By John Schmeelk
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After nearly two weeks of reports and agreements in principle, the New York Knicks and Phil Jackson will tie the knot in a very public way Tuesday.
But this is truly little more than a show. Obviously it’s a huge step in the right direction for Knicks owner James Dolan to hire someone with the stature of Jackson to run the team, but that move by itself means very little. It’s a matter of what Jackson does with his newfound power, and how much freedom Dolan gives him to exercise that power. We won’t know the answers to those questions, even if they are asked.
Here are the five most important questions Jackson will be asked during his intro:
1. Do you have complete autonomy over all basketball decisions?
He might answer in the affirmative, but no one will know if it is actually true for years to come. Dolan could step in and reassert control at any time. He did it with Donnie Walsh and he could do it again.
If Jackson answers “no” to this question, his hiring becomes much less significant than many of us thought. That answer would literally would be the most depressing thing any Knicks fan could hear at the press conference. There are other executives with more consistent success than Jackson that New York could have hired, but Jackson was so attractive because his name and track record might actually be enough to get James Dolan to release the reins of power. If we find out that’s not true at the first press conference it would be a huge disappointment.
2. Who do you want to hire as your head coach?
Jackson can’t answer this question considering Mike Woodson is still the current coach, leading the team on a six-game winning streak and trying to get into the playoffs. It would do nothing to announce Woodson is a lame duck now. Jackson will have to lie and say he will evaluate Woodson after the season, despite the fact everyone knows there will be a new coach next year. The only facts we could learn about the Knicks’ next coach is the type of person Jackson would hire. (Experience, system, things of that nature.)
3. Do you want Carmelo Anthony on the roster next year?
I can guarantee you that Jackson won’t say “no” to this question since Anthony is trying to lead the Knicks to the playoffs right now. No doubt Jackson will instead praise Anthony as a player and throw out blanket statements about how he is one of the best in the league. The only possible information that could be revealed regarding Anthony’s future is whether or not Jackson would sign him to a maximum extension or try to get him for a smaller deal. Likewise, Jackson probably won’t reveal any of his true feelings about the other players on the roster either out of fear it could short-circuit the current winning streak. There’s no positive result from being honest with the season in full swing and the trade deadline already long gone.
4. How will you run the front office?
This is finally a question that Jackson could answer with some level of candor. We’ll learn how much he intends to be in New York, and how much time he’ll spend at home on the West Coast. Steve Mills’ role will be detailed to some extent and we’ll find out if Jackson wants to bring in his own personnel people to help with the draft and free agency. That’s significant since Jackson will need someone to do all the grinding work that someone his age might not be willing or able to do himself. It would also show how much ultimate control Jackson has over the front office. If he replaces most of the people there it would show a much greater level of control. It would also show how much of a presence CAA would retain with ownership. We might also find out how Jackson will change or work within Dolan’s media policy. Will Phil talk to reporters often and be a public figure? If he doesn’t completely change the culture at the Garden, it’s a bad sign. These are the answers Knicks fans should be looking for.
5. How patient are you willing to be with the rebuilding process?
This is important only because it would show Jackson’s willingness to let Anthony walk under the right circumstances, trade away assets for draft picks, and start from scratch in 2015. This might not be Jackson’s plan, but his inclination to engage in that process certainly gives the franchise more options depending on what Melo does during the offseason. The Knicks being awful in 2015 would not be the worst thing in the world, especially considering they have their first-round pick.
That’s what Knicks fans can hope to hear from their new leader Tuesday. On the off chance that Dolan speaks to the media and answers questions, anything he says would of course make news, but Knicks fans shouldn’t count on that given his tight-lipped history. Anyone who gets Dolan to speak would be the author of one of the biggest coups in recent memory.
This is the start of a new Knicks era filled with questions and great anticipation. Jackson brings great promise but an unproven track record as a GM.
No one has any idea how he will operate and we won’t learn much about that Tuesday. Some of the process will be revealed but none of the big decisions will even be discussed. Knicks fans, enjoy the show, but don’t expect to learn a whole lot.
This is only the beginning.
You can follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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