By John Schmeelk
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Frank Isola of the Daily News tried to drop a bombshell Wednesday morning, but the story’s own headline betrays how minor the story really is.
The headline said that according to a source “Dolan tries to stop Phil Jackson’s staff firings.” Let’s play a game and figure out what the key word is in that sentence. It’s “tries.” TRIES! James Dolan is the Knicks’ owner. He doesn’t try to do anything. He does what he wants and has that power.
Dolan didn’t actually stop Jackson from doing anything. Jackson said as much at his press conference earlier Wednesday, verbalizing that Dolan has been “very true to his word” on giving him final say on basketball operations.
The much less exciting fact is that whenever any franchise wants to fire an employee, it goes through the owner’s office. The fact that Dolan might have made a case for Herb Williams (if he was, in fact, someone Dolan wanted Jackson to retain) before he was fired shouldn’t surprise anyone. Jackson and Dolan discussing decisions is something I still expect to happen in this new arrangement. The fact Dolan felt it important enough to try to save someone like Herb speaks more to his loyalty than anything else. The bottom line is that Herb is still out the door despite Dolan wanting him in the building is the ONLY thing that matters. Jackson did what he wanted and Dolan stepped aside.
If Dolan had actually stopped Jackson from doing something he wanted to do, then there would be a real story here. But that never happened. Isola’s story even made reference to his source describing it as “minor friction.” Isola is a great writer, and the story was certainly worth reporting, but it is being blown out of proportion based upon what is actually reported in the story.
There is of course a gray area when it comes to things like the medical and PR staffs. Even though those people work with the basketball part of the operation, they are technically separate from the team. Dolan would have final say on those departments, even if Jackson wanted to make moves in those areas. If that is where this friction is coming from, it would make a lot of sense. Obviously, the best case scenario would be to allow Jackson to make decisions there as well, but Dolan trying to hold onto to loyal employees in those fringe areas makes sense and in theory would not violate his pledge to leave all basketball issues to Jackson. It also wouldn’t be a huge red flag that would seriously impede Jackson’s ability to run the team.
The Daily News story was disconcerting but not something that should induce anything close to panic. The fact that there was a leak at all might be the biggest concern. In the end, Jackson is being allowed to run the basketball side of things the way he sees fit, and that’s what matter most.
* Jackson said a number of other interesting things at his press conference, including a few comments that indicate the coaching search could take the Knicks well into the month of May. Aside from losing their top candidate to another team, there really isn’t a rush to bring in a coach quickly. He also indicated he will think outside the box in terms of a coach. He did mention he would talk to Steve Kerr about the job at some point.
* Thanks to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal who asked Jackson about giving Carmelo Anthony a max contract, and Jackson said he hopes Anthony will be “true to his word” about his willingness to take such a cut. That tells me if Melo does come back it won’t be under a max contract. There’s a better chance of him leaving than that happening. Jackson seems fine in letting him walk if that’s what is best for the franchise long term.
* Jackson also reiterated that he can no longer physically coach, and I think people might finally start believing him.
Follow John on Twitter for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports at @Schmeelk
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