New York's professional basketball map lies beneath prisms. It has as long as I've known it, and long before that, such that a normal process cannot reside. Atop every individual, every decision and occasion, sit the weight of the city, the tendrils of the local media, and the unusual pressures applied by ownership. To root for the Knicks is already to consume a product warped and refracted several times over. Phil Jackson drops yet another prism on things.
We talked back when New York first dallied with Jackson about how the Knicks never behave simply. Here was this complex organization donning another layer of complexity by procuring an executive with a peculiar set of customs. The Knicks could have just hired someone obvious, someone basically competent and readily available. Instead, they chased Phil Jackson out to the desert. They four-wheeled back to civilization with a huge contract in hand for a very successful, very respected and charismatic old man. Jackson had been off the game a few years, he lacked team-building experience, and he carried some strange baggage -- systems, philosophies, friends and recent history you wouldn't get with any other hire. But he was supposed to have the clout to wield full responsibility for the team's future undisturbed by James Dolan.
So far so good on that last part, right? We all had good reason to doubt that the owner would back off and let Phil do what needed to be done, but after a few awkward moments of self-deprecating shine, Dolan retreated to the shadows before last season's end, producing only peeps since.
And Jackson's adequately done some of what needed to be done, no? Without getting into the usual argument over the origin of the plan, I think we can agree that Phil at some point made it his goal to raze every party of the team he inherited but its tentpole, Carmelo Anthony, then rebuild with a high draft pick and one or more summers of free agency. The razing part didn't go perfectly -- some would say it went quite poorly -- but he did it. If the Knicks are clever, careful, and lucky, they can build something good or even great over the next few years.
But this will always will team will always belong to Dolan, and to New York and its media, and now it belongs to Phil Jackson, too. And through all that, we get butts.
A normal team in normal circumstances would be quietly reconnoitering, laying low and leaking little in preparation for the draft and free agency. We get butts. We get Marc Berman calling up Charley Rosen and infecting our pre-draft vibes with butts:
"They need a center with a big butt to hold space,'' Rosen told The Post. "They didn't have anybody like that. It takes away a major portion of what you can do with the triangle because then it really becomes just a perimeter offense.''
After watching Towns in the NCAA Tournament, Rosen says, "Towns is not a big-enough body. He'd never get that position in the NBA. He doesn't have enough power or core strength. He wouldn't be able to set up one dribble away from the basket. He's not a kind of center you need in the triangle. He's not physically that type of center, but he's athletic and does other things. Look how far out (Lou) Amundson, (Jason) Smith and (Andrea) Bargnani get pushed out when they post up, well out of the box.''
Rosen, working on an online mini-book through Jackson's eyes on this treacherous 14-60 season, would love to see the southpaw Monroe become a Knick.
"He can score down there,'' Rosen said. "He's big, can hold his ground in the post, is left-handed, which holds an advantage to do unexpected things. He can establish position, has good hands and he's a pretty good passer. He'd be a great fit.'
We have to consider this shit. The speaker has already brandished his special closeness with Jackson. He matters.
And we have to consider this shit, which Phil himself tweeted right around the time the Berman-Rosen butt manifesto went online:
This marks year 2 on/off this mess-Final Four in 13. Learned a lot thanks to those that follow. I will gear up when hunting season comes.— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) March 30, 2015
We will rebuild a team that fits together-guys that want to compete and play the way bball gods approve.#groundup— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) March 30, 2015
To repeat something I said last year: This is unusual and kind of fucking insane. Don't lose sight of that! Other teams and other fans face their own strangeness, but they don't have to consider quite this strangeness. Phil Jackson's presence constitutes the fourth prism on a basketball picture already bent well beyond normal. It doesn't have to be this way.
Can the Knicks win under such warped circumstances? I find myself oddly hopeful they can! But we're reminded constantly that basketball can't happen here without complication. It's always been the city, the press, and the owner, and now it's triangles and basketball gods, too. And butts.
(Karl-Anthony Towns's butt is fine, by the way. Perfectly good butt, and a butt I hope the Knicks seriously consider drafting in June.)