The position of head coach is a big enough deal, and when it refers to the Head Coach of a Big-4 sports team in a major city and the search is being led by a team president who has 11 rings, it takes on special urgency and prominence. Such is the case with the somewhat desperate NY Knicks, led by the Zen Master himself, Phil Jackson (also known as Big Chief Triangle). They had a typically desultory season, finishing at 32-50, which actually was an improvement over the 17-65 record the year before, yet extending to 17 the number of years since the team last appeared in the NBA Finals and to 3 the number of consecutive years their seasons ended with Game #82.
The Knicks have an impressive young talent in the tall (7’3”), affable Latvian, Kristaps Porzingis, an albatross in the overpaid and undermotivated Carmelo Anthony, and not much else. Apologies to Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon and Lou Amundson. They try hard. They also are handicapped, in my view, in that they are being asked to play the ‘Triangle Offense’, a seemingly complicated scheme based on passing and cutting, with the options for the players dictated largely by how the defense is situated. The problem I have with it (admittedly it was hugely successful the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls and later with the Los Angeles Lakers) is that it is something being imposed. Any freedom to play and to freely use one’s talents is gone. It is not the system matching the players on hand but rather the players on hand having to adapt the system. The latter scenario can work, but the players have to be flexible enough to do what is required and not too stubborn to think that the system sucks and to heck with what the coach and Phil want us to do.
One of my writing gurus, Mike Vaccaro of the NY Post, claimed today’s back page (where the lead sports story is featured) by all but grabbing Phil Jackson by the lapels and saying “Call This Man Now”, the this man’ referring to Frank Vogel, who was just sacked by the Indiana Pacers. Vogel’s Pacers teams won at a 58% rate while he was in charge and it was said that he was able to get a dodgy roster to play way above their pay grades. Ok, I’m listening if I am a Knicks fan. This is not a sexy pick, with the sexiest choice, the prickly Tom Thibodeau, having been already chosen by the Minnesota Timberwolves and there seemed to be no bubbling interest in 4-time NBA Coach of the Year and cancer survivor George Karl. Interim coach Kurt Rambis, a long-time colleague of Jackson’s in LA, inspires the fan base like reheated casserole (Sorry, Kurt) but may yet be the pick as Jackson is known to favor associations with those with whom he has previously worked, as they are more likely to already understand Jackson’s thinking.
The owner James Dolan, who should stick to playing with his band as he has shown success there and a small ability to entertain, favors headline names (think the odious, smarmy, dangerous Isiah Thomas and even Jackson himself, who had no previous experience as a General Manager) to fill spots makes this choice even more difficult. Though my formative years as a sports fan included a devotion to the Red Holzman/Clyde Frazier/Willis Reed Knicks, they of the two championships back when Richard Nixon was in the White House, I no longer pay real attention to the team, reading just enough to keep current. It’d be nice to see them being at least consistent winners and not having the parade of castoffs put on the classic white blue and orange jerseys on the court in ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena’, the mecca of basketball.
I have no pick here, but Phil needs to come back from his self-imposed solitude in the wilds of Montana (where he probably is most comfortable vs anywhere else, but where his gf, Jeannie Buss, [she’s not busy, her Lakers are on the golf course] might not be as happy) and show he is large and in charge and energize the fan base to keep them occupied until at least the NBA Draft on June 23rd.