Today it was announced that the Knicks and Phil Jackson agreed to pick up the remaining two years of his contract as the President of the New York Knicks. Since Phil Jackson joined the team three and a half seasons ago, the Knicks have made 0 playoff appearances, which begs the question if keeping Phil around is a smart decision. Phil has certainly had his ups and downs, so here is a look at some of his major decisions
The first big move Jackson made was trading Tyson Chandler to the Dallas. In exchange for Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, the Knicks received Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, and the 34th and 51st picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, which the Knicks used to select Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokuonmpo. At the time, Chandler and Felton were both out of favor and it seemed like the right time to move on. Jose Calderon was the only player of the five that ended up being a key contributor for the Knicks, and he was (to put it lightly) very bad during his tenure as starting point guard. Even after a down year, a player like Tyson Chandler should have been able to fetch a better return. This trade was hurt further by the poor selections made with the two acquired picks.
The next big trade Jackson made was sending JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cavaliers. In this three-team deal, the Cavaliers received JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and a first round pick from the Thunder, the Thunder received Dion Waiters, and the Knicks received the nonguaranteed contracts of Alex Kirk, Lance Thomas, and Lou Amundson, and a 2019 Cavs' second round pick. In this deal, it seems as though the Knicks gave up the most and received the least. At the time, many believed Smith was a major distraction and hurting the locker room while Shumpert was probably the Knicks best asset other than Carmelo Anthony. Ultimately, the Knicks waived the three players they received and effectively traded their second and third best players for the Cavaliers second-round pick in five years. Even if Jackson believed JR Smith had to go, attaching Shumpert to the deal just to get Smith out of town was a poor decision. If he wanted to get rid of JR Smith for nothing, he should have done just that, rather than attaching Shumpert to sweeten the pot. Smith was making less than $6 million for the season and ended up being an expiring contract after opting out of his deal following the season. While it is unclear whether Smith would have opted out of his deal if he had remained on the Knicks, it seems more likely than not that he would have considering he was the second best player on the team, earned Sixth Man of the Year only two years prior, and was set to make only $6.4 million the next year. Smith and Shumpert went on to be key contributors for a Cavs team that lost in the NBA Finals. Meanwhile, the Knicks waived the three players they received in the deal (showing they were simply salary fillers and formalities) and are still 2 years away from receiving the Cavaliers pick. Fortunately for Jackson, the Knicks signed Thomas and Amundson to a couple of ten-day contracts and then to full season deals to make this trade look better than it was. Amundson lasted one and half unspectacular years while Thomas remains on the team and looks like an actual rotation piece when healthy, a rare occurrence over the past two years. While their eventual success can be seen as a positive, Jackson put these players up for grabs immediately after acquiring them which diminishes their value as part of the trade.
The best trade Phil Jackson has made thus far was dealing Tim Hardaway, Jr. for a 2015 first round pick, later used to select Jerian Grant. Hardaway had a poor sophomore season, playing some of the worst defense in the NBA and declining offensively (his shooting percentages decreased while his points per game increased) after a strong rookie year. Being able to get a first round pick for Hardaway, Jr. was a remarkable deal.
The last major trade Jackson made was the Derrick Rose deal. In the deal, the Knicks traded Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, and Jose Calderon in exchange for Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, and a 2017 second round pick. In a vacuum, this deal was a win for the New York Knicks. The Knicks probably should have gotten rid of Jose Calderon the year before but getting him off the team was a win in and of itself. Further, while it didn't translate to wins, Rose and Holiday both had solid years in New York. While Rose is terrible on defense, he was an upgrade over Calderon on both ends of the floor. Calderon was ultimately traded to the Lakers and waived midseason, so getting Rose for that type of player was a good deal. Lopez is a good player and Grant has potential, but trading them was a risk that the Knicks had to take for a player of Rose's caliber. The main factor that dragged this deal down was the vacancy at center created by sending Lopez to Chicago. The deal Jackson made with Joakim Noah (discussed in more detail below) is very unfortunate for the Knicks' future outlook.
One final mark on Jackson's trade resume is a trade that didn't happen. Sources have stated that the Knicks and Timberwolves were very close to trading Derrick Rose for Ricky Rubio, but Phil Jackson insisted on the Timberwolves sweetening the pot with a second round pick or Nemanja Bjelica. As the deadline drew nearer, Phil Jackson finally caved and tried to do the deal as previously constructed. By that time, the Timberwolves had changed their mind and took Rubio off the table. With Derrick Rose scheduled to leave (hopefully) after this season and the Knicks all but out of playoff contention at the time, Jackson should have pulled the trigger when he had the chance. Even if he didn't love Rubio, he should have acquired him just to have another asset, as Rubio is under contract through the 2018-19 season.
Following a 37-45 year, a 17-win decrease from the previous year, Jackson decided to let go Mike Woodson. This was the right move considering it seemed as though Woodson had lost the locker room and the veterans had grown more and more upset with him consistently questioning their effort rather than looking in the mirror after losses.
However, the firing of Mike Woodson was made significantly worse when the Knicks selected the recently retired Derek Fisher as his replacement. Fisher had 0 coaching experience and but was likely hired due to the success of Jason Kidd, who had transitioned from player to head coach the previous season. Fisher's first season at the helm did not go as well as Kidd's as Fisher seemed to be more of a motivator than an NBA head coach and it did not work out. Fisher took over a team that had missed the playoffs by 1 game and led them to the worst record in the 70-year history of the Knicks. Not exactly a great first full season for Jackson or Fisher. Jackson decided to move on from Fisher in the middle of his second year after a 23-31 start, while the Knicks were in the midst of a 1-9 stretch. It may have been early to pull the plug but it seemed clear that Derek Fisher had worn out his welcome in New York. Phil's ability to realize his mistake and let him go early on was a positive.
Fisher was replaced by Jeff Hornacek who had experienced an up and down coaching tenure in Phoenix. In his first year, the Knicks finished 31-51, a 1 win decrease from the previous season, despite the additions of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Willy Hernangomez, and Courtney Lee. Part of that struggle may have been Jackson's insistence on being involved during the season, trying to force the triangle offense on the team and putting Kurt Rambis in charge of the defense for no reason in particular. While the jury is still out on Hornacek, the first season did not go well.
Free Agent Signings
Phil Jackson has made his share of good and bad free agent signings. His best signings include Robin Lopez, Kyle O'Quinn, Courtney Lee, Brandon Jennings (even though it didn't work out) and Willy Hernangomez. All of these players signed favorable deals for the Knicks and Phil should be commended for them.
On the other hand, Phil has been unable to attract any major talent to New York. Part of Phil Jackson's appeal for the Knicks was his past success and the belief that a man with a track record like his would be able to attract top talent to New York. The biggest names he has been able to sign are Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah. Lee was a good signing, but the Joakim Noah deal is perhaps the worst contract in the NBA. Following a season where Noah played only 29 games and averaged 4.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1 block in 21.9 minutes, the Knicks inexplicably rewarded him with a 4-year, $72 million deal. In his first year, Noah played in only 46 games, averaging 5.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 0.8 blocks in 22.1 minutes. He did not have a bounce back season like the Knicks had hoped and instead looked terrible all season, a very bad sign in the first season of a four-year mega-deal.
During his tenure, Phil Jackson has drafted Cleanthony Early, Thanasis Antetokuonmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, Jerian Grant, and Willy Hernangomez. Porzingis and Hernangomez are great selections and they represent the building blocks of the future for the New York Knicks. Grant showed flashes of potential during his only season in New York. Early and Antetokuonmpo both showed very little during their brief stays in New York, but while you would hope to have an early second round pick like Early be able to contribute, the miss on Antetokuonmpo later in the draft is more acceptable. Drafting seems to be Phil Jackson's strong suit, but unfortunately he was left with a poorly stocked cupboard, as the Knicks had traded away their first round picks in 2014 and 2016 before Jackson joined the front office.
Phil Jackson has handled the Carmelo Anthony situation about as poorly as humanly possible. He has tweeted criticism of him and has opened him up to trade market, all while not speaking to Carmelo Anthony directly. If you have an issue with your team's best player, it is best to start by handling it behind closed doors before making it public. If his desire was to trade Anthony, he did not help Anthony's trade value by making it abundantly clear that he did not want him on his team, while pointing out the flaws in his game. He handled the situation unprofessionally and put a cloud over the team, while making New York even more of a circus.
Overall, while Phil Jackson has made a few favorable decisions during his time in New York, it seems as though the bad far outweighs the good.