Since 2001, the New York Knicks have shuffled coaches, front office personnel, and rosters with little success. Unfortunately for Knicks fans, the root cause of their pain can’t be fired: owner James Dolan.
Under the last 16 years of Dolan’s (mis)management, the Knicks have suffered 14 losing seasons, eight of those including at least 50 losses.
The Knicks continually mortgaged their future by trading away future lottery picks for mediocre and overpriced players. For example, in 2007 the Knicks could’ve drafted Hell’s Kitchen native Joakim Noah. But the Knicks had engaged in a pick swap with the Chicago Bulls as part of a trade for Eddy Curry.
Noah became an all-star and NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the Bulls. And in fitting Knicks fashion, they signed Noah as a free agent in 2016 (at that point he was a rapidly declining player with knee problems) to a four-year $72 million deal.
The Dolan era is rife with miscalculations like this. The Knicks became the island of misfit toys. Fan discontent reached a fever pitch. Something had to be done.
Enter Phil Jackson. The savior.
The “Zen Master” was hired by Dolan to run basketball operations. He’d won 11 championships (six with the Bulls, five with the Lakers), so his pedigree quickly placated Knicks fans. It also didn’t hurt that Jackson was a player on the Knicks only two championship teams in 1970 and 1973.
Then reality set in. The management missteps continued; Jackson is the one who offered Noah the contract (he predictably missed a huge chunk of the season with a knee injury).
Jackson’s acumen as a coach hasn’t translated into being an ace executive. It’s not so easy without Hall-of-Famers (and eventual Hall-of-Famers) Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Pau Gasol.
Jackson immediately had a contentious relationship with New York’s best player, Carmelo Anthony. The relationship soured to the point where Jackson urged Anthony to waive his no-trade clause so both sides could move on.
“We’ve not been able to win with him on the court at this time and the direction of our team is that he is a player that would be better somewhere else, and using his talents somewhere else where he can win and chase that championship. Right now, we need players that are really active, can play defensively and offensively. I told him this is not a situation where we’re going to dump you or anything like that. But we’re looking to improve ourselves however we can.”
Jackson also alienated New York’s most promising player, Kristaps Porzingis. According to an ESPN report:
“Porzingis skipped exit meetings with New York Knicks management due to frustration over what he perceives as the dysfunction and drama surrounding the organization.”
Why has the Jackson era gotten off to such a poor start? It all circles back to Dolan. Jackson didn’t want the job, but Dolan was persistent. He needed a big, splashy hire to appease a disgruntled fan base. Jackson reluctantly took the job once he received a “Godfather” offer of $12 million per year.
Jackson’s reluctance has manifested itself in the form of what could kindly be called ‘laissez-faire’ management. NBA writer Frank Isola reported:
“One NBA general manager told me last week in New Orleans that his team ‘can’t get a hold of Phil. It’s crazy.’”
And this was with the trade deadline rapidly approaching, a time when NBA teams are constantly communicating with each other.
Dolan doesn’t seem terribly concerned, as his passion lies with his blues rock band JD & The Straight Shot. That’s right. Billionaire Knicks owner is the frontman for a band. The New York Times described them as “well-known sidemen backing a karaoke-grade singer.”
According to a Deadspin report, the band’s most recent album sold 113 units in its first four months of release. Not 113,000. A pitiable 113 copies.
Yet somehow JD & The Straight Shot has played in shows with The Eagles, The Allman Brothers, and ZZ Top, and has had songs appear in various movies and television shows. Surely cronyism played no part in that.
So how did the Knicks become so bad?
They’re being steered by an absentee general manager and the Florence Foster Jenkins of the NBA.