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Grading Phil Jackson’s Tenure as New York Knicks President

Phil Jackson has done some good and some bad since arriving in 2014. Grading Phil Jackson's tenure with the Knicks is not as easy as a pass or fail.

On March 18th, 2014, Phil Jackson was brought in by the New York Knicks to be their President of Basketball Operations. He was hired to bring excitement and promise to a franchise that has not seen a championship in over forty years. The fans and media alike have had a difference of opinion when it comes to the moves that he has made during his two plus seasons in New York. Grading Phil Jackson’s tenure with the Knicks is not as clear cut as a simple “pass” or “fail”.

Grading Phil Jackson’s Tenure as New York Knicks President

Jackson is a 13-time NBA champion in this league as a player and head coach. Past success like this has led to some impatient and basically unrealistic expectations for Jackson, coming from both the media and fans. Even the mighty “Zen Master” cannot snap his fingers and turn a team around in just one season. A successful plan takes a couple of years to play out. Whether you agree with Jackson’s decisions or not, the one thing nobody can say is that he has been complacent. Carmelo Anthony is the only player who remains on the team from the pre-Jackson regime. Phil has used trades, free agency, and the draft to put his own mark on New York’s roster. It is now time to hand out some grades.

Wheeling and Dealing

There have been three significant trades involving the Knicks during the Phil Jackson era. The first one took place three months after Jackson got to town. He sent point guard Raymond Felon and center Tyson Chandler to the Dallas Mavericks. In return, New York received point guard Jose Calderon. The Knicks also got three role players and two second round draft picks in the 2014 NBA Draft. Not one of the players that the Knicks received are on the current roster. The key piece in the trade, for Jackson, was Calderon. He was suppose to be the sharp-shooting lead guard in Jackson’s triangle offense. The Knicks found out that at Calderon’s age, he is almost always a step behind in today’s game.

The second of the three trades took place in the middle of the 2014-15 season. In the midst of the worst season in franchise history, the Knicks were looking to clear future cap space by shedding salaries. They sent guards Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team deal. New York received forward Lance Thomas and a 2019 second round pick. The deal needed to be done in order to free up as much cap space as possible. It just seems that New York should have been able to acquire more assets then they were able to get.

The third trade is the only reason this category is receiving a passing grade. A day before the 2016 NBA Draft, New York sent Calderon, combo guard Jerian Grant, and center Robin Lopez to the Chicago Bulls. The Knicks received point guard Derrick Rose and wing player Justin Holiday. The two teams were able to make the salaries match up. The Knicks were able to finally secure a superstar point guard, if Rose can stay healthy. Rose is in the final year of his contract. This gives the Knicks flexibility going forward if it does not work out with the former MVP.


Building Through the Draft

For the past two decades, the Knicks have been downright horrible when it comes to handling their draft picks. Before Jackson arrived, they were trading away first round picks like they had the plague. When they were not trading picks because of their “win now” mentality, they were drafting busts. Once Jackson got to town, all of that ended. 2015 was the first and only year so far that Jackson had a first round pick.

Jackson selected Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick. Porzingis showed that he has the ability to be a franchise-changing superstar in the league for years to come. During his rookie season, Porzingis averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Karl Anthony-Towns. Porzingis alone gets Jackson a top grade in this category.

In the same draft, New York was able to acquire the 19th overall pick via trade. That pick turned out to be Jerian Grant. Jackson does lose some points for trading Grant after only one season. The most impressive thing that Phil has done, when it comes to draft picks, is simply keep them. Starting in 2017, the Knicks have all of their first round picks going forward.


Coaching Musical Chairs

The one area in which Jackson has stumbled, so far, is with the team’s head coaches. Going into his third season as Team President, he is now on his third head coach. Derek Fisher, who was a former player under Jackson, was brought in to install and run Jackson’s triangle offense. Fisher was not equipped with a very skilled roster, outside of Carmelo Anthony. He posted a record of 40-96 over a year and a half. The record, along with some off-court issues, led to Fisher’s firing halfway through the 2015-16 season. Kurt Rambis was given the interim tag to finish out the season.

Rambis, a former assistant and longtime close friend of Jackson, closed out the year with a record of 9-19. During exit interviews, players reportedly expressed their desire to not have Rambis brought back as head coach. This is the moment that Jackson put the team’s needs above his own. Jackson brought in Jeff Hornacek to coach the Knicks. Hornacek will not be forced to run the triangle and has the freedom to run his fast paced offense. We will have to wait and see how this plays out, but it is a step in the right direction.  COACHING GRADE: C-


The New York market is the most challenging market within the NBA. Whether it is a championship drought, passionate fans, or the agenda-driven media, everything the Knicks do is scrutinized under a microscope. The Knicks improved by fifteen games in the win column from Jackson’s first season to his second. With the way this roster is now set up, there is little doubt that they can improve that much again in Jackson’s third season.



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