Imagine if the Knicks, following Thursday’s game at Golden State with both Derrick Rose (back spasms) and Carmelo Anthony (thirtysomethingness) out, were 12-14. Imagine the storylines. Heads shaking told you so at Rose’s sad turn from star to star-crossed to falling star. Anthony resting would be an embarrassment of oxygen to further feed the eternal flame of “selfish Melo” hot takes. Joakim Noah would be a bust today and a salary cap albatross for all the tomorrows to come in what sounds like an amnesty-less world.
But the Knicks are 14-12. The conversation around the team is generally positive, whether it concerns the boiled-over brilliance of Kristaps Porzingis Tuesday after the Phoenix Suns made him angry
or the unusual-for-this-club foresight or fatalism — depending on what color lenses you see the world through — of resting two of their big three in a game they were always likely to lose. The Noah signing probably looks the same no matter what lenses you wear.
Thank god there's still Noah's deal to harp on or NYK fans wouldn't know what to do with themselves. Nevermind progress made w/picks & cap.— KG_NYK (@KG_NYK) December 15, 2016
Truth. New York has shown progress since Jackson became president, and now comes speculation he might complete his five-year contract and even re-sign beyond that. There are always stories swirling around the Knicks, but with the team improving under his watch, the swirls these days are more balmy breeze than winds of change. Not to be forgotten: the next piece of evidence that shows Jackson ever intended to opt-out early will be the first. Still, there’s a world of difference between “You can’t disprove a negative” and “2020? And beyond? Word?” What would more Phil mean going forward for the Knicks? Would it be good news? Bad news? No news. Yes. It would. All three.
The Knicks are 14-12. Not quite parade-worthy, but remarkable for this organization in this century. Jackson inherited a dead-in-the-water sub-.500 team and quickly stripped it down, jettisoning anything he could (everyone not named Melo) while only keeping what had value going forward (Melo). Since bottoming out to 17 wins in 2014-15, the Knicks had 32 last year and could produce another season of double-digit improvement.
This year, with a cap of $94M, the Knick’s highest four earners combine to make about $74M, which doesn’t include Kristaps Porzingis. Next year’s cap is expected to rise to $102M; when the Knicks are good and have money, good things can happen, more than when they’ve been bad and had money, or been bad and had none. The team Jackson inherited under a $58M cap was paying $70M to its top four, which included this guy:
When Jackson took over, Knick draft picks were not really a thing. Wanna see something cool?
THEY HAVE PICKS. ALLLLLLL THE PICKS!
The team has improved and is improving. They’re in better shape as far as payroll and roster makeup: there’s depth in the backcourt; there’s depth in the front court. They have money to spend and picks to invest in. There’s so much fixating on would-be Coach Phil and whether his offensive philosophy can play in 2016. Meanwhile, President Phil has accumulated good young talent while creating payroll flexibility going forward, thanks in large part to Rose’s contract being up next summer. That’s a sensible, sustainable path. That alone makes what he’s done revolutionary.
At Jackson’s introductory Knick press conference in 2014, he said he’d “try to monitor his blabbermouth.” You may have heard how that turned out. He’s a provocateur. He needles. He can’t not. When you’re an established head coach on your first, second, or third three-peat, that’s charming. When you have as many playoff wins under your belt as an executive as the people in the nosebleeds, it plays differently. It can’t not.
Whether you consider Jackson’s comments about Melo’s ball movement, LeBron James’s childhood friends, or rivals like Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich malicious or innocent, inappropriate or earned, it can lead one to wonder if he’s more out of touch than anyone, we included, realize. Riley was 65 when he brought LeBron to Miami; few could have foreseen the Superfriends era ending as quickly and antagonistically as it did. That same summer of 2010, Jackson was 65 and reveling in his 11th title as head coach. The older you get, the faster time moves...but only for you. The world is forever younger than ourselves. Whether we’re changing or we’re the only ones failing to, that drifting apart is inevitable. Think of all the Phil/Melo drama we’ve already seen. That’s all come with Melo performing at a high level. How ugly might things get as Anthony enters his decline? You figure players around the league notice the way things turn out. Riley has to overcome that in Miami. Jackson may find himself in a similar position someday.
Are we really sure any great players would come to New York because Phil Jackson’s there? That never happened when he coached; he always inherited his big guns. It’s only been a couple summers since he took over, but who’s been his biggest signing? Noah is struggling. Robin Lopez was solid but traded after one season. “Courtney Lee is a nice two-way two guard” is no epitaph. Then again, unicorns = headliners. Headliners = access to opportunity. Success = access to opportunity multiplied by time. Kristaps Porzingis = hope.
Perhaps nothing speaks more to the incessant black hole need-for-content around this organization than the fact that a guy doing a decent job and probably sticking around to collect $24M for it somehow qualifies as a headline. Speaking of no news, when’s the last time you heard mention of owner James Dolan? Specifically, Dolan being involved in Knick decision-making? Despite Jackson’s surprising taciturnity with the media, he still gives the organization a credible image, which again is revolutionary under this owner (literally: Dolan’s reign see-saws between the Scott Laydens and Isiah Thomases of the world and the Donnie Walshes and Phil Jacksons). This alone qualifies as good news. That it’s a secondary accomplishment to the on-the-court product, fiscal sanity, preservation of picks going forward, and lastly but mostly Porzingis is the best news of all.