Terre Haute, IN–The most exciting time of the year in the NBA begins in earnest tomorrow. For most NBA fans, July 1st means the start of free agency. A time when every mediocre, uni-dimensional player is in line for an 8 figure annual salary. The season just ended about 10 minutes ago, and like most things in this league, not much makes sense.
Year 2 of the “Phil Jackson era” is underway and I’m going out on a limb in proclaiming that an NBA title is nowhere close on the horizon for the league’s laughingstock franchise. When Jackson was coaxed out of retirement for $60M less than 18 months ago by Jeffy Wilpon‘s scion-in law, Jim Dolan, it was assumed that by now, the Knicks would be in a much better position than the one in which they find themselves today. By now the pieces should have begun to gel for what would be the icing on the cake of a brilliant NBA life with championships as a player, coach and executive. Only Pat Riley can lay claim to such a resume. And by the time Jackson shuffles back to Santa Monica for good (6 months from now?) Riley will remain the only such legend.
The Phil Jackson fairy tale as we all know by now is pure fiction. I get that sometimes coaching a team full of hall of fame players can be tricky to shepherd, what with all of that overwhelming talent getting in the way. It can be challenging choosing which all-world star should take the last shot. Only through Jackson’s mindfulness training and the full acceptance and embracing of Zazen as a way of life, is he able to transform otherwise selfish, petulant stars into champions. This is the legend that Jackson works to promote. The reality however, and what he has always feared is what took $60M to persuade him to give running the Knicks a shot. Always sensitive to any criticism, Jackson has succeeded in creating an aura about him that he possesses some kind of unique transformational power. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol and many other premiere NBA talents are what constitutes his unique power. “Here are the balls, fellas! I’ll be over here if you need me!”
The first indication of Jackson as charlatan came when he used all of his mythical Zen power (and $124M) to persuade Carmelo Anthony to re-sign last summer. This was the seminal moment which brought clarity and definition to this team building acumen. A year ago, Carmelo was a 30 year old player with a questionable attitude and a reputation as a selfish player who had that most elusive of qualities. He actually makes players around him-worse. If ever there was a singular player who represented the opposite of what Jackson has espoused for 40 years, it is Melo. Today, he’s a 31 year old selfish player with a questionable attitude, no NBA winning pedigree and bad knees to go along with his salary cap clogging contract that only Phil’s powers could entice. So year 1 is over, and the Knicks are in worse shape than when Jackson took over. Someone needs to point out that the Emperor of Zen is not wearing any clothes. And finally, were Pat Riley and McCauley Culkin separated at birth?