What on earth is Phil Jackson doing with the Knicks?

Breaking down Phil Jackson’s bizzare tenure as GM

Phil Jackson | Ball and One

The NBA is a zero-sum game. For every win a team earns, another takes a loss. For a champion to be crowned, 29 other teams must lose. Every GM has a different way of approaching the game; some are in win-now mode, some stash picks and look to the future, and some are patiently waiting for their blossoming young stars to lead the way. There is no right answer; history has shown us that there is no single guaranteed path to winning a championship.

However, at some point in a GM’s career, whatever strategy he has chosen has to start producing Wins. At some point, your team is good enough, or it’s just pretending (Clippers). At some point, all your high draft picks have to turn into players (76ers). At some point, your #1 picks have to develop into stars (Timberwolves). No matter how clever or innovative a GM is, at the end of the day, the goal isn’t to stash draft picks or assets, the goal is to Win.

GM Phil Jackson

The Knicks hired Phil Jackson as President and GM back in spring of 2014. In a few months, he will have been GM for a full 3 years. Let’s review some of his major moves by season.

2014-2015
  • 2014-15: Fired Mike Woodson and hired Derek Fisher as head coach (5 years, $25 million).
  • 2014-15: Traded Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, a 2014 2nd round draft pick (Thanasis Antetokounmpo was later selected) and a 2014 2nd round draft pick (Cleanthony Early was later selected).
  • 2014-15: Re-signed Carmelo Anthony (5 years, $124 million, NO-TRADE clause).
  • 2014-15: Traded Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to the Cavs for Lance Thomas, Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk and a 2019 2nd round draft pick.
  • 2014-15: Signed Langston Galloway.
  • 2014-15: Traded Pablo Prigioni to the Houston Rockets for Alexey Shved, a 2017 2nd round draft pick and a 2019 2nd round draft pick.
  • 2014-15 Knicks Record: 17-65 (worst season in Knicks history).

    2015-16
  • 2015-16: Selected Kristaps Porzingis 4th Overall.
  • 2015-16: Traded Tim Hardaway Jr. to the Hawks for Jerian Grant.
  • 2015-16: Traded a 2020 2nd round draft pick and a 2021 2nd round draft pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for a 2015 2nd round draft pick (Willy Hernangomez was later selected).
  • 2015-2016: Signed Aaron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams, Kyle O’Quinn, and a bunch of other guys.
  • 2015-16: Fired Derek Fisher, appointed Kurt Rambis as interim head coach.
  • 2015-16: Signed Jimmer Fredette and Tony Wroten.
  • 2015-16 Knicks Record: 32-50

    2016-17
  • 2016-17: Hired Jeff Hornacek as head coach.
  • 2016-17: Traded Jose Calderon, Jerian Grant and Robin Lopez to the Chicago Bulls for Justin Holiday, Derrick Rose and a 2017 2nd round draft pick.
  • 2016-17: Signed Joakim Noah (4 years, $72 million), Brandon Jennings (1 year, $5 million), Courtney Lee (4 years, $48 million).
  • 2016-17: No moves before the trade deadline.
  • 2016-17 Knicks Record (so far): 23-34, on pace for 33-49

Phil Jackson’s moves make no sense. The consistant theme for the past 3 years is that there isn’t one.

Lowlights

Signed Derek Fisher on June 10th, 2014 for 5 years, $25 million. Fires Derek Fisher on February 8th, 2016 after Fisher goes 40-96 (.294) as head coach, owing him $8.5 million over the next two years to do nothing.

June, 2014 – Traded Tyson Chandler and Raymon Felton for 5 guys who are out of the league 2 years later (Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Cleanthony Early,) and one who is barely playing (Jose Calderon). Note that Jose Claderon was traded away on June, 2016.

Gave Carmelo $124 million AND a no-trade clause, then proceeds to take shots at him on twitter.

Signs Robin Lopez on July, 2015, then trades him away on June, 2016 for Derrick Rose on the last year of his contract.

Signed 30 year old Joakim Noah for 4 years, $72 million dollars. Noah had just come off a 29 game season, of which he only started 2 games.

Highlights

Went against the “experts” and drafted Kristaps Porzingis.

Has not traded away a first round draft pick!

Analysis

What is Phil Jackson’s plan exactly with the Knicks? Does he want to win now, or is he trying to win later?

Acquiring random players and second-round picks in 2014-15, as well as trading away Shumpert and J.R. suggests he was trying to either strike gold with a player, or stash picks for the future.

Signing Robin Lopez and Aaron Afflalo in 2015-16 suggests that he was trying to make a playoff push that season.

Trading away Lopez for Derrick Rose and signing Joakim Noah suggests he definitely wants to be in the playoffs this season.

At the end of the day, it comes down to this. Before Phil Jackson arrived, the Knicks were 37-45 (.451) in 2013-2014. Three years later, the Knicks have been 72-149 (.326) since. Their top 3 paid players, which all come from contracts Phil Jackson signed, are Carmelo Anthony (32 years old), Derrick Rose (upcoming free agency), and Joakim Noah (31 years old, averaging 5 PPG). They tried the Triangle for two full seasons before realizing it didn’t work. They are still paying Derek Fisher to do nothing. They are not making the playoffs this year, despite having the 12th highest payroll in the league (I predict that in classic Knicks fashion, they will make a pretend run at the postseason in the last few weeks only to fall just short). Thankfully, they have kept almost all their picks.

In his nearly 3 year tenure as Knicks GM, what has Phil Jackson accomplished? The Knicks haven’t made the playoffs, they haven’t even been over .500, and they have aging stars on bad contracts. The only thing different about the 2013-14 Knicks and the Phil Jackson Knicks is Kristaps Porzingis. Granted, if Porzingis leads the Knicks into a new decade of success, then these random moves Phil has made will be forgotten. However, that is exactly what Phil Jackson’s moves have been so far – random and bizzare.

If Jackson wanted to tank, why sign Carmelo to a 5 year, $124 million contract, Joakim Noah to a 4/$72 million one, Courtney Lee to 4/$48 million, and Derrick Rose for one year? Why hire Derek Fisher and fire him a year and a half later? Why do nothing at the trade deadline this year?

The only reasonable conclusion I see is that Phil Jackson has actually been trying to win for the past two seasons and failing. That might explain why he signed the above players, as well as Robin Lopez, Aaron Afflalo, and Brandon Jennings. However, even if the Knicks were to make the playoffs this year as say, the the 7th seed, they would just lose in the first round. Why hand out a huge contract to Joakim Noah only for a first round exit, at best? What is the plan exactly?

Trial and Error

Phil Jackson’s tenure in NY seems so similar to a schoolkid stumped on a math problem who has to resort to Trial and Error to find the answer. Try this number and if it doesn’t work, try another number. Try Robin Lopez, try Derrick Rose, try Joakim Noah, try Jerian Grant, try Aaron Afflalo, try Cleanthony Early/Giannis’ brother/Travis Outlaw/Jimmer Fredette/Tony Wroten/Ricky Ledo/Derrick Williams. “Hey, this guy isn’t becoming a superstar, let’s try another guy.” It’s almost like throwing darts at a board, just hoping one will land in the center.

The Knicks are going nowhere fast, and Phil Jackson is driving the car with Carmelo in the passenger’s seat. It’s high time the Knicks find a driver who actually knows where he is going.

 

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Author: Jasper Wu

Jasper is a consultant in New York City and founder of BallAndOne.com and Wu Advisory. He graduated from Cornell University.