11. The Phil Jackson Rebuild
Ushered in the Era of The Triangle
- After months of swirling rumors, Phil Jackson was finally announced as President of Knicks in March, 2014. He replaced Glen Grunwald who was holding down the position on an interim basis after Donnie Walsh had resigned. Phil’s hiring ushered in the Era of the Triangle with the Knicks.
- The entire summer of 2014, Knicks Twitter, local media and talk shows were abuzz with The Triangle — what it was, how it was played, and how the Knicks were going to become an elite team that passed-passed-passed, and played DEFENSE. Excitement abounded.
The Initial Moves
- A month into the job, at the end of the 2014 season, Phil fired Mike Woodson and his staff.
- Hired Derek Fisher as first coach, to institute The Triangle.
- Re-signed Carmelo Anthony to a big, 5-year, $124 Million extension (extending his contract through age 34) as a first order of business. Banked on Carmelo being able to thrive in The Triangle.
- First trade: dumping Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, Jose Calderon, and Samuel Dalembert. In a post-trade press conference, Phil took a swipe at Chandler, saying the trade was because the Knicks needed to “change some of the chemistry on the team, and bring in some character guys who could help bring us forward.”
- Drafted Cleanthony Early in 2nd round in 2014 draft (his first draft).
- Picked up Langston Galloway after the draft — a favorite of Phil Jackson‘s right-hand-man talent evaluator Clarence Gaines.
The 1st Year: ’14-15 — Horror Show
- Knicks went 17-65 in 1st season including team-record-breaking 16 loses in a row.
- The Triangle proved to be too difficult for Knicks players to learn, and new coach Derek Fisher to implement.
- The Knicks players tried too hard to pass within the triangle, and ended up becoming mechanical and telegraphing their passes. Other teams stole the ball regularly for fast breaks in the other direction.
- Carmelo Anthony had a hard time being efficient shooting off the pass. He tried, but as the season progressed, went back into his old habits of doing a dribble dance before shooting to get in rhythm.
- The Knicks defense was poor; they were always getting smoked after other teams intercepted their passes.
- Phil Jackson made fun of several Knick players in an ESPN article written by his good friend Charley Rosen — including saying that after being lectured, JR Smith was “a very sensitive guy, with his big doe eyes. He looked like he was going to tear up. But he finally responded that he was going through some issues with his gal.”
- In mid-season — January, 2015 — traded JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland in a 3-team trade that got the Knicks Lou Amundson from Cleveland and Lance Thomas from Oklahoma City.
The 2nd Off Season: Summer ’15 — Porzingis Draft & Free Agents
- Drafted Kristaps Porzingis with 4th pick in 2015 draft (Phil’s 2nd draft). At first an enormously unpopular and ridiculed pick, Porzingis turned out to be a ‘unicorn’ and a new superstar in NY.
- Dumped Tim Hardaway Jr. — trading him for 19th pick in 2015 draft, used to pick point guard Jerian Grant.
- In his first free-agent signing spree of summer of 2015, Phil signed Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn, Derrick Williams, and Arron Afflalo.
- Lopez was going to be the smart, head’s-up center to run the triangle around.
- Afflalo was going to provide shooting in the backcourt.
- O’Quinn would provide toughness, rebounding, and scoring inside.
- Derrick Williams was a bonus — an athletic 6’7 forward and former #2 overall pick in the draft the Knicks would take a chance on.
The 2nd Year: ’15-16 — Porzingis Surprises But Knicks Still Stink
- At start of the season in October, Derek Fisher made headlines for being involved in a fight with former teammate Matt Barnes, who drove 95 miles (actually 20 miles) to “beat the shit out of Fisher” for romancing Barnes’ former wife. Fisher was staying at Barnes’ old house with his wife and kids. Fisher was supposed to be in NY at the Knicks training camp, but was in LA at Barnes’ house. Barnes’ agent at the time was Phil Jackson’s son. Here is Barnes’ detailed recollection of what happened.
- Newly outfitted with center Robin Lopez joining Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony on the front line, and Arron Afflalo as the shooting guard with Jose Calderon at the point — the Knicks were 20-20 on January 12, 2016 — but they went into a January losing streak that lasted until the end of the year.
- The Triangle remained elusive for the Knicks and their defense wasn’t great.
- Derek Fisher was fired in February 2016 with a 23-31 record; NY promoted assistant Kurt Rambis as interim coach for rest of 2015-16 season. NY finished the year 32-50.
- Phil Jackson started holding secret Triangle seminars in April after the season ended.
The 3rd Off-Season: Summer ’16 — A 2nd Rebuild
- Hired Jeff Hornacek as coach in summer 2016, to run The Triangle.
- Rebuild #2: in summer 2016, traded Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, and Jose Calderon to Chicago for Derrick Rose, Justin Holliday and a 2017 2nd round pick (Damyean Dotson).
- Signed Joakim Noah to a big contract — $72M for 4 years. Noah was going to be the smart, passing, defensive-oriented center to revolve the triangle around. Noah had a shoulder injury the year before, and swore to Phil Jackson his shoulder was healthy.
- Signed Courtney Lee to be the outside shooting guard.
- Signed Sasha Vujacic, whom Phil was familiar with as an LA Laker.
- Knicks took a flyer on Brandon Jennings, hoping he could mount a comeback. He didn’t.
The 3rd Year– ’16-17: Knicks Still Stink
- With Jeff Hornacek as the coach, and a rejuvenated Derrick Rose as their point guard (averaging 18 ppg), the Knicks started out ok — they were 16-14 on Christmas, lost a heartbreaker to the Celtics and kept losing close games. For the 2nd year in a row, a losing streak started in January that lasted to the end of the season. NY finished 31-51 — almost identical season to the year before.
- Again the Knicks couldn’t figure out the Triangle. As the season progressed, they played a pseudo-Jeff-Hornacek-altered triangle.
- Joakim Noah was a disaster — he averaged 5 ppg, and only played 46 games — undergoing knee surgery in February. A month later, he was hit with a 20-game steroid suspension. A month after that, the Knicks announced he would need shoulder surgery again too.
- In January 2017, Phil Jackson’s old friend, Charlie Rosen, wrote another hit piece — this one about Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo Anthony responded to local reporters that he felt the article was probably a message from Jackson.
- Jackson tweeted in February that “You can’t change the spot on a leopard“, which many felt was a veiled reference to Melo.
- Derrick Rose, who had been a huge part of the early winning — wore down and Knicks Twitter ripped him constantly for his defense. It was revealed later on that Rose had developed and was playing with a torn meniscus in his knee.
- It was reported that Jackson wanted to eat Carmelo’s contract and trade him — which reportedly drew ire from owner James Dolan. Phil had given Melo the big extension; now wanted to throw the money to the wind.
- Jackson was quoted as saying several times that Porzingis’s ass was too small to ever become a big-time post up center in the NBA.
- It was an era of Knick reserves such as Ron Baker, Lou Amundson, Cleanthony Early, Maurice Ndour, Lance Thomas, and Willy Hernangomez.
The Final Off Season — Phil Jackson Fired
- Porzingis became disenchanted with the way Jackson was handling his friend Carmelo Anthony, and became disenchanted himself.
- NY had to make a decision on whether to give Porzingis a max extension, or trade him.
- NY drafted Frank Ntilikina with the 7th pick in the June 2017 draft, bypassing Donovan Mitchell, whom most fans wanted NY to pick, and Dennis Smith Jr, who many other fans wanted NY to pick.
- After the draft, in June 2017, Jackson began attempts to trade Porzingis — which caused fan ire and became the last straw for Knicks owner James Dolan — who fired Jackson on June 28, 2017.
- A Disaster.
- Knicks fans wanted Phil Jackson to be the coach — but he was the GM — a position he’d never had before.
- Phil could never find a coach to properly teach his triangle. The Knicks had poor offense and bad defense.
- As a GM, Phil talked a good game, but seemed to constantly change his plan. He orchestrated what can be considered 2 rebuilds — an initial one, and then a 2nd one where he changed the main pieces he had just signed to free agent contracts the summer before — trading the free-agent center he had acquired to run the triangle — Robin Lopez — and instead signed Joakim Noah to a big contract, and changing shooting guards (Afflalo vs Courtney Lee) and point guards (Cameron vs Rose).
- For 2 straight years the Knicks were .500 in early January, then collapsed — with a long losing streak from January to the end of the year.
- Famously re-signed Carmelo Anthony to an extension, then after a year, gave up on Anthony’s ability to operate in the triangle and started insulting him via his media hit man Charley Rosen, disgruntling Porzingis. Jackson then wanted to eat Melo’s contract, tossing millions to the wind.
- Phil took shots at Knick players in press conferences, on twitter, and via his media hit man Rosen.
- Jackson tried to trade Porzingis — the final straw, causing his firing.
- After the firing, Phil famously posted a tweet of himself sitting back at his home in Montana, overlooking a lake with his feet up in the air.
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) July 9, 2017
- The new Knick management eventually traded Porzingis — Phil’s analysis was right — Porzingis’s ass was too skinny to become a dominant post-up man — plus he was injury prone and NY didn’t seem to want to risk signing him to a max contract. Porzingis’s brother/agent was also blamed for NY cooling on KP — but it seemed their analysis of him not being worth a max contract overruled all.
- New Knick management also traded Carmelo Anthony.
- It took years to find out the Ntilikina pick didn’t work out.
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