Analyzing Phil Jackson’s Influence on the Knicks Since his Arrival in New York


When the news broke that legendary basketball icon Phil Jackson would be taking the reigns of the Knicks as their director of basketball, the excitement in the Big Apple was palpable. Long associated with inept executives, the idea that someone actually competent would be running the long suffering New York franchise breathed new life into a largely pessimistic fan-base.

Jan 10, 2015; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks president Phil Jackson addresses the media before the start of game against the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

And with good reason too. Jackson, who won 2 rings as a Knicks player and 11 rings during his coaching stints with the Bulls and Lakers, is one of the most celebrated basketball minds in the history of the sport. The Zen Master’s short tenure on Broadway has not lacked it’s highs and lows, with the creation of numerous question marks in the process. This of course, begs the question: How has Phil Jackson’s influence affected the Knicks?

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We’ll start with the decision that has most defined his time in New York thus far – the re-signing of Carmelo Anthony. When the Knicks traded for Melo back in 2011, expectations soared through the roof among the Madison Square Garden faithful. While things obviously didn’t work out the way we all expected, Phil Jackson basically found himself in a lose-lose situation regarding Anthony’s free agency.

Should Jackson have opted to let Melo walk (most likely to the Chicago Bulls), we’re looking at all sorts of backlash. Getting your hands on top class players is a hard enough achievement these days, and the Knicks would’ve been allowing one of the most established superstars of the past decade to skip town. When you factor in all the quality assets and picks the Knicks forfeited in the trade with Denver, giving up on Anthony would’ve been a near impossible resolution to make.

Having re-signed Melo for a monster 5 year, $124 million deal however, Jackson’s decision hasn’t managed to avoid it’s fair share of scrutiny. While Carmelo Anthony is a legitimate superstar, the fact of the matter is he simply doesn’t posses the ability to single handedly carry a team through the playoffs. In order to achieve success, the Knicks would need to pair him with at least one other All-Star, a task that’s looked increasingly unlikely as of late.

Dec 25, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) reacts during the third quarter against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With the Knick’s future up in the air, having Carmelo Anthony in the fold appears to have put both parties at a crossroads. Jackson’s back was firmly against the wall when he deemed Melo a worthy investment, yet there’s still a chance that the Brooklyn born sharp shooter will find success in New York.

It’s now up to The Zen Master to decide which direction to take. Keeping Anthony in the orange and blue is certainly a viable option, however he’ll surely be forced to at least entertain the idea of trading his megastar if he’s indeed committed to the rebuild.

Carmelo Anthony may be the biggest name New York have recently signed, yet he certainly isn’t the only one. The problem many Knicks fan have however, is that he represents the lone superstar Jackson has managed to get his hands on during his tenure in New York  

When The Zen Master arrived, so too did the unrealistic expectations of players he’d be bringing with him. From The Gasol brothers, to LaMarcus Aldridge, to  DeAndre Jordan, many Knicks fans overestimated just how much of a draw Jackson and the New York big market really were.

These days, players don’t simply sign with the biggest name chasing them; they decide on a situation best suited for success. The age of big markets bullying small town teams in free agency is over, and Jackson will need to build a genuine foundation before he can even think about targeting any superstars. Which leads us to the players he’s already brought in.

This past summer’s free agency haul may have lacked the pizzazz that many had hoped for, but the argument can be made that Jackson actually pulled off an outstanding recruitment job. Knowing full well that hooking a big fish would be near impossible, he instead turned his attention to the second tier of free agents, reeling in affordable, well respected NBA role players.

Apr 25, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez (42) reacts after being called for a foul against the Memphis Grizzlies in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

While they may not be the sexiest of additions, guys such as Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn, Kevin Seraphin and Derrick Williams (well, this one can go either way) are the sort of players you need on a competitive NBA team, instilling veteran experience, defensive solidity, and even a bit of talent themselves. If the Knicks can build a solid foundation around Carmelo Anthony, other stars will eventually take the plunge, and at the very least, consider New York as a viable free agency destination.

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  • As notorious Knicks hater Charles Barkley put it, much to the bewilderment of the entire basketball universe, “I actually think the Knicks should be on national television this year, they actually got NBA players.” And when you look at the roster that tallied a franchise worst 17-65 record last year, you start to understand what he meant. The 2014-2015 squad was largely made up of fringe NBA players, who probably should have been plying their trade in the D-League or Europe. This season’s roster contains players who belong in the league, and have proven that fact multiple times in the past.

    Additionally, Jackson’s moves in the NBA draft created all sorts of buzz among both fans and the media alike. While his first ever pick Cleanthony Early proved to be largely ineffectual, this past summer’s draftees Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant have the potential to be franchise altering selections.

    The Porzingis pick was the best possible route Jackson could’ve taken for numerous reasons, but the most impressive aspect of it was it’s pure ballsiness. With sure thing NBA role players like Justise Winslow and Willie Cauley-Stein on the board, no one would have blamed him if he’d undergone a safer course of action. Instead, Jackson made the pick most likely to change the Knick’s fortunes around, opting for the prospect who could potentially develop into a bona fide superstar.

    Jun 25, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Kristaps Porzingis is escorted onto the stage with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number four overall pick to the New York Knicks in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    In Porzingis, New York now has a player with a skill set the NBA has never quite seen before. An absolute behemoth at 7”3, the Latvian’s skillful ball handling and butter smooth jump shot effectively make him a small forward in a center’s body. His lack of weight may be a cause for concern, but Porzingis’ impressive work ethic gives us reason to believe he’ll succeed in tacking on the necessary bulk. It may be early, but it’s starting to look like Phil Jackson unearthed a gem last June.

    Although Porzingis may have grabbed a majority of the headlines during the draft, the trade that sent Tim Hardaway Jr. to the Hawks in exchange for the pick that would later become Jerian Grant should not be taken for granted. The former Notre Dame point guard had just undergone a monumental season, being named a first team All American and leading the Fighting Irish to the March Madness Elite Eight.

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    While the nearly 23-year-old Grant doesn’t quite posses the potential of young Kristaps Porzingis, he does represent a safe, reliable option who will likely develop into a quality long-term point guard. Blessed with impressive athleticism, shooting, court vision and defensive ability, Grant is a rare player who basically lacks any holes in his game. In fact, numerous onlookers seem to think that outside of D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, he represented the best point guard option in the 2015 draft. Having grabbed Grant as late as the 19th pick, this one has steal written all over it.

    Although The Zen Master has certainly made waves with the players he’s acquired, there is another aspect of his influence on the Knicks – the triangle. This complex system is one that’s become almost synonymous with the name Phil Jackson, his go to weapon during his years of NBA domination.

    Upon it’s implementation, onlookers had no idea what to expect regarding which effects the triangle would have on the New York offense. And while most fans haven’t taken too kindly to the system thus far, it seems we have yet to truly witness the potential the triangle possesses.

    Mar 12, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; New York Knicks president Phil Jackson in attendance in the first half during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    When last season’s Knicks fielded the triangle, they unsurprisingly, enjoyed little success. To flourish under Jackson’s system, you need competent bigs (the Knicks had Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire) and a quality scorer (the Knicks didn’t have Carmelo Anthony).

    The future should look a lot different. With Carmelo Anthony back to full fitness and a long-term twin tower pairing of Robin Lopez and Kristaps Porzingis on the cards, the triangle may ultimately have a role to play in the New York Knicks offense. It’ll take time to truly pay dividends, but it would be downright silly to write off The Zen Master’s proven championship winning system just yet.

    While the Knicks haven’t quite fulfilled the expectations that were created when Phil Jackson signed on, there is much reason to believe that the future of the franchise is bright. The Knicks likely won’t make the playoffs, and still have a sizable amount of work ahead of them before they’ll be in a position to do so. However the framework is beginning to take shape, and Jackson is starting to achieve what so many of his predecessors failed to do: turn the Knicks into a genuine, respectable NBA franchise.