By Steve Silverman
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This is not going to be as complicated as everybody thinks.
It may not happen overnight, but Phil Jackson should be able to make steady progress as president of the New York Knicks. This team will get back on track and become a title contender again.
That’s because Jackson has always seen things clearly since he became a head coach in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls. His ability to get the most out of players – and everyone associated with the team – has not disappeared.
He has hungered for this opportunity for a long while. He chafed when he had to work with general manager Jerry Krause in Chicago and he didn’t exactly share credit with Lakers executives when he was reeling in titles in Los Angeles.
Jackson has wanted to run the franchise his way, much the way Bill Parcells hungered to do it in the NFL. It was Parcells who “wanted to buy the groceries” and not just “prepare the meal.”
He didn’t get that opportunity for a long time, and he seethed because of it.
Jackson does not have Parcells’ edge to his personality. He does not operate completely out of fear and is not constantly threatening to cut or fire those who don’t see it the way he does.
Jackson could have been with the Knicks at least a year and a half earlier. At that point, Jackson was on the sidelines and didn’t give any indication that he wanted to return to the NBA as a coach. However, if James Dolan had wooed Jackson the way he has done now, the Knicks would have been on the right track a lot sooner.
Jackson has four key decisions to make if he is going to be successful. The first is probably the easiest. He needs to find himself a new general manager (sorry, Steve Mills). He needs to find an executive who is a salary-cap guru, who knows all the deadlines and will stay on top of the details that go along with the job of running the team properly.
This may seem like a glorified secretary position to someone who will make all the key personnel decisions, but it is not. Phil never overwhelmed himself with the detail work during his time in Chicago or Los Angeles, and he must find someone whom he likes and trusts so he does not embarrass himself.
He must also find a brilliant chief scout. Jackson knows better than anybody that you win with outstanding personnel, and don’t think for a minute that he’s going to take scouting trips to college games so he can find the latest piece of the puzzle.
If he’s not going to head off to Salt Lake City, Missouri or Austin, you know that he’s not heading over to Europe or South America to find the kind of imports that can help the team grow. That’s not his thing.
But it’s something that has to be done, and Jackson must find the right chief scout so the Knicks have a chance to have championship personnel on their roster.
Jackson has to figure out what he’s going to do with Carmelo Anthony. It’s not about making a nebulous statement regarding Carmelo at his introductory press conference. Jackson seemed to say that Anthony would remain a part of the Knicks, but he did not commit to it. Jackson probably knows if he is going to keep Anthony or not, but he realizes that timing is everything.
If he is going to let Anthony go, there’s a time and a place for it and Jackson realizes it.
The feeling is that Jackson is not enamored with Anthony at all, but he is clearly the Knicks’ best asset and there is a proper way to treat him before he makes his final decision. Jackson understands these nuances and he’s not going to burn bridges.
Finally, Jackson is going to have to find the right coach for this team. That’s going to be the most excruciating of all the decisions.
Mike Woodson obviously knows it’s not going to be him, and he will finish his time this year and fade into the sunset.
But who will Jackson trust? He probably can find someone whom he believes can make the right in-game decisions, but who will he find that can relate to his players and help them to improve?
That’s going to be the hard part. Jackson, 68, seemingly doesn’t want to sit on the bench any longer, but he’s not going to find anybody that is going to do the job as well as he could.
If and when the Knicks get to the point where Jackson deems that the personnel is good enough to win, he is going to have to ask himself the question if his coach can lead as well as Big Chief Triangle.
You know the answer to that one.
Jackson should come to the conclusion that he is going to have to return to coaching, as long as his health holds out.
That’s when the Knicks are going to have a real chance to win and bring their first title back to Madison Square Garden since 1973.
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