Phil Jackson ambled to the podium and assumed his familiar defensive stance on the triangle, with some added shots directed at the media.
If there was any hope from frustrated Knicks fans that an abundance of defeat would alter Jackson’s inflexibility, the team president crushed that with first reference to his precious system during his Baggie Day interview.
“That’s what I was brought here for to do — build a system. That’s all part in package of what we’re doing.”
Jackson then played his favorite card when asked about the growing triangle critics.
“There are critics? Who are these people? Why would people even say that? Do they have 11 championships to show you when they talk about that?” he said. “They got a lot of excuses. That’s the way it is. That discussion doesn’t have to go on.”
Not surprisingly then is Jackson’s criteria for the next Knicks coach: a requirement of a personal relationship and connection to himself. The Jackson tree, and more specifically the coaches who exclusively ran the triangle, is filled with underwhelming records.
“Only people I probably know will be in the interview process. I will reach out to make connections to some people. But I’ve been in this position, in the NBA over 50 years, and I’ve seen a lot of situations where coaches end up coming in without simpatico with the general manager and those things don’t work well,” he said. “So someone who has compatibility with what I do as a leader would have to be in sync with what we do.
“A lot of your speculations that people have thrown out really have very little bearing on what we do. If you want to save either paper space or speculation, limit your speculations, that’ll help out a lot.”
That certainly leaves out Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Patrick Ewing. It also certainly includes interim coach Kurt Rambis, who currently is Jackson’s lone candidate. Others coaches who run triangle include Brian Shaw and Golden State assistant Luke Walton. David Blatt has been reported as a potential candidate, although he doesn’t have a relationship with Jackson.
“(Rambis) is the only one I’ve said I’ve interviewed right now. I’ve resisted taking calls or making calls until the season is over and I have these exit meetings,” Jackson said, adding there’s no timetable to conducting the coaching search. “But Kurt knows he will be interviewed for the job.”
Jackson called the 32-50 campaign a disappointment, bizarrely indicating that the players liked each other too much and “maybe a little tension might be better to help them win games.” His plan for free agency and improving the ballclub though was a little vague, with an acknowledgement that the Knicks are limited in their resources.
He teasingly called the negative media a hindrance.
“You guys are making it really hard on us to get free agents. 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. You guys can do a job too, make it better on yourselves next year too.”
Whatever was/is the problem in the eyes of Jackson, it isn’t the problem. He revealed that Derek Fisher insisted during last year’s free agency that Knicks avoid the triangle when talking to players.
Then after Jackson fired Fisher, the president claimed the Knicks had “an immersion in the triangle.” They lost 19 of 28 games under Rambis.
“When Kurt started coaching the team they started executing it with more structure. We saw some progress. But we have to make the next step,” he said before making a Cold War metaphor about free agency.
“We have a limited amount of resources that we can deal with. If you’re in an arms races and you go out and get a hydrogen bomb and it may not be enough and you got to go plutonium. It’s great if you get in an arms race. We’re not in an arms race. We’re in a skills race. So that’s what we’re working toward: getting players skilled enough to perform in this game. Unfortunately we can’t go out and the Lakers and some other team may have $60 million to chase with. That’s not where we’re at. We’re about getting quality skill players.”
The Knicks can have over $30 million in cap space, but most of the teams in the NBA will have more for an underwhelming class. So there’s no quick route to contention. Just a triangle.