Phil Jackson is a coaching legend. His 11 championship rings are the most by a coach in NBA history, earning him a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame. As an executive, though? Not so much. Looking back at his every move as New York Knicks president, it’s almost as if he was trying to get fired, and it’s a wonder the organization picked up the option on the final two years of his contract two months ago.
Jamming the triangle offense down the throat of a league that’s flourishing in the pace-and-space era and shopping 21-year-old franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis two years after selecting him No. 4 overall, because “we have to do what’s good for our club” in “the future,” are fireable offenses on their own, but we’re here to judge Jackson on the merits of the moves he actually made since assuming the decision-making duties for the Knicks in March 2014. And they are not good. Here are the six worst:
1. Giving Carmelo Anthony a no-trade clause.
Jackson’s third major order of business (oh, we’ll get to the first two) was Anthony’s free agency in 2014. A 29-year-old seven-time All-Star by that point, ‘Melo was essentially guaranteed of getting a max contract on the open market, so Jackson had little choice but to re-sign the franchise player.
What he could have done, though, is refuse to offer Anthony a no-trade clause. That decision has defined Jackson’s tenure as president, since he has spent the past year trashing ‘Melo for holding the ball too much, lacking the will to win and just outright being better off somewhere else.
Informing the league that you want someone off your team as soon as possible is not the best way to set the market for potential trades, but you know what else hinders that process: Having to seek Anthony’s approval in any deal, especially when he seems perfectly happy staying in New York.
2. Hiring Derek Fisher.
Jackson’s first serious order of business in New York, outside of signing ex-Los Angeles Lakers Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom to 10-day contracts at the end of the 2013-14 season, was to replace Mike Woodson on the bench with Fisher, who had played his final game all of 10 days earlier.
Fisher finished 40-96 in 136 games as Knicks head coach. His biggest accomplishments in New York included 1) getting into a fight in Los Angeles with then-Memphis Grizzlies swingman Matt Barnes over his former Lakers teammate’s ex-wife during training camp and 2) giving us the #DerekFisherFace:
Jackson solved that issue by appointing Kurt Rambis as Fisher’s replacement. The same Rambis who posted a .279 winning percentage in two previous stops as a head coach. He improved upon that record with a 9-19 finish to the 2015-16 season. Jackson then hired Jeff Hornacek, who enjoyed success running an exciting uptempo offense with the Phoenix Suns, and of course the Zen Master ex-coach turned executive saddled his new coach with running the triangle and players who might fit into it.
3. Trading for Derrick Rose.
Rose was five years removed from his MVP campaign, experienced reoccurring knee injuries every year in between, and was slated to make $21 million in 2016-17. Oh, and he was in the midst of a civil rape lawsuit. So, naturally Jackson traded for him, forming what Rose dubbed a “super-team” in New York.
The Knicks finished 31-51, including one loss for which Rose just decided not to show up for work. The 28-year-old Rose underwent season-ending arthroscopic knee surgery in early April.
In the process, Jackson traded Robin Lopez, one of New York’s few recent value signings (even at $54 million). While Porzingis refused to show up for his exit interview and Jackson sung Rose’s praises while bashing Anthony, Lopez put together a brief but monster playoff run with the Chicago Bulls.
4. Trading Tyson Chandler for pennies on the dollar.
Jackson’s second order of business as president of the Knicks: Trading 2012 Defensive Player of the Year and 2013 NBA All-Star Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin and two second-round picks (Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Cleanthony Early).
Calderon served as the starting point guard for the lottery-bound Knicks for two seasons, and the other five “assets” played a total of 166 games in New York. Chandler, meanwhile, averaged a double-double as the starting center for a Dallas Mavericks team that won 50 games again. The going rate for a quality big man was at least a first-round pick, as evidenced by most NBA deals over the next year.
5. Trading J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert for ha’pennies on the dollar.
Granted, Smith openly conceded New York’s nightlife served as a distraction, and Shumpert was still working himself back from a serious knee injury, but those two provided an essential combination of wing offense and defense as rotational players on a Cleveland Cavaliers team that won the 2016 title.
Not to worry, though, the Knicks picked up Lou Amundson, Alex Kirk, Lance Thomas and a 2019 second-round pick in the deal. Thomas is the lone player still playing in the league. He averaged six points on 40 percent shooting and three rebounds in 21 minutes a night for the 2016-17 Knicks.
At least New York’s next president still has that 2019 second-round pick to work with. Oh, wait, Jackson gave the Orlando Magic the option to swap that pick for the chance to sign Kyle O’Quinn through 2019.
6. Getting the worst player in a three-team trade involving Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.
On draft night in 2015, Jackson was riding high after Porzingis fell to him with the fourth overall pick, but this would not be a Phil Jackson draft without some sort of hiccup. So, the Knicks dealt Hardaway, who was coming off a promising sophomore season in New York, to the Atlanta Hawks in a three-team trade that sent the No. 15 pick (Oubre) to the Washington Wizards and the No. 19 pick to the Knicks.
Jackson then drafted Jerian Grant, who played out an underwhelming rookie season in New York before serving as a throw-in to the deal for Rose (and playing much better for the Bulls in 2016-17).
Meanwhile, Hardaway was a more effective scorer in Atlanta than Rose was in New York this season, finishing top-10 in the Most Improved Player voting, and Oubre looks to be a serviceable NBA wing.
So, Jackson’s final draft record: Frank Ntilikina (the No. 8 overall pick last week); Damyean Dotson and Ognjen Jaramaz (two second-round picks this year); Willy Hernangomez (2017 First Team All-Rookie!); Early (playing in the G League); Antetokounmpo (playing in Spain); Grant (on the Bulls); and, of course, Porzingis, whose mere mention on the trade market helped earn Jackson his walking papers. And let’s not forget Jackson reportedly fell asleep while working out a potential lottery pick last month.
The future is bright in New York, if only because of Jackson’s final Knicks move: Parting ways.
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