The Knicks and Phil Jackson mutually agreed to part ways early Wednesday morning according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelbourne. While on the surface this seems like the best news Knicks fans have gotten since the day Jackson was hired, the reality is, the Knicks are still in complete disarray. Phil Jackson may have been A problem, but he was not THE problem. For all of his shortcomings, public bashings of his best players, and highly questionable roster decisions, there is one thing Phil Jackson had no control over. That one thing is the fact that James Dolan is still the owner of this team.
Jackson was brought in with the intention of having a guy who could establish a culture and create a system for a highly dysfunctional franchise. Dolan was starting to feel the heat from the fans and the merciless New York media. So much so, that a protest was slated to take place outside of Madison Square Garden just one day after the hiring of Phil Jackson. (I remember this well because I had planned on going). When it was announced that James Dolan had hired Phil to a five year contract to come in and take over basketball operations, Knicks fans were elated. The 11 time champion, all-time great coach, and Zen master was going to fix everything. To be fair, at the time, you seemingly could not have hand-picked a better man for the job. However, as time will tell, you probably could not have hand-picked a worse man for the job.
When you look around the NBA at the most successful franchises, they all have one thing in common; culture. That’s because they have what I like to call “culture guys” at the head of their decision making and/or coaching staff. What I mean by that is, certain guys have the ability to establish an identity and it follows them wherever they go. For example, when you think of Tom Thibodeau, you think defense. He helped orchestrate the defense that made the Boston Celtics so prevalent from 2007-2010 and won them a championship. He took that defensive identity with him to Chicago as the head coach of the Bulls and had the best defensive team in the NBA for about five years. Other guys who fit this mold of “culture guys” are Pop and R.C. Buford in San Antonio, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra in Miami, Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle in Dallas, and of course Bob Meyers and Steve Kerr in Golden State. I could go on with even more examples like Mike D’Antoni, Doc Rivers, and also Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. The point is, each and every one of those guys carry a culture and an identity with them. There is a level of expectation and a definitive style of play that each of those coaches bring with them as well as those executives demanding a certain type of player or culture to be instilled within their team. The Knicks need a culture guy.
This organization has been a revolving door for head coaches, executives, and players alike. There has been absolutely no consistency with the roster or the decision makers within this franchise. The only constant has been the man at the top. I credit Dolan for hiring Jackson and saying he’s not getting involved with the basketball decisions anymore. That was the right move. But there’s a difference between not being involved in basketball operations and not being involved with the franchise at all. Fans don’t want Dolan nixing or forcing trades, or telling the GM who to sign in free agency, or making the calls on draft night. However, fans DO want Dolan to have his finger on the pulse of the franchise. He waited far too long in his divorce with Jackson. The signs that this experiment was going to fail were everywhere. He sat by and watched as Phil publicly bashed Carmelo Anthony. He sat by and watched as Phil made and took calls on Kristaps Porzingis. He sat by and watched as Phil publicly criticized Porzingis as well. It can’t be everyone else’s fault as Jackson seemed to portray it. The source of all the drama was Jackson. And Dolan ignorantly and immaturely sat back and responded with a sly, “Ask Phil,” anytime he was asked about the Knicks. But this can all be forgotten if Dolan’s next move is the right one. He needs to take his time and hire the right guy. A culture guy.