New York Knicks: In Defense Of Team President Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson hasn’t built the immediate contender that some were hoping for, but the New York Knicks gave him an uphill battle.

The New York Knicks are in the third season of the Phil Jackson regime. Jackson’s tenure as team president has yielded polarizing results, but for as much blame as he deserves, he also deserves the benefit of context.

The context of the Jackson Era is that he inherited a broken team that needed to be rebuilt—a rebuild he wasn’t given the tools to execute.

It was the previous regime that blew up the roster to acquire Carmelo Anthony—a trade that cost New York its young core and its 2014 first-round draft pick. It was also the previous regime that traded a 2016 first-round draft pick and a 2014 second-round selection for Andrea Bargnani.

Thus, it was the previous regime that left Jackson with no first-round draft picks in both 2014 and 2016—two of his three years at the helm.

Had Jackson been able to utilize first-round picks in 2014 and 2016, the Knicks could have four promising young players to build around. Instead, Jackson ignored public opinion to select Kristaps Porzingis and trade for Willy Hernangomez in the second round in 2015.

If only the 2014 and 2016 picks were available to him, as well.

For perspective, the players selected with what would have been the Knicks’ picks in 2014 and 2016 were Dario Saric and Jakob Poeltl (Note: Denver swapped 2016 picks with Toronto, via New York, as a result of the Bargnani and Anthony trades. It then took Jamal Murray).

For what it’s worth, the players selected after Saric included Zach LaVine, T.J. Warren, Jusuf Nurkic, and Gary Harris—all of whom could be starting for the Knicks in 2016-17.

The players selected after Poeltl include Thon Maker, Domantas Sabonis, and Denzel Valentine.

This isn’t an excuse for what Jackson has done in free agency. It is, however, acknowledging the fact—and it is an undeniable fact—that Jackson has been forced to build this team through trades and free agency.

Completely disregarding the draft is the perfect way to disrupt the natural development of a contender—and the past 16 years of Knicks basketball prove it.

Of the 15 players on the Knicks’ current roster, only one was drafted by New York: future franchise player Kristaps Porzingis. That number could conceivably rise to three if one were to include 2015 draft-night acquisition Willy Hernangomez and undrafted rookie Ron Baker.

That leaves 12 players who were acquired in free agency or via trade.

One could argue that those players will eventually develop chemistry and make this a non-issue. The appeal of the draft, however, is that players are under contract for multiple seasons at an affordable rate that enables teams to utilize free agency while already having a young core.

In the Knicks’ case, filling out the roster was only possible through free agency and trades.

Thanks to the previous regime, New York missed its chance to select one of Gary Harris, Zach LaVine, Saric, or T.J. Warren.

With the other two first-round draft picks on the roster, the Knicks would have five rotational players signed to affordable multi-year deals. Jackson also signed quality reserves Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Kyle O’Quinn to team-friendly contracts, and traded for Justin Holiday.

By simply taking the players selected with New York’s 2014 and 2016 first-round draft picks, and assuming Jackson made the same personnel decisions, the roster could have looked like this:

  • PG: Derrick Rose
  • SG: Courtney Lee
  • SF: Carmelo Anthony
  • PF: Kristaps Porzingis
  • C: Willy Hernangomez
  • Sixth Man: Brandon Jennings
  • G: Ron Baker
  • G: Justin Holiday
  • F: Mindaugas Kuzminskas
  • F: Dario Saric (2014)
  • F: Lance Thomas
  • F/C: Kyle O’Quinn
  • C: Joakim Noah
  • 2016 First-Round Draft Pick
  • Wild Cards: Maurice Daly Ndour, Marshall Plumlee, or Sasha Vujacic

New York would essentially replace two of Maurice Daly Ndour, Marshall Plumlee, and Sasha Vujacic with a dynamic young scorer in Dario Saric and a 2016 first-round draft pick with upside.

That’s far from a championship contender, but a future core of Willy Hernangomez, Porzingis, and Saric would create a long-awaited sense of optimism.

Instead, the previous regime cost the Knicks an opportunity to secure dynamic young talent that would have New York singing a completely different tune.

Clearly, Jackson isn’t perfect; there’s no guaranteeing that he would have selected the right players in 2014 or 2016. If you’re going to address his flaws, however, you must also address his circumstances.

The circumstances clearly state that the previous regime forced Jackson to start his tenure as team president without two of the three first-round draft picks available to him.

The previous regime is as much to blame for the New York Knicks’ current mess as anyone.

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