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Knicks: Phil Jackson Makes Spalsh as President of Operations

by Jason Radowitz | Posted on Friday, June 27th, 2014

Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony opted out of his player option in New York on Monday, June 23rd and Twitter went crazy. Not only did Anthony get hate from fans all around the world, but Knicks fans, most importantly, were angry. The fans began cursing and wishing for the worst for their favorite athlete just a couple of days before he decided to opt out of his contract in New York.

That did not mean he hated New York. That did not mean he was leaving New York. It meant he was testing free agency, like every other star would do if they were in his position.

Before the 2013-’14 season even began, Anthony suggested he would be testing free agency no matter what happened during the season. Seemingly, that began an unpleasant season with the New York Knicks, who couldn’t find any chemistry on the floor. The only player who played consistent basketball was Carmelo Anthony. The rest were injured (Bargnani, Stoudemire, Prigioni, Martin), benched (Hardaway, Udrih), or just flat out inconsistent (Smith, Felton, Chandler, Shumpert).

If anyone deserved a championship ring, on the Knicks that is, it was clearly Anthony, although he was never really clutch at all this season. Without Anthony, the Knicks probably would have been in 76er territory; a team that lost 26 games straight during the regular season. Luckily that didn’t happen.

However, after finishing 37-45 during the regular season, the Knicks organization knew that changes needed to be made. Right before the season ended, owner James Dolan took it upon himself to persuade the former Knicks forward and Las Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson to come over to New York to help resurrect a Knicks team that had looked so defective throughout the season. New York isn’t the place to look defective. The fans won’t accept that in the city of bright lights.

On March 18th, Phil Jackson accepted a contract worth $60 million, that would keep him under contract for five years as the president of operations for the Knicks. Instantly, the mood changed around Madison Square Garden. People believed that Phil Jackson could ultimately persuade Carmelo Anthony into staying with this absolutely dreadful Knicks team.

Coming in as the president of operations, Jackson understood Anthony’s motives. He understood that the star-forward wants rings. He wants to compete and win. So in order to appeal to Anthony’s motives, Phil Jackson decided to make some changes. Changes that fans or players didn’t see coming.

After watching former Knicks guard Jason Kidd coach a successful season as a rookie head coach in Brooklyn, Jackson believed that his former guard in Las Angeles would be the perfect fit to coach this abysmal Knicks team. Derek Fisher had played several seasons learning under Phil Jackson while playing point guard with the Lakers for several years. Fisher became a coach on the court before retiring after this past season concluded.

This, of course, happened after the firing of Mike Woodson, who insisted that he just wanted to take some time off from the game anyway. The players, especially J.R. Smith, continued to say all the good things about Mike Woodson, however, a change was needed. And then a change was made. Derek Fisher accepted a five-year $25 million offer to be the head coach of the Knicks.

And the train continued on June 26th as Jackson agreed to a blockbuster deal that sent former defensive player of the year Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks for guards Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, and Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, and two second round draft picks (34th and 51st) in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Jackson was very happy to get rid of Chandler, who was getting almost $15 million for this upcoming season. He clearly wasn’t deserving of that after his ugly 2013-’14 campaign. Also, if there was ever a player on the Knicks that fans hated the most, it was Raymond Felton, a point guard that couldn’t stay in shape, even if he ran 100 miles a day. He also just dodged jail time for an incident involving a gun in his possession while the regular season took place. Therefore, getting rid of those players was already a shot in the right direction for the Knicks.

Phil Jackson continued to identify the players he got in return as pieces to help build a contender in New York again. Jose Calderon is a brilliant outside shooter, with excellent passing skills, that will easily work out in New York’s favor.

Andrea Bargnani, who sat out most of last season after tearing a ligament in his left elbow, has had a very inconsistent career in the NBA. But Calderon seemed to get the most out of him when they were teammates in Toronto, most notably in 2010-’11 when Bargnani averaged 21.4 points a game. That was the last healthy season Bargnani had played in up until now. But Calderon could be the player to push Bargnani to his limits on the hardwood.

Shane Larkin, from the University of Miami, was drafted 18th overall just a year ago by the Atlanta Hawks. He was instantly traded to the Mavericks where he got no playing time whatsoever. Although Larkin needs some more developing, he’s got the speed and skills to become an important piece off the bench for the Knicks.

Wayne Ellington, drafted in the 2009 NBA draft as the 28th overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves, never become the player he could have been. However, with a seemingly empty bench, the Knicks were able to add another efficient spot-up shooter that can create sparks off the bench if needed.

Because Chandler was shipped off to Dallas, the Knicks made sure they brought in veteran center Samuel Dalembert to man the defense for the Knicks. Phil Jackson expects Dalembert and the rest of the team to bring in more passion and chemistry compared to last year’s team.

Later, on draft day, June 27th, the Knicks used both of their second round picks that Dallas gave them in their six-player deal. The Knicks selected Witchita State standout forward Cleanthony Early with the 34th overall pick and Thanasis Antetokounmpo with the 51st overall selection, who had been developing in the D-League last season with the Delaware 87ers.

Looking at the trade by Phil Jackson and company, the Knicks were thrilled just to bring in Jose Calderon and save money with dealing Chandler and Felton. But then they were able to get Cleanthony Early who dropped to 34th overall, where some people had him taken in the early-to-mid 20’s in mock drafts. It was a pick that many Knicks fans had praised on social media accounts, while select Knicks fans in Brooklyn also chimed in and cheered. He’s a recognizable name, and a player who was a center piece on a legendary Whichita State team that made history throughout the season.

While his coach Gregg Marshall says the Knicks got a very, very good player, he also believes that Early needs to work on his ball-handling and putting the ball on the floor. On offense, he’s a very good shooter, something the Knicks need, especially if their super-star forward is going to bail on them. Defensively, Marshall explained that he’s a very good defender, but he has the tools to become a “great” defender. A little developing and the Knicks might possibly have taken the steal of the draft.

Next, the other second round selection, Thanasis Antetokounmpo is a freak athlete. His wingspan is outrageous, the energy he brings on the floor is unmatched, and his size helps him bring outstanding defense to the table. The Knicks showed little-to-no energy during games last season. They also never drove to the hoop, settling for shots around the three-point line. Antetokounmpo is most definitely a missing puzzle piece for this squad, where they were lacking an athlete with as much athleticism as Thanasis has on the court.

Lastly, when the 57th pick of the draft came around, the Pacers selected French native Louis Labeyrie, who has rapidly developed most recently with Paris-Levallois in France this past season. The Knicks quickly exchanged money to the Pacers for the rights to the contract of Labeyrie. With a big presence inside, some great shot-blocking ability and a very good runner for a big man, the Knicks decided to gamble with a French player. Obviously the Knicks hope he will join the decent variety of French players in the NBA, including Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, and Nicolas Batum.

So there you have it. Phil Jackson turns around and makes a blockbuster deal, adding two draft picks (and buying another), in a draft class that was loaded with talent. Thanks to the trade with Dallas, Phil Jackson figures to be in front of his competition to keep Carmelo Anthony in New York. The talent is on it’s way. Money is also on it’s way (next year), thanks to expiring contracts of Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Jackson made sure that he implemented a new system. He then brought in a new coach. He quickly made changes to the roster. And he might make more changes that will appeal to Carmelo Anthony to lure him into the Mecca of Basketball.

There’s only so much Phil Jackson can do right now. He’s made a very big splash around the NBA. Now the organization just needs to hope that their pitch to Carmelo Anthony will excite his interests. Phil Jackson needs him to buy into the system, and help bring another ring to New York. Anthony deserves one. Jackson will deserve another one. And the fans have been waiting too long for one.

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