Phil Jackson Discusses Range of Topics in Latest Interview


Peeking inside the mind of Phil Jackson is a fascinating exercise. The New York Knicks president has been one of the sharpest minds in pro basketball for close to five decades, so when the Zen Master speaks candidly, Knicks fans perk up and take notice.

In a series of compelling articles posted weekly on, Jackson has been exploring a wide range of topics with interviewer and longtime confidante Charley Rosen. In the fifth such dispatch posted yesterday, Jackson holds forth on everything from free agency and trade targets, to explaining his sometimes cryptic tweets.

Rosen spent a day each month with Jackson while he steered the Knicks in his first season with the team. This particular interview took place on February 24, when the Knicks’ record stood at 10-45.

After first swiftly dismissing former Chicago Bulls exec Jerry Reinsdorf’s allegation that he took the Knicks job solely for the money, Jackson is asked to explain his enigmatic tweet from February 22 about pleasing the basketball Gods.

What was that about and who was it directed towards?

"“It was directed to my team and to NBA players in general. Every appearance on the court gives every player a chance to show his better self. By this I mean, a chance to demonstrate his team-oriented mindset. That’s a league-wide problem. As for the Knicks, a lot of our players don’t fully understand what we’re doing on offense. By picking, cutting, moving without the ball, making appropriate passes, filling lanes and generally moving together in a certain rhythm, players should be focused on helping to create good shots for their teammates. They’ll get their own shots as the offense unfolds. However, there are still too many players on the Knicks and all around the league who are overly concerned with their own individual goals. That’s an attitude that we’re intent on changing here.”"

Jackson’s response comes as no surprise to Knicks fans who watched the team struggle with a rookie head coach who was implementing an offense that very few of his players were acquainted with.

Jackson reveals that his initial hope faded as the Knicks were beset with injuries and players struggled to adjust to the gameplan.

"“At the beginning of the season, I hoped that we would at least be able to compete. But because of various injuries and guys who were resistant to our game plan, that hope never panned out. It was necessary, though, to give that hope a chance. Once we realized that it was not possible, that we were not moving forward in a positive direction, changes had to be made. Above all, we needed cap space and draft choices to start to right the ship. And we had to do everything right now simply because we don’t have another first-round draft pick until [2017], and no second-round picks until 2017. The various trades gave us what we needed — cap space and future draft choices. In truth, this is our last chance for a while to build through the draft.”"

True to his word, Jackson blew up the roster with a flurry of moves once he saw things going south, waiving Amar’e Stoudemire and trading J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni. The moves freed up millions in cap space with an eye towards signing a marquee free agent in the offseason.

In the three-team trade that sent Smith and Shumpert to Cleveland, the Knicks received Alex Kirk, Lou Amundson, Lance Thomas and a second-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Kirk was waived two days later, while Amundson and Thomas wound up sticking around for the rest of the season.

The Knicks re-signed both players this summer.

Jackson goes into more detail explaining his moves.

"“As I’ve mentioned before, J.R. was more interested in hunting for his own shots than in buying into the triangle. Plus, he has a player’s option for next season that would limit our flexibility. As for Shumpert, mainly because of injuries, he’d take one step forward and two steps backward. And because of a salary ‘hold’ on his rookie contract, a CBA format that limits available money in free agency. In the end, we didn’t have many other realistic options, and the dollar matchups made the deal work. Pablo wanted to go to a playoff team and at 37 he deserved the chance to have a positive chance at the end of his NBA career.”"

In weighing possible trades before the deadline, Jackson said he focused on acquiring point guard Goran Dragic, but deemed his asking price too high. After the Knicks dropped out, Dragic was traded to the Miami Heat and subsequently signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the team.

Jackson also mentioned being interested in trading for Enes Kanter and Arron Afflalo, the latter of whom the Knicks wound up signing in the offseason to a two-year, $16 million deal.

While the trade was not looked upon favorably by Knicks fans, it’s hard to argue against Jackson’s assessment of Smith and Shumpert while in Knicks uniforms. Both appeared ill-suited for the Triangle Offense.

In the end those moves created great financial flexibility going forward, which with a record of more than 30 games under .500, was more important than keeping players that didn’t fit.

But what about players who will be on the Knicks’ 2015-16 roster? How does Jackson evaluate their game?

On Langston Galloway:

"“After a terrific start when we called him up from the D-League, he’s hit the wall and banged off it. But I still think he can be a productive player for us.”"

On Jose Calderon:

"“Jose Calderon expects perfection, and since our operation of the triangle — while improving — remains far from perfect, Jose gets frustrated. When that happens, he gets tight and makes mistakes. Overall, though, and more often than not, everybody plays hard.”"

Jackson also went on the address departed Knicks, his thoughts on Kobe Bryant and his pitch to free agents. He saves his nicest words for the fans.

"“The fans have been great. They come to the Garden and cheer every good thing we do. The media has been really down on us, and on me in particular, but I understand that their job is to report on what’s happening right now. As I’ve said before, the media can do and say whatever they please. It’s easy for me to ignore them because I’m doing the job that I’ve been hired to do.”"

“The Phil Files” returns to next Monday.

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