Phil Jackson’s “tree” could be the downfall of the green and growing New York Knicks. The Zen Master has his guys, and he sticks with them no matter what. That’s an admirable trait in real-life, but as president of the New York Knicks, Jackson needs to expand his circle. New York fired head coach Derek Fisher on Feb. 8 after the team lost nine of its last 10 games. At the time of the dismissal, the Knicks stood at 23-31 and five games out of the playoff picture. Kurt Rambis, Jackson’s former longtime assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers, will finish the year as head coach. Per Basketball Reference, the team is ranked 20th in Defensive Rating. Allowing point guards like John Wall to erupt for 28 points and 17 assists—as he did Tuesday night in the Washington Wizards’ 110-108 win over the Knicks— has been an issue all year. Tom Thibodeau could fix that. The former Chicago Bulls coach is available and has a rock-solid relationship with Carmelo Anthony after spending time with him over the years on Team USA. He once told Ian O’Connor of ESPN, “We laugh sometimes about what some people say about Melo. The guy’s a killer.”
Thibs’ Bulls were consistently elite on the defensive end. Of course, you have to have the horses to win the race, and New York does not have the thoroughbred stoppers Chicago had. But the Knicks have a shot-eraser in star rookie Kristaps Porzingis, and some serious athleticism on the perimeter in Langston Galloway. They wouldn’t win the race, necessarily, but they would compete.
Thibodeau was an assistant for the Knicks under Jeff Van Gun- dy from 1996 to 2003, and he reportedly would jump at the opportunity to work at MSG again. “The Knicks are the job he’s always wanted,” a source close to the coach told O’Connor. “He would crawl to Madison Square Garden.”
Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski doesn’t think the ‘Bockers will go for him, though. How come? Thibs isn’t one of Jackson’s triangle cronies. The names you’ll hear surrounding potential long-term candidates include Rambis, Brian Shaw, Jim Cleamons, Luke Walton—all Jackson disciples. Woj reported that PJax “would never cede control” to a strong-minded coach like Thibodeau. “Jackson isn’t using the Knicks’ vast resources to lure the best player personnel staffs and coaches to the Knicks,” Wojnarowski wrote on Feb. 9, “just likeminded people, just his guys.” The Knicks are years away from genuine contention, but there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. Porzingis could be a superstar. Galloway looks like the John Starks to KP’s Patrick Ewing. Jerian Grant, Derrick Williams and Cleanthony Early could all play huge roles years from now. Anthony is aging, but he’s still an elite scorer.
With the right coach –Thibodeau – this team could eventually be special. But Jackson’s triangular shaped mind won’t seem to allow that pairing to happen, simply because he wants to run the team through someone else—someone who will allow him to do so—and avoid passing the reins.
You can’t steer a ship without getting onboard. Jackson needs to stop trying to dictate from afar and give the Knicks a leader who can drive them out mediocre waters and onto solid land. Tom Duffy is a journalism major from Woodbridge, N.J. He can be reached at thomas.duffy@student. shu.edu or on Twitter @TJDhoops.