The New York Knicks had problems long before Phil Jackson arrived in town. While Jackson was certainly worthy of criticism during his tenure, his absence is a stark reminder of the time before him. Jackson was brought in to rejuvenate a franchise that lacked any sort of a heartbeat for most of the last decade. He was given autonomy: full control over basketball decisions.
For fans, the lack of involvement from owner James Dolan was a delight at first. However, aside from a few glimmers of hope, Jackson made a flurry of questionable moves. From Joakim Noah’s contract, to Carmelo Anthony’s new contract, to embarrassing the franchise centerpiece for egotistical reasons, one could call his tenure an utter mess. But throughout the years, confidence remained in the fact that this was Phil Jackson, owner of multiple championship rings. While confidence remained steady on the surface, issues continued to grow internally.
Among the first issues that must be addressed is Jackson’s lack of experience. Despite being heralded as one the greatest coaches of all time, such success doesn’t (and it didn't) necessarily translate into the front office. But that’s not the worst of it. Jackson, in many ways, was trying to coach vicariously through his coaches. His insistence on running the triangle, despite the Knicks recent success as a fast-paced team, rotted many relationships. Many players and members in the front office opposed the system.
Over time, a split was slowly created within the Knicks organization. There were Jackson’s guys and Dolan’s guys. Having fired Phil Jackson, the power has gone back to Dolan’s guys and the Knicks of old have returned. We reported the turmoil between Jackson and the Knicks a week before it happened, days before the draft. Therefore, the Knicks were on rocky terms well before the draft. Yet, as are all of the questionable decisions the Knicks make, they decided to fire Jackson after the draft. Despite multiple members of the front office preferring Malik Monk or Dennis Smith Jr, including Dolan himself, Jackson left the Knicks with a gift from France.
With Steve Mills ascending to power in Jackson’s absence, things didn’t get too much better. Mills' first big move was offering Tim Hardaway Jr. a 4-year, $71 million deal, twice as much as Atlanta was prepared to offer him. This is the same player the Knicks drafted then traded under Phil Jackson, just to get him back at a price the rest of the league would never consider. Worst of all, the Knicks are still determined to replace Phil Jackson—here’s where things get tricky.
The Knicks don’t know where they’re going, since they have no leader in the front office. They don’t even know what vacancy they want to fill. Former Cavaliers GM David Griffin had serious interest in joining the Knicks. His demands were simple: roughly four years, the ability to bring his own staff and control over basketball decisions. The Knicks botched it.
New York refused to let him bring in his own people and struggled to come to a conclusion on a position. The latter is largely a result of Mills potentially ascending to President of Basketball Operations, Jackson’s old role, if someone is brought in as a GM. Thus the Knicks are hustling backwards. They want to bring in a big fish, but who will be calling the shots? Will the new President/GM be content with Jackson's draft night, Mills signing Hardaway and Carmelo Anthony (potentially) being traded away? If you they aren't going to give a President/GM his basic duties, as Griffin sought, why hire anyone at all? Why not let Mills run the show if they won't allow any change to occur? The car is moving forward, there’s no one behind the wheel and the Knicks expect someone to eventually fly into the driver’s seat and fix all of their problems.