Phil Jackson will have to roll up his sleeves -- and not just show off his rings -- for the Knicks to win.
NEW YORK – The Knicks lost again on Thursday, a fact these days that is neither unusual nor surprising. It was New York’s sixth straight defeat, 16th in its last 17 games and league-high 26th overall on a season that is rapidly circling the drain.
Looking for reasons to be optimistic? Can’t help you here. That’s like trying to find a pebble in the Atlantic. The grand triangle offense experiment has been a total failure. The Knicks have players that either don’t want to run it (Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith) or aren’t equipped to (Amar’e Stoudemire, Sam Dalembert). They are an inefficient (No. 21 overall), jump-shot happy group that lacks the discipline to stick with a system that requires an abundance of it.
Worse: Offense isn’t even New York’s biggest problem. There is virtually nothing the Knicks do well defensively. They don’t defend the three (opponents are shooting a league-high 38.9 percent) and can’t stop dynamic guards -- as John Wall’s 24-point, 11-assist effort in Washington’s 102-91 spanking of the Knicks showed. The Knicks entered Christmas Day surrendering a league-low 36.9 points in the paint, but even that number is misleading. Penetrating opponents are either fouled (22.8 per game, fourth worst in the NBA) or free to kick out to open shooters.
The Knicks aren’t taking away points. They are just redistributing them.
Somewhere, Isiah Thomas is smirking at this mess.
Want optimism? Look at the team that was wearing red on Thursday. In 2010, the Wizards were the Knicks. They had a bad team (26 wins) with bloated contracts and the stench of the Gilbert Arenas-Javaris Crittenton gun scandal attached to them. They drafted John Wall and Bradley Beal, allowed them to develop, acquired Nene and Marcin Gortat, signed Paul Pierce and now head into the New Year as one of a handful of legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. It hasn’t been perfect -- the four-year, $22 million contract handed to Martell Webster was a mistake and Otto Porter, the third overall pick in ’13 has not panned out -- but the Wizards offer a decent blueprint for any rebuilding team to follow.
You hear that, Phil Jackson? Because dangling cap space and a Park Avenue address in front of free agents isn’t going to get the Knicks anywhere. The Knicks had cap space in the ballyhooed summer of 2010 and only came away with Stoudemire. They will have it this summer but, really, who is going to want a piece of it? LaMarcus Aldridge has pledged his allegiance to Portland and Kevin Love isn’t going anywhere. Rajon Rondo is close with Anthony but Dallas can offer more money. Plus, sticking Rondo in the triangle is like casting Daniel Day-Lewis in a slapstick comedy. It would just look weird.
There is no quick fix, especially not with the TV-deal infused summer of ’16 coming, when just about everyone will have cap space. The Knicks, like everyone else, have to rebuild the hard way. And that starts with the draft. The 2015 draft will go down as one of the most critical moments in franchise history. The Knicks will likely have a top-five pick and the chance to draft a future star. It won’t be easy. NBA scouts love Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, but have questions about everyone else.
“Okafor is a lock for No. 1,” said a scout. “He’s the real deal. With everyone else, you’re drafting on what you think you will see from them in three-years.”
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Which brings us back to Jackson. As a coach, his credentials are impeccable. As a general manager, the jury is out. Few fault Jackson for going all-in on Anthony -- the Bulls, Lakers, Mavericks and Rockets were willing to do the same -- and Jackson inherited some ugly contracts. But the Tyson Chandler-Jose Calderon swap hasn’t helped and Dalembert has been a disaster.
About the best thing you can say about Jackson’s early tenure is that he hasn’t been hoodwinked (yet) by Masai Ujiri.
The Knicks don’t need Jackson dumping a drawer full of rings in front of Love; they need him in Lexington evaluating Karl Towns or in Texas studying Myles Turner. They need him doing what Sam Presti, R.C. Buford and every other top executive does, and they need him to do it better. Jackson brought credibility to the franchise when he assumed his new role. Now, he has to bring something more.