Keidel: By Crushing Melo’s Trade Value, Phil Jackson Further Proves He’s Not The Cure To Knicks’ Decadeslong Ills

By Jason Keidel
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The Knicks and their fans are wondering: How did Phil Jackson go from king of the basketball court to court jester?

In the world of analytics and acronyms — from PER to WAR to OPS — the Knicks revive some old, WWII nomenclature: FUBAR.

While some of us were not nearly as elated as so many New Yorkers to hear that Jackson was summoned to save the Knicks from the four-decade abyss that has yielded zero championships since Jackson himself was playing for them, he does have 13 NBA championship rings, 11 as a coach. Which means there should be some inherent wisdom and personnel acumen. Just by default, by dint of his dominance on the sideline, Jackson had to know what kind of player prospered in the NBA, or what kind of prospect would mature into a fine player.

Yet during his tenure as czar of all things Knicks, Jackson has had the inverse impact.

Phil Jackson

Knicks president Phil Jackson (Photo by Bryan R. Smith/ AFP/Getty Images)

And while you could, at one time, argue that Jackson inherited Carmelo Anthony, he made it worse by doubling down. Not only with a new, max contract for an aging, one-dimension scorer, but also by giving him a no-trade clause, a most rare and coveted security granted only to Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki at the time.

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No doubt Knicks owner James Dolan gave Jackson cash for the cachet, a way to keep the wolves at bay. Who could possibly argue with bringing the winningest coach in NBA history to run your club? But if this $60 million investment in Jackson were a stock, Dolan would be filing for Chapter 11. No one, not even those as cynical as yours truly, saw this train wreck. And as astonishing or blasphemous as it sounds, you could argue that, as a team president, Jackson has barely been better than Isiah Thomas, who was arguably the worst in the history of team sports. Peripheral problems aside — Jackson didn’t bring the off-court or legal woes that swarmed Thomas — the net result is strikingly, hauntingly familiar.

If you were to ask which GM type lorded over the worst season in club history, surely your pick would be Thomas. But it was Jackson who stewarded that rather recent 17-65 season. Jackson has also hemorrhaged head coaches. You’d think the one thing Jackson would recognize is a fine basketball coach. Nope. Kurt Rambis bombed. As did Derek Fisher. Now Jeff Hornacek is being asked to do the impossible: reverse the cosmic or karmic tax that has plagued the Knicks for decades.

The Knicks were 112-216 in four full seasons under Thomas, for a .341 winning percentage. And they’re 80-166 in three full seasons under Jackson. That’s a .325 winning percentage. And yes, that’s worse than under Thomas.

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Ah, but Jackson would have the Midas touch in returning to his hardwood roots. Not only would he turn his current crop of players into a fabulous five, he would also attract he best free agents on earth. Yeah.

Jackson can’t even manage the (very) few stars he has encountered. He loves Anthony enough to grossly overpay him. Then once he realizes what a ghastly mistake that was, he humiliates Melo in the press, making him nearly impossible to trade. It’s not only a bad job; it’s bad business and wholly counterintuitive. You don’t need a degree from Wharton to know these things.

And Melo isn’t the only important Knick who’s either losing or lost respect for Jackson. The future of the franchise, and the only golden moment of Jackson’s tenure, Kristaps Porzingis, has flatly ignored Jackson, skipped his exit meeting, and plans to play for Latvia this summer, which is in direct disobedience of the Knicks’ past directives.

And there’s no better emblem of Jackson’s corporate incompetence than the way he’s handled his best player. Say what you will about Anthony — and many of us have — he has not only been the Knicks’ best player and only bona fide star, he’s also handled himself like a pro. Which is not something one could always say about stars in New York City, or with the Knicks. (Starbury, anyone?)

I’m often asked what I have against the Knicks, why I, born and raised just a few train stops (96th Street) from Madison Square Garden, treat them with such unbridled contempt. Perhaps it’s because I was a frothing Knicks fan, catching the last months of Walt Frazier’s tenure but really sunk my teeth into those fabulously fun Hubie Brown clubs of Webster and Cartwright and Sparrow and Trent and Ernie and Bernie — the great Bernard King, with the best and most regal turnaround jumper in NBA history.

Maybe, like a reformed smoker who used to puff two packs a day, I just can’t tolerate someone who sucks on the toxic fumes floating from the Garden. While I don’t hold claim to mystical powers, I left the moment the Knicks let Pat Riley walk, even though they were still contenders. I knew it would only break bad from there. And after a fairy tale season, reaching the NBA Finals under Jeff Van Gundy in 1999, that’s precisely what happened.

Riley, of course, went on to build an empire in Miami, drafting Dwyane Wade and acquiring two of the 10 best players in NBA history — Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James — on the way to winning three NBA rings. The Miami Heat have only been around since the 1988, yet have more championships than the Knicks, who have been around since the NBA began, in 1946.

Only the Knicks can charge for a Porsche and deliver a Prius. Only the Knicks can play like such a low-rent team in such a high-rent district. Only the Knicks could draft the wrong Antetokounmpo.

Jackson runs this team into the bowels of the subway system because Dolan allows him to. And Dolan does so because you allow him to. Dolan charges the highest prices to see the worst team and you, the fan, just gobble it up, eat dirt and beg for more. The Garden, once a hallowed arena, has slid off the side of Manhattan and plunged into the Hudson River, and you don’t even reach for a raft.

After all the failure, all the sadness and satire and endless Aprils looking up at the league’s best teams, Jackson has the Knicks exactly where they’ve been, and where they belong — out of the playoffs, and in the draft lottery. At least they have a pick this year.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel

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