March 18th 2014: Knicks hire Phil Jackson as President of Basketball Operations
The Knicks brought back Phil Jackson into the organization as the new President of Basketball Operations on a 5 year $50 million contract. The Knicks previously courted him on several occasions (back in 1999 and 2005) to coach the team, but was rejected due to a myriad of reasons (mostly related to the fact that the team wasn’t as talented). Phil spent most of his playing career with the Knicks where he won 2 championships as a player.
Ever since the team relieved Glen Grunwald of his duties, James Dolan went into full pursuit to find a full-time President of Basketball Operations. Steve Mills returned to the organization to become the interim President of Basketball Operations. At the same time, Madison Square Garden recently acquired the Great Western Forum for the main purpose to renovate the arena to serve as an entertainment venue rivaling the nearby Staples Center.
Through the entertainment business and his own musical ambitions, Dolan maintained a long-standing friendship with Irving Azoff. In 2013, both Azoff and Dolan formed a joint venture – Azoff MSG Entertainment LLC – that served to fuel MSG Entertainment’s presence in the live event industries.
It was at one of Azoff’s parties in late 2013 where Dolan met Phil Jackson. Azoff setup the courtship beforehand to help broker the relationship. Phil advised Dolan on certain basketball transactions (including not trading anymore 1st round picks and nixing the Kyle Lowry/Iman Shumpert trade) over the course of the next few months. Things further progressed in March and the team finalized the hire on March 18th.
Phil Jackson’s hire brought massive expectations to the organization. Many expected the team to re-establish their winning culture and use the influence of Phil’s 11 rings to get back to the NBA Finals. Others expected the Knicks to bring back the triangle offense.
In the months after the hire, Phil had several looming questions to answer. After Phil fired Mike Woodson and traded both Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, he was left with a major decision involving Carmelo Anthony. Melo unsurprisingly opted out of his contract at the end of the season. It was assumed that Dolan told Phil that Melo had to be a part of the long-term future of the organization. Therefore, Melo signed a 5 year $124 million extension with a no-trade clause.
Unfortunately, the Melo signing was one of many ill-fated decisions that destroyed Phil’s tenure with the team. Phil hired Derek Fisher with the intention to run the triangle offense. However, the team was not able to grasp the offense and immediately spiraled out of contention before the new year hit. Phil quickly went on a firesale and JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Amare Stoudemire were all gone from the team before the All Star Break. Additionally, Melo suffered knee soreness that required surgery. Due to his desire to play in the All Star Game, he postponed the surgery to after the ASB. The injury and surgery severely impacted Melo’s game to this date on both the offensive and defensive end.
Phil seemed to strike gold in the 2015 NBA Draft with the Kristaps Porzingis selection. However, Phil made a rash decision to fire Derek Fisher midway towards the 2015-16 season after only 1.5 years with the team. Phil later hired Jeff Hornacek as the new head coach.
Phil decided to embark on a win-now mission during the 2016 offseason and traded for Derrick Rose while signing Joakim Noah to a massive 4 year $72 million contract and Courtney Lee to a 4 year $50 million contract. The 2016-17 season also proved to be a mess, but it was mainly due to the fact that Phil publicly criticized Melo throughout the entire season. The side-effect to the Melo drama was that Kristaps Porzingis became disenchanted with the organization and decided to skip the exit meeting.
The final straw occurred during the 2017 NBA Draft where Phil tried to trade Porzingis to various teams and seriously considered to buyout Carmelo Anthony. Dolan rejected both ideas and ultimately both parties agreed to part ways. Phil’s last move was drafting both Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson in the 2017 NBA Draft.
The remaining remnants of Phil’s tenure are Lance Thomas, Ntilikina, Dotson, and Joakim Noah’s contract that has been stretched until 2022. Phil did not trade any 1st round picks during his tenure, though he did give up several 2nd round picks in miscellaneous trades. Ultimately it seemed that Phil was never prepared to handle the responsibilities required to be President of Basketball Operations. His mindset was stuck on being a coach and that overshadowed what everyone else was doing within the organization. His public feud with Melo and the Noah free agent signing added dark stains to his professional legacy within the NBA.
Knicks Film School Historian, amongst other things