The torching of a reputation, burned completely to cinders, is almost complete. It’s not quite unanimous in the country’s largest metropolis, but that’s only because there’s never a consensus in a city of 8.5 million people. Plus, Knicks fans are so tortured they’re hungry for any optimism at all.
There are a few stragglers, a handful of New York basketball fans that haven’t completely turned on Phil Jackson. But fear not, we’ll get there. We’re just three years and three months into this nightmarish theme-park ride. There’s still two more years to go on this atrocity of an experiment, and Knicks fans are simply holding out hope their lifelong passion isn’t murdered before the end of this gory flick.
But the fact Jackson has created this mess within just 39 months on the job is extraordinary. Say this about Phil: He’s nothing if not efficient. To go from returning hero and beloved elder statesman, to a comical, maligned punchline is incredible. To do it in just over three years is nearly impossible.
The fan base no longer trusts that Jackson either A) has any idea what he’s doing or B) wants what’s best for the franchise. These are two insanely dangerous roads, complete with hair-pin turns, no guard rails and falling rocks. In other words, fans and media are wondering whether Jackson is trying to be this incompetent. Why would anyone attempt to be this bad at the job? Perhaps to get fired, collect the guaranteed payout and retire while still cashing the check.
It’s important to reflect on just how admired Jackson was in New York upon the hire in March of ’14. The last Knicks championships were in the early ’70s, a drought of 45 years. Those squads not only are the last winners, but they are held up as icons of teamwork, sacrifice and intelligence. The banners hang over the Garden like gargoyles staring down angrily at the current mess. New York fancies itself as a sophisticated basketball town, a black-top jungle where kids of all races and backgrounds grew up playing (and watching) hoops at the park.
Jackson is part of this lore, but it’s now fading quickly, like Michael J. Fox’s Polaroid family in Back to the Future. He was held in such high esteem, along with Bill Bradley, Clyde Frazier, Willis Reed, Earl Monroe and Dave DeBusschere. The New York Post ran the headline “Jack Pot” on the back page upon the hire. The MSG crowd buzzed with excitement when he was spotted inside the arena. James Dolan was lauded (James Dolan!) for finally hiring the savior.
A little more than three years later, it’s a smoldering pile of cinders. Derek Fisher was an inexperienced disaster. Joakim Noah is a broken disaster. Derrick Rose was a clunky disaster. Jeff Hornacek is a possible disaster. Jose Calderon was an old disaster. Trading JR Smith and Iman Shumpert for next to nothing was a ripoff disaster. And Carmelo Anthony’s monster contract and no-trade clause is the disaster that keeps on giving.
Both the rock and the hard place Jackson finds himself in between with Melo were placed there willingly by himself. Phil knew exactly what Melo was (a ball-stopping, iso scorer who was apathetic defensively) when he lavished the contract on him. And he gave into the no-trade clause that now makes Anthony unmovable. But it’s even harder to make sense of Jackson’s solution to this being a tabloid battle with Melo.
He’s publicly tearing down Anthony with the hopes (we assume) of making the star’s life so uncomfortable he relents to a trade. But all Phil has done is created a massive distraction, ripped apart the morale of the franchise, hurt Melo’s trade value, and made other free agents think twice about ever signing up for the same. He’s also taken to the media to criticize his future franchise player, Kristaps Porzingis, in another bizarre move, and discusses openly listening to trade offers for him. How to make your centerpiece want to escape at the first chance? Make a mountain out of an exit interview mole hill and then question him openly.
The fact that Jackson may be falling asleep during draftees’ workouts is merely the final punchline. Not only is Jackson apparently poor at his job, he can’t even stay awake for it. But why not add insult to injury? Knicks fans have grown used to it. He was once a legend who was part of greatness everywhere he went, from New York to Chicago to L.A. Everything he touched turned to championships. Except, of course, when he walked through that door. Then he turned into an arson, lighting ablaze an organization and a reputation.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.