Phil Jackson and Steve Mills spoke for 45 minutes to a room full of Knick season ticket holders Thursday night. There were no questions from the assembled; instead, Al Trautwig and Alan Hahn read questions from presumably real people. The highlights:
- Trautwig asked Jackson, "Was it part of the plan to be this bad?"
"No. Look at the reality of the East. Look at last year's team. They were seven or eight games under. Same as the 7/8 seeds now." Jackson cited Atlanta's jump from a sub-.500 8-seed last year to leading the East this year, acknowledging the impact of Al Horford's return as evidence of how "one or two players make such a difference."
- The line of the night was when Phil was asked if the team need to go through a year like this.
"I can't say that...Shit happens." Later he pointed out the roster he inherited wasn't a contender, had no cap space, and wasn't going to improve with mid-first round picks. "Do we have to go through it to get where we want to? Obviously we do." I'm guessing this has been a learning experience for Phil and all involved.
- Phil listed injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Carmelo Anthony, and Iman Shumpert as major problems and said the team proved his claim of a "loser's mentality" in November.
- Regarding Derek Fisher, Phil said all the early close losses were tough for any coach, saying it was "detrimental" for a young coach to endure early, but that Fisher would benefit in the long run.
- Phil on who's revealed themselves as "learners" this year: "Langston Galloway, Lance Thomas, and Lou Amundson have had no problem learning the system. They play defense, they're two-way players. That's the direction we're looking to go."
- The room burst into applause when Trautwig began a question with "The Knicks look like they'll draft 1, 2, 3, or 4." Can't rebuild in New York my ass.
- Phil said he "knows" whom he wants to draft. "We want a player that has multiple skills." He also mentioned "We have zero big men" under contract next year. Asked if he'd prefer a big man who can pass and score or one who can defend, he didn't even wait a millisecond: "Defender." This led to an elaboration on why he traded Tyson Chandler, namely Tyson's injuries last year and the fact that he's in his thirties. But he did cite Chandler as the type of big man he wants to add, citing that with "so many screen/rolls, so many threes" in the game now, you need a big man who can contend with all that.
- Trautwig mentioned Mills was just back from criss-crossing Europe "like Napoleon." No laughs.
"He didn't go to Russia," chimed Phil. Big laughs.
Mills said he scouted someone "in a city that's in Europe and Asia" and also scouted "someone" the team drafted last year. Steve Mills is either bad at transparency or bad at being cryptic. He added he was watching a few other European players with "reasonable buyouts."
Trautwig then joked a city in Europe and Asia "sounds like Flushing." Big laughs for Al on that one.
- Jackson said "A paramount part of our direction is Melo becoming/being a leader." Mills mentioned Lou and Lance as "leaders" this year. Conclusion: the Knicks need leaders.
- When asked if Phil wished he had a do-over on any moves, he mentioned Shumpert as someone he'd had high hopes for, but that his injury woes and cap hold next summer made him an "impediment." He also said he regrets the Spike Lee Triangle documentary, feeling it mystified and overemphasized the system instead of the team.
- Phil said he hopes to land "two starters, at least one" from the 190 players available in free agency. He then said the team can't afford to "chase some cockamamie dream," specifically mentioning the signing of Amar'e Stoudemire in 2010 as settling for the "second or third choice."
- Mills doesn't sound concerned about the losing impacting the team's ability to attract free agents, claiming when he talks to agents they "understand where we are and understand we have a good draft pick." Mills added, "We will not go after the biggest name. It will be a person who fits system-wise."
- Hahn said all great teams have an identity, and asked Phil if he could say what this team's identity would be going forward. Phil said he couldn't, not yet, that he could only speak to the "principles" that the team would subscribe to. He waxed poetic about the teamwork and ubiquitous skill sets of the Knick championship teams, then described the 1990's Knicks as "tough" and "street rough." It's pretty clear which model he wants to mold these Knicks after.
- More hints on the future direction of the squad: Jackson said "We won't be a high-scoring team." He was unequivocal that defense is the first focus of a title contender, that in the playoffs especially being able to stop a team enough times over seven games is the road to victory.
- Most surprising moment of the event: Phil, after another Triangle question, clearly a bit exasperated, said, "Forget about the Triangle. That comes after everything else. Players have to have skill, make passes, and help teammates out."
- Phil was asked what's the most difficult question he's asked by fans in his day-to-day life.
"So, you tanking?" he said. His response? "No. Some nights we just don't have enough gas."
- Jackson said the biggest thing he's learned attending games this year is "not to talk back to fans who challenge me."
- Jackson said he would listen to all possibilities concerning trading or keeping the first-round pick. Later, Mills contradicted this:
"We have to have the discipline not to trade our draft picks. That's the deal. People call the Knicks, the deal is: you call New York, you get a pick."
- Phil on the difference between coaching and being president: "We have to look at things for a five-year period of time."
- Asked if this year's team is a hint at future bench players, Mills said, "We don't want to completely start over. We want their to be some continuity." He pointed to Amundson being emblematic of many of this year's players' realities. "We're playing guys who historically played no minutes to now playing big minutes."
- Whatever you think of Phil as president/GM, he sounds like a terrific boyfriend. Right off the bat he claimed his inspiration for coming to New York was Jeannie Buss's "devotion to the fans" and her "sending me back out in the world." Jeannie Buss = The Zen Whisperer.
- Phil Jackson's hands are ENORMOUS. I can only imagine them on peyote.
- Before the event started, someone in the audience asked one of the ushers if any media members would be allowed to ask questions. The usher laughed. "No. The media would ask real questions. Tough questions." Yes, this fits into the normal Knick narrative under Dolan. But to be fair, every question I imagined I'd ask was brought up.
- The first time Steve Mills tried speaking, his mic wouldn't work. The crowd jumped all over that man like white on rice.
It was refreshing to hear the Knick policy-makers speaking without any apparent filters. While they were mostly in-sync, the moments they differed were actually uplifting - the less groupthinky, the better. Mills mentioned the difference between working for Phil and previous unnamed Knick regimes is that this one is all about making the team better, rather than worrying about outside pressures. The idea that the Knicks desire an accumulation of talented two-way players rather than singular supernovas makes it seem like the organization may have turned a corner. If that's the case, Phil's already earned his first $15 million.