After three seasons, four head coaches, and 166 losses, the Phil Jackson era has come to a crashing end in New York. After holding a meeting late tonight with high ranking Knicks officials to discuss Jackson’s future with the organization, team owner James Dolan made the final decision to fire Jackson from his position as President of Basketball Operations effective immediately, sources tell Hoops Inq.
Though the relationship between Dolan and Jackson had been deteriorating for some time--the two had not spoken in months except over text--the situation was brought to a breaking point by a series of recent developments. Most recently, Dolan was angered by Jackson’s decision to publicly dangle young star Kristaps Porzingis in trade talks. Sources indicate that he was also upset by Jackson’s selection of French guard Frank Ntilikina over North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith, Jr., in last week’s draft. Finally, Dolan had become annoyed by the fact that the Knicks will likely be unable to pursue any big name free agents this offseason as they are shackled by their large contractual commitments to Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah.
The division between Jackson and Dolan became so severe in recent weeks that it split the front office in half. There now existed a strong internal divide, with Dolan’s loyalists on one end and Jackson’s faithful on the other. Sources indicate that one particular point of conflict between the two sides involved the prospect of re-signing free agent point guard Derrick Rose. Jackson’s side was open to the idea of bringing back the controversial point guard while Dolan’s faction, which includes general manager Steve Mills, was staunchly opposed to the idea.
In Dolan’s view, firing Phil may have been the best of a few bad financial options. Dolan had recently been presented the options of buying out Anthony or Noah’s contracts and was disinclined to do either. He felt that it would be cheaper to just fire Jackson, even if that meant paying some portion of the remaining money on his contract.
In addition to the financial incentives, Dolan believed firing Jackson may have had the added benefits of pleasing Porzingis and resolving the ongoing Carmelo Anthony debacle. Now that Jackson is gone, sources say, Anthony will likely not be bought out or traded and will instead stay in New York, as is his preference.
Jackson’s sudden dismissal creates a number of questions for the future of the Knicks’ organization. The most immediate uncertainty has to do with who will be directing the front office as it enters this off-season’s free agency period. Incumbent general manager Steve Mills served as President of Basketball Operations prior to Jackson’s 2014 hire, and it had been reported by several outlets that he still served as the primary point of contact for outside organizations during the Jackson regime. Sources tell Hoops Inq. that early candidates for the presidency will be former Knicks guard and current ABC commentator Mark Jackson and former Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars.
Given Jackson’s promotion of the triangle offense within the organization, his departure from the Knicks could have drastic implications for the team’s on-court product. Head coach Jeff Hornacek, who Jackson hired last summer and who sources indicate may also be on his way out, initially distanced himself from the post-centric offense. By the season’s end, however, he had begun to voice a desire to commit the team entirely to the triangle. Though it has been reported that the offense was the focus of all the Knicks’ pre-draft workouts, it stands to reason that Jackson’s dismissal could spell the end of the triangle in New York, especially given its reported unpopularity with incumbent players and free agents.
How the organization navigates these dilemmas is a question that will have to be answered by whoever is next to hold the team’s presidency. Where the Knicks go next is up in the air; for now, all that’s for certain is that Phil Jackson won’t be leading them there.