So let me get this straight: The NBA draft was last week, and the New York Knicks are deciding to terminate Phil Jackson now. Seems like the classic case of too little and definitely too late.
Clearly, the problems with the Knicks run much deeper — and higher — than anyone might like to admit.
This means you, James Dolan.
Don’t look now, sports fans, but we have a new clubhouse leader in the never-ending competition for America’s signature laughingstock sports franchise: the storied New York Knickerbockers. Three years after hiring Jackson as the apparent savior of New York basketball, the Knicks and Jackson are parting ways today according to a report by Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. And when we refer to the second party in this breakup as “the Knicks,” we really mean Dolan, the team owner who allowed Jackson to smear the name on the front of his uniforms like some sort of selfish, overrated and ultimately destructive superstar who isn’t as good as many think he is.
The Knicks have that, too.
His name is Carmelo Anthony.
Seriously, where do you go with a story like this? The Knicks have made so many mistakes on so many levels of late that one cannot help but wonder if the circus has overrun the world’s most famous arena. There’s Anthony, the talented but dysfunctional superstar who eats away at teams from the inside. There’s Jackson, the arrogant and egomaniacal former coach and executive whom the game has passed by. And then there’s Dolan, the owner who most recently allowed Jackson to run his team on draft night, then fired him.
That, my friends, is the definition of a clown car.
Somewhere, Kristaps Porzingis is probably smiling, though one could hardly blame him if he is now more confused than ever. According to the story by Shelburne, Jackson was annoyed that Porzingis blew off an exit interview following the season and “was trying to teach him a lesson in professionalism” this summer. So what did Jackson do? He took the best thing that has happened to the Knicks in years and dangled him out there in what now seems to be contrived trade talks, further alienating a player so unique that Jackson repeatedly referred to him as a “unicorn.”
What a dope. And more specifically, what an arrogant donkey. Earth to Phil: if you have designs on teaching someone a lesson, you’d better make sure that someone (like your owner) doesn’t have designs on teaching you one, too. Sure, there was a time when we counted the rings on Jackson’s fingers. But we’d be far better served now to count the proverbial rings on his tree.
Translation: Jackson is old. The game has passed him by. As one NBA type suggested to me before last week’s draft, it feels like Jackson ran the Knicks as if he were semi-retired. There was a report last week that, according to one draft prospect, Jackson fell asleep during his workout. Jackson seemed so out of touch at times it seemed laughable when he suggested to fans last week that, “We know what we’re doing.”
Clearly, Dolan didn’t think so. Of course, given that Dolan is choosing to act now instead of months ago, Knicks fans must be having the same concerns about him.
Um, James? If you have doubts about your chief basketball architect, don’t let him run your team leading up to and through the draft. It’s only the most important week of the year for building (and we use that term loosely) a franchise (also used loosely). You find his replacement before the big week. And you find him well before.
Was Jackson an accomplished coach during his career? Yes, absolutely, though let’s keep even that in context. Basketball coaches are far less important than the players they are coaching, which is why Erik Spoelstra and Ty Lue have won a combined three championships. Heck, look no further than the Golden State Warriors, who have effectively rotated between Steve Kerr, Luke Walton and Mike Brown over the last two years, only to blister everything in their path. Jackson won titles almost entirely because he coached (and managed the egos of) Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant — not the other way around.
Remember: Red Auerbach may be remembered as a coach, but his real wheeling and dealing came as an executive. Even Red understood it was about the players. Jackson has always thought it was about him.
Should Knicks fans be happy now that at least the plug has finally been pulled? Yeah, sure, though there is that issue with the timing. What team blows up its basketball operation immediately after the draft? Yes, NBA free agency is about to dawn, and there is still time to maneuver, but any real bargaining chips the Knicks possessed were on draft night. Dolan gave those chips to Jackson, then stripped his power less than a week later.
We said it before, and we’ll say it again, folks.
An absolute freaking clown car.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.