Phil Jackson has previously been associated with the New York Knicks. And it was a winning time for the team. Although not as significant as others on the team, Jackson was a member of the Knicks’ teams that won Championships in 1970 and 1973. He was last affiliated with the Knicks on April 23, 1978 when he played his final game in uniform for the team. Much has changed in the Big Apple since his departure 35 years ago. The team has failed to capture a ring since that ’73 title run and the team up to this point in the season is moving in the wrong direction.
Last season, the Knicks finished with an impressive 54-28 record and the second seed in the Eastern Conference. They won their first playoff series in a decade and it looked like the Knicks were finally coming back from a decade of turbulence that included front office mishaps and issues with player personnel. It appeared as if the Knicks were building a head of steam and could potentially make another big step by making the Eastern Conference Finals this season. This hope faded quickly though as the Knicks held a 3-13 record by the beginning of December. Head Coach Mike Woodson was blamed for the dismal record, but no single member of the team could possibly have taken full responsibility for the atrocious start. The team was out of playoff contention and the team looked at this season as a failure until very recently.
New York has been climbing itself out of the hole that it dug for itself in the past couple weeks. Prior to the official signing of Phil Jackson, the Knicks were riding a six game winning streak and hitting its stride. The Knicks faced its biggest challenge in the past few weeks when it played Indiana tonight. I don’t know if it was Phil Jackson’s presence at Madison Square Garden, but the Knicks played some of their best ball of the season during that win against a gritty Pacers team. They currently stand four games out of the final playoff spot in the poor performing East. The momentum from the last week and an easy slate of upcoming games may turn things around in New York this season. The Jackson signing can’t hurt either.
More importantly, the five-year $60 million signing of Phil Jackson as President of Basketball Operations provides optimism for the future of the franchise. The Zen master, who holds the highest winning percentage (70.2% at 1155-485) in NBA history, now takes on his first front office position. Nobody knows for certain if his winning ways will translate to him as an executive. Yet, his signing certainly provides the aforementioned motivation for his players to work harder. And he knows what kinds of things need to be in place for the wins to pile up.
At this point, his top priority must be to sign Carmelo Anthony, who is expected to opt out of his current deal. New York can offer him almost $30 million more than any other team this summer at five years for $129 million. It has also recently been reported that Melo is willing to change his role within the offense and even take less money if Jackson believes that it can bolster the team’s performance and chances at a title in the near future.
Past this, Jackson does not seem to have much room to operate. Andrea Bargnani, Tyson Chandler, and Amar’e Stoudemire are all signed until the end of next year at a whopping $50 million. This doesn’t allow for much room this offseason but Jackson will have to make a splash in free agency the following summer. This lack of financial flexibility causes problems for a team that has mediocre role players. No solution is in sight unless Jackson can work his magic by restructuring a few contracts in the next several months.
All signs also point to Jackson dismissing Coach Mike Woodson at the conclusion of this season. It will be interesting to see who Jackson picks to succeed the underperforming Woodson. He might pick someone who implements the triangle offense, a game plan Jackson made popular during his tenures with the Bulls and Lakers. Ultimately, Jackson will be the one shaping the offense for years to come with his acquisitions and shaping of the roster.
Nevertheless, the fate of the franchise essentially rests in Jackson’s hands as owner James Dolan will give him unlimited room to operate. This is pretty difficult for Dolan, who’s basically influenced every single decision the Knicks have made since the turn of the century. Jackson has the opportunity to bring a glimmer of hope to a fan base that hasn’t seen much success in quite some time. His recent signing with New York ushers in a new era of optimism and hopefully wins for a club that has been struggling since his departure three and a half decades ago.