I don’t miss Phil Jackson.
I’m not too proud to admit I was super happy when he took the wheel of the Good Ship Knicks. I looked for reasons to embrace Derek Fisher. I embraced the tank in its infancy. A year in, I was def down with Phil...until he traded Robin Lopez for Derrick Rose, an indefensible move both for its on- and off-the-court implications. After that, it was all downhill.
It’s been a little over a year and a half since the Knicks cut ties with Jackson. During his reign, they went 90-171, a .344 clip; since he was fired, they’re 39-87, a winning percentage of .310. But this isn’t about comparison: Phil remade the roster multiple times, whereas the Steve Mills/Scott Perry alliance is letting the fields go fallow with an eye on future harvests. And this certainly is not a defense of Jackson’s failed run. But for the first time, I have concerns about the current regime. Concerns I never had under Phil.
I’ve enjoyed giving the current Knick front office both time and the benefit of the doubt. I’ve very much enjoyed the refreshing absence of any blatant screw-ups. And given that the draft and free agency won’t come till summer and we’re still in winter’s early days, it’s too early to pass judgment. I know that.
The Frank Ntilikina storyline has suggested a crack I can’t ignore, a storyline that’s very much a fruit-of-the-poisoned-tree scenario: the Knicks let Jackson draft Ntilikina only to fire him days later. That gnawed at me then; the divide these days gnaws at me, too. I read that Mills is pro-Frank and Perry isn’t. And like a child old enough to realize their parents fighting might mean something down the line, I’m struggling with feeling like I have to pick a side but not liking either option.
I don’t understand this front office’s structure. I don’t understand where the president begins and ends in relation to the general manager. When Jackson was in power, we knew everything that went down was on his orders. Like it or lump it, the decisions made had a clear origin, an obvious sense of direction. Now?
If Mills’ feelings on Ntilikina are diametrically opposed to Perry’s, isn’t that a thing that should have been understood before the former hired the latter? Who calls the shots in New York’s front office? And why are we confident in either? Mills has been in power at Madison Square Garden on and off since 2003. He’s no babe in the woods here; the Knicks downturn coincides directly with his arrival. That’s not to suggest it’s his fault. But he’s been around long enough to repeatedly not be part of the solution. And if Perry wants Frank out against the wishes of the rest of the front office, why should we trust him? If he’s trustworthy enough to be hired as GM, shouldn’t he be choosing the ingredients? Is he here to carry Mills’ water? Is he strictly advisory? What’s his deal?
Phil Jackson did an unforgettably lousy job running the Knicks, and for that I don’t miss him. I do miss being at a distance as a fan and knowing that the moves being made were based on unified — albeit flawed — thinking. The alleged Ntilikina divide may not have any real-world ramifications. And dogmatic, lockstep groupthink isn’t the dream. San Antonio has been celebrated for years for not only including but inviting divergent viewpoints.
I just wish, as a fan, that as the powers that be prepare to make moves I had a better sense of who’s in charge. If these Knicks truly want us to believe they’re no longer business as usual, it’d be nice to know what boundaries are (or aren’t) in place, so we can follow along. If it’s one person, let us know. If it’s a committee, that can work, too. But if the president and general manager differ on something as simple as “Trade/keep our 2017 lottery pick,” whose opinion wins out in the end? And why? When neither man has a demonstrated history of successful and independent decision-making, it’s worth knowing how and why we’ve ended up.......wherever it is we’ve ended up.