Jackson would also have a better idea of what it takes to run a franchise, and if he really wants to do it. During that learning experience, by the way, he would earn more than $10 million a year. Finally, if he succeeds in turning the Knicks into a contender, that’s one more medal on his chest, and he would then have laurels being thrown at his feet from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
How does Jackson lose in any of the above scenarios? He doesn’t. There’s very little downside for him.
The Knicks also provide a somewhat unique opportunity in that Jackson can choose to rebuild this team more or less any way he wants. Build around the current star, Carmelo Anthony, and try to compete as early as next year? Sure, go for it.
Let Anthony walk, tank for a top draft pick, trade veterans for future assets and start from scratch in 2015? Sure, that works too. He could hire a young coach or a veteran one who follows whatever philosophy he desires. Jackson would also have an endless vault of cash to tempt whatever coach he likes. He would have a clean slate with an owner willing to spend whatever it takes to win, the allure of Madison Square Garden and New York to draw in free agents, and his past success instilling confidence in players that the Knicks are finally ready to be serious winners.
There is no other team that offers that same combination of resources. Lacking first-round draft picks in 2014 and 2016 and second-rounders for as far as the eye can see certainly hurts, but trades could recoup some of those lost assets if Jackson so desires.
The Knicks’ current situation is not good, but it is not an incurable nightmare that many make it out to be.
This team, talent-wise, was good enough to be .500 if the players were utilized properly. This is not a five-year rebuild, but rather a two- or three-year reconstruction. It gives Jackson a chance to bring his career full circle in New York with no risk of being branded the bad guy if things do really go bad.
He’ll also get paid more here than anywhere else. What’s the problem? Where’s the downside? That’s why this, in the end, is going to happen.
Phil Jackson, above all else, will always take care of Phil Jackson. Right now, there’s no better way to do that than taking the Knicks’ job and the Knicks’ money. And regardless of how it ends, the Knicks franchise will be better off for it.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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