By John Schmeelk
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On the surface, Phil Jackson looks like he is in a little over his head as the general manager of the Knicks. We learned Friday that he allowed Steve Kerr to get out of a verbal commitment to coach the Knicks, and interview with the Golden State Warriors.
That might show Jackson is a good person and friend to Kerr, but it doesn’t mean he is a good negotiator. He could have held Kerr to his pledge and blasted him if he reneged on it, but instead he handled the situation like he has everything else he has taken on with the Knicks — with patience, candor and calm. Perhaps that is just what the Knicks need.
In the past, the Knicks always seemed to be under the enormous pressure of deadlines and ultimatums. They were a perpetually desperate franchise. They always had to win now. They could never rebuild in New York. They HAD to move a draft pick and Jared Jeffries to create more cap space. They HAD to pull the trigger on the Carmelo Anthony trade, rather than wait it out until free agency. They amnestied Chauncey Billups to sign Tyson Chandler to win now, rather than maintain flexibility in the future to cut Amar’e Stoudemire.
That type of attitude and approach was dictated by the decade of failure at the Garden, the impatience of the owner, the refurbishing of the arena to go along with rising ticket prices, and an unhappy fan base. This constant state of panic forced the Knicks into moves that ultimately did not help the franchise.
Jackson has changed all of that. He lets things happen. He doesn’t allow events to control him, rather, he controls events.
If Kerr really wanted to be in Golden State, Jackson felt like he would be better off not coaching the Knicks. He has the confidence and inner belief that he can find someone else to fill the position that will be just as good. Whether that is Derek Fisher or a college coach, Jackson does not appear to be panicking or even concerned that he had to move onto to other plans once Kerr said no. Likewise, Anthony’s free agency is a concern, but Jackson seems more than ready to move on and travel a different course if he decides to leave.
There’s no panic. Jackson is not desperate. There is calm. There is peace. There is Zen.
What would this type of attitude have meant for the Knicks had Jackson been running the franchise for the last five years is interesting to ponder. It probably means that they wouldn’t have gone all in on a risky max contract for Stoudemire. Jackson would have been fine to calmly wait for the right move to come along, rather than do something now that ended up being more bad than good.
Jackson also probably would have been patient in the Anthony trade negotiations, instead of overpaying for the star. When speaking to the media Friday, Jackson made an offhand joke about how the Knicks shouldn’t give the Nuggets any assets for Brian Shaw, since they already gave them everything they had for Anthony.
All of these are assumptions, but his patient and calm approach to finding the Knicks’ next coach seems to indicate those would have been the paths taken if Jackson was in charge.
The days of the Knicks being taken advantage of as a lumbering big market franchise desperate to make a splash appear to be over. Jackson is confident enough in himself to navigate the river no matter which ford the Knicks travel down. That’s a good thing. Maybe the Knicks will finally join teams like the Thunder, Spurs and the Rockets as the adults in the room that are more interested in building a team the right way that can win a title, than trying to stack stars.
Or, of course, Jackson could be in over his head. Maybe what he is projecting as patience and calm is really just Jackson floating aimlessly in the ocean unsure how to proceed. Perhaps he is lost in his new job. Considering Jackson’s penchant for deep thought, I find that unlikely.
Right or wrong, he has plotted a new course for the Knicks, and one that will have fewer sharp turns, drops, and hills. The days of panic moves that hurt this franchise over the long run seem to be over.
It should be a smoother ride with Jackson behind the wheel. The Knicks are no longer a desperate franchise.
For everything Knicks, NBA, Giants, and Yankees, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk
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