Isola: Phil Jackson no longer the cool, calm man on bench

Knicks team president Phil Jackson is certainly not as cool, calm and collected as he was during his coaching days with Michael Jordan's Bulls and Kobe Bryant's Lakers.Howard Simmons/New York Daily News

Knicks team president Phil Jackson is certainly not as cool, calm and collected as he was during his coaching days with Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers.

When Phil Jackson was coaching he had this habit of sitting back with his legs crossed while opposing coaches ranted and raved along the sidelines.

Of course, it was easy for the Zen Master to project an image of being the coolest guy in the room when he had Michael Jordan and eventually Kobe Bryant to fight his battles.

But Jackson doesn’t have that in New York. Not by a long-shot. What Jackson has is a flawed roster built around a soon-to-be 32 year old scoring forward and a 20-year old potential franchise talent. It’s a disjointed rebuild to say the least.

The result is plenty of losses the last two years; a franchise record 65 in 2014-15 and 50 this season. One for every shot Kobe attempted in his final game, if you will.


The fallout from those 115 losses is that Jackson is no longer the “what, me worry?” Hall of Fame coach from his days in Chicago and Los Angeles. Now he’s sounding like New York’s thin-skinned novice executive.

Jackson held exit meetings with his players on Wednesday and judging by what Carmelo Anthony said after his sit down, things did not go smoothly.

Here’s Carmelo on the immediate future of the team: “I don’t want to use the word confident because the work still has to be done.”

The way this usually works is after the players meet with management they are ushered into the room to address the media and their tone is usually upbeat. “I’m excited about this summer” and “I can’t wait until next season.” Yada, yada, yada.

But Melo? “I don’t want to use the word confident.” Very interesting.

Jackson was a bit feistier during his rare media Q&A as he admonished the press for what he perceives as negative coverage of his job performance and of the triangle offense.

He even called out one reporter for having the audacity to suggest in print that rookie guard Jerian Grant should have been playing more in the final weeks of another lost season.

Basically, Mr. Calm, Cool and Collected violated the basic rule of a top ranking executive.

He let everyone see him sweat.

Some of it was tongue in cheek, which is a Jackson specialty. He told the press they could improve as well heading into next season and that he’s been grading the New York media.

“Well maybe I won’t show it to you,” he said.

But in between the subtle jabs, Jackson expressed frustrated that he isn’t receiving the benefit of the doubt or the proper support from the media.

“You guys are making it really hard on us to get free agents,” Jackson said, conveniently forgetting that LaMarcus Aldridge cancelled his free agent meeting with the Knicks last summer not because of the media but because Jackson wanted him to play center.

“You don’t have to do that. You can make this a good place to come to. It’s a nice place. The press is good. They’re positive about the team. They improved 15 games this year. That can help us out.”

It could have been worse. He could have tweeted those comments.

What Phil needs to understand is that MSG has enough employees to monitor the media. His job is to build a winner and he hasn’t done a very good job.

Here’s how it works: losing undermines his ability to attract A-list free agent. It also doesn’t help to have a dysfunctional coaching staff.

Kevin Durant is fond of Derek Fisher but Jackson fired Fisher in February and replaced him with Kurt Rambis, who spent most of the last six weeks detailing everything that Fisher did wrong.

That wasn’t the media creating that, Phil. That was Rambis, your preferred choice to remain head coach because he’s your friend and because he runs the triangle.

And speaking of the dreaded triangle, Jackson’s most revealing moment came when he was asked about critics of the triangle. Suddenly, the playful jabs stopped.

“There are critics? Who are these people?” he asked. “Why would people even say that? Do they have 11 championships to show you when they talk about that?”

Oh yes he did. Jackson played the 11 rings card.

Phil only wants you to focus on the results prior to his arrival in New York, and not the 115 losses.

Even for Knicks standards, this was a bizarre day. Phil’s hiring was intended to give the Knicks both stability and credibility. That’s gone now. Carmelo isn’t confident, Jackson seems intent on hiring Rambis and the roster is about to get overturned again.

So sit back, cross your legs and relax. But just know that Jordan and Kobe aren’t walking through that door anytime soon.

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