Is Phil Jackson still the man to rebuild the Knicks? You won’t catch anyone on MSG discussing.
When he is on camera, Phil Jackson is hard to miss.
His presence can fill an entire television screen, even when the Knickerbockers president and general manager is seated at center court inside Madison Square Garden.
This can be frustrating, as it was Wednesday night on MSG. Walt (Clyde) Frazier and Kenny Albert were discussing a story (Or is it really an orchestrated promotional campaign?) about Kurt Rambis becoming THE coach and having the interim tag being lifted from his current title.
The subject was broached during the pregame show too. Anyway, as the two voices chirped, Jackson, stonefaced, remained on the screen.
While taking this all in, the following complex notion came to what’s left of our mind: Instead of wondering whether the story was true, semi-true, leaked by someone who wants Rambis to get the gig (Jackson, perhaps?), why not just send Al (Wiggie) Trautwig over to Jackson and have him ask the question?
At least the most loyal Knicks fans, the ones who actually tuned in to watch a meaningless game against the playoff -bound Charlotte Hornets, would get some answers from the man who has guided the Knicks to subterranean status in the National Basketball Association.
Jackson’s preferred method of communicating with the unwashed masses is Twitter. His ZenNess tweets, the Knicks burn. Or something like that. Yet on this occasion reaching out to fans through an appearance on the MSG Network, and informing them whether Rambis would soon be anointed or if there will be a comprehensive coaching search, would’ve been the right thing to do.
Jackson should have the juice to make this happen. On the other hand, there is every reason to believe no one at the MSG Network bothered reaching out to him. History tells us network brass is not in business to enlighten fans by putting key executives — like Jax or James (Guitar Jimmy) Dolan — on the microphone during a game to answer even one tough question.
Could it be Jackson, who once promised to run a transparent organization, has adopted their cloak and dagger approach?
So, it was left up to Frazier, Albert, and Rambis — via video of his press conference — to tell the story.
The same bites aired that were already seen during the pregame show, including one Rambis, with a straight face, issued about Jackson: “…I don’t consider myself a puppet of his. It’s a mindset of how we think the game should be played.”
Albert and Frazier were not on camera so it was impossible to see their expressions, impossible to know if they took any part of Rambis’ self-serving pitch for the job seriously.
“Kurt also said he and Phil Jackson communicate very well with one another,” Albert said. “He said the future will take care of itself.”
Garden chairman James Dolan may have to look in a different direction.
Frazier responded, saying Jackson and Rambis “have a nice rapport,” followed by a lengthy pause. Either Clyde: 1) Zoned out, 2) A producer was in his ear advising him to proceed with caution, 3) Knew he better watch what he said.
“It might work out for Kurt,” Frazier finally explained, “being the head coach after the interim season.”
Rather bland stuff from Frazier, barely one step above a no comment. He was clearly punting. So, viewers were fed crumbs. Much like the pregame where the Rambis video was followed by a Trautwig recap.
“So the report said Kurt is Phil’s preferred choice (to coach the Knicks),” Trautwig said. “No confirmation (from Rambis) there at all.”
That’s why it was imperative to stick a microphone in Jackson’s face and ask him to clear this up, but you already knew that.
With three games left at least Dolan, Jackson, and the rest of the Gulag brain trust, can take solace in the fact the Knicks still hold the title of the NBA’s most relevant, irrelevant franchise.
This Rambis plant (don’t forget Carmelo Anthony, for the second time, said he wants some input on who the next coach will be) further buttresses their highly not-coveted title. This is a team going nowhere and headed in the wrong direction that can still create buzz.
The sounds will be cranked when “stories” about free agents who might be coming here are leaked to Gulag-friendly outlets. And if Jackson can prolong his “coaching search” the intrigue will continue to build. If he decides to go with Rambis, even more controversy and buzz will follow.
Selling Rambis to a fan base looking for a bigger name with a much better record won’t be easy. If the Knicks president isn’t convincing, the Rambis hire will have an adverse impact on season ticket sales.
That’s when Phil Jackson is not only going to have to, but will want to, answer questions. Even from the MSG Network.
If it bothers to ask.