This appears in the Monday, January 12, edition of the Business Mirror.
It’s all Latin to the Knicks
by rick olivares pic by anthony j. causi/ny post
That’s the Latin phrase that New York Knicks President Phil Jackson uttered recently with his team flirting with every dubious record in the NBA book.
For years, basketball observers and critics have wondered what Jackson could do with a bad team. The knock on the Zen Master is that he won only with star-studded teams in Chicago and Los Angeles. In order for him to validate that tag of greatness then he should go to an expansion club or even a lower tier team.
Congratulations, critics. You just got your wish.
Well, the New York Knicks are only an A-list club in name, reputation, and geography but the moment Patrick Ewing was sent westward, the team’s fortunes left with him. Sure in the intervening years there have been blips of potential. But in hindsight, they were merely aberrations. Instead, their fans have lived on faded glory most especially when Jackson himself wore Knicks colors on game day. Or to borrow the title of writer Harvey Araton’s book of those golden days… “when the garden was Eden.”
Madison Square Garden today is where opposing teams go to pad their stats. Kemba Walker added to his recent scoring spree with 28 of his own on Saturday evening when the Knicks were blown off the floor by the Charlotte Hornets 110-82 to drop New York to 3-17 at home and 5-35 overall.
The Philadelphia 76ers, in years past, used to assault the record for futility. Who would have thought that the Knicks of first year head coach Derek Fisher would be in contention for that dubious record (9-73 by the 1972-73 Sixers) along with the Minnesota Timberwolves? Both clubs have five wins but the Knicks have four more losses.
In a lost season, you can bet your bottom dollar disgruntled Knicks fans, even those with paper bags on their head, will celebrate a 10th win. A tenth win! This is New York City where anything less than a championship is unacceptable.
I am not sure if this is the right word here but Jackson has owned up to the disaster with a “mea culpa.”
Added the Knicks President, “Obviously I didn't do the right thing in picking the group of guys that were here. A lot of it was etched in stone. We had guys with guaranteed contracts. But in anticipating that we were going to better, that we were giving hope to our fans that maybe there's a possible playoff opportunity here, you know, that goes on me. We now have to take responsibility and move forward and make things happen, that also goes on me. Now I have to do the job that I was brought here to do."
The Knicks learning Jackson’s cherished triangle offense has been as difficult as learning the Latin language.
I can’t help but think of the time when Jax’ former player, Michael Jordan was in Washington in a similar capacity. He was hoping that he could play and lift the Wizards to play-off contention but not even His Airness could beat Father Time. And now Jordan’s Hornets did a number on Jackson’s Knicks for their 15th straight loss. That’s not rubbing it in; it’s merely the coincidence of a league schedule.
Now the Knicks have started to rebuild by trading away some pieces and stocking up on draft picks. I question though the idea of building around Carmelo Anthony. Don’t get me wrong -- I like Melo. He reminds me of my favorite Knick player, Bernard King who was another scoring force. During King’s time, they had that two-headed center in Bill Cartwright and Patrick Ewing as well. They didn’t win in a plenty tough Eastern Conference (at that time).
In the early 1990s, when New York challenged the Bulls for supremacy, they did so on defense as well as a deep and talented team with Ewing in the pivot.
Looking at the 6’8” Melo, here are his advantages:
Size and strength – size on the wing and heftier. Doesn’t mind the contact as he can finish. He has terrific footwork in and around the block.
Scoring ability – He can shoot or work you on the post. He can drive too. Has great range on his jumper. Can turn and fade going left or right.
Passing instincts – He averages three assists per game.
Rebounding ability – Career six rebounds per game average.
Consistency – Can light it up. One of the NBA’s top four scorers every year since he came into the league.
Anthony is a scorer. I don’t believe you cannot build around a scorer. You want to build around the do-it-all players like Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James. Shooters demand the ball to get going. Even when they cannot hit the side of a building, they still need to get going.
Looking at Jackson’s Bulls, only when Jordan did accept the triangle offense and trust his teammates did they start to win. Only when Jordan shared the spotlight with Scottie Pippen did they win. And later on, they even needed Dennis Rodman to fuel some historic runs on their way to the second three-peat.
As for Jackson’s time with the Lakers, he had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Later it was Bryant and Pau Gasol.
All this means, there is a lot of work that needs doing in New York. The magic dust didn’t work like a charm right away in Gotham. So now it’s a respectable finish they must aim for and then rebuild in earnest. Unfortunately, that’s a long ways from today. It’s all in theory and in planning.
That was yesterday.
Jackson’s Latin words should be, “Nun iterum aedificetur.” In case you don’t know that means, “Now rebuild.”