Extra Pass: Phil Jackson and Knicks deserve each other


Phil Jackson shook hands with New York Knicks owner James Dolan, walked gingerly to the podium and comfortably lifted the microphones to fit his 6-foot-8 frame.

“I don’t have prepared remarks, as you can see,” Jackson said, practically bragging. “I’m shooting from the cuff.”

The skills Jackson showed yesterday – an ease with Dolan, a confidence that stems from winning 13 championships and an ability to speak publicly and persuasively – won him his introductory press conference. But today begins Jackson’s real term as the Knicks’ president, and a different set of skills – preparation and organization (though still an ability to work with Dolan) – will become essential now that the cameras are gone.

Dolan’s continued search for stars paid off in a big way. Yesterday. Today and beyond, this partnership exists at least one stage removed from the bright lights, in an area where the real work must be done.

Whatever happens from here, the Knicks and Jackson deserve each other.

Since he began overseeing the Knicks in 2001, Dolan’s defining move has been trading for Carmelo Anthony. Not content to wait for Melo in free agency the following summer, Dolan insisted the Knicks trade for him during the 2010-11 season. The result: The Knicks sent valuable assets to the Nuggets and, consequently, haven’t built a true contender around Melo.

At least Dolan got his star, the Knicks’ best player since Patrick Ewing.

Dolan has said the Knicks will often lead the NBA in payroll, because they play in the largest market. And kudos to Dolan for riding his advantage. But nothing precludes him from building balanced rosters rather than just chasing stars. Since Dolan took over, the Knicks have had more $10 million-salaried players than any franchise in the league:


Source: ESPN.com

And most of those Knicks players haven’t been worth their salary. Their cache inflated the perception of them in ways they didn’t back up on the court.

Jackson – whose salary is a reported $12 million, dwarfing his front-office counterparts around the league – is Dolan’s latest overhyped star.

Since retiring from coaching, Jackson has taken no significant formal steps to prepare for becoming a general manager. He hasn’t worked as a front-office assistant – his minimal contributions as a volunteer advisor for the Pistons hardly count – and he basically admitted to taking this job only because he’s too old to play and too limp to coach.

He doesn’t deserve a prime front-office position.

And with the exception of the pay, he doesn’t have one.

The Knicks risk losing their bester player this summer. Their roster is old, their cap space non-existent for next season. They have no first-round pick this year or 2016 and no second-round pick in any of the next four drafts.

This is a miserable situation only salvaged by New York’s drawing power.

That worked to get Jackson, but how much further that advantage extends depends entirely on the work Jackson puts in now.

Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, Jackson must plan to undertake the mundane tasks of scouting, analyzing and developing. As much as Dolan treats it differently, the job is not all glamor.

Jackson did what he was paid to do yesterday. But if he’s going to succeed with the Knicks, he must do more today while nobody is watching.

Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.

Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis denies drug charges while eating Popeyes on a charter plane

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Best. Denial. Ever.

Last month, former NBA player Glen “Big Baby” Davis was arrested last month at a hotel in a suburb of Baltimore by Jimmy McNulty and Lt. Daniels with 126 grams of marijuana and more than $96,000 in cash, according to a police report. He has been charged with possession and intent to distribute.

Davis has declared his innocence in the best denial video ever — eating Popeyes chicken and flashing cash and a championship ring.

I have no idea whether Davis is guilty or not, I was not at a Hampton’s Inn outside Baltimore last month. The court system will sort that out, that is what it’s there for.

But I know a brilliant video when I see one. This is it.

Report: Michele Roberts to seek second contract as players’ union head

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Michele Roberts entered the NBA’s player union in a tumultuous time — long-time union president Billy Hunter had been ousted in a rancorous fight, the union felt adrift, and negotiations with the NBA on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement were looming (and players felt they had been screwed in the last CBA, following the lockout).

Roberts, the first female head of a professional sports labor union, settled things down. She cleaned up the union finances and made them more transparent to players, she worked hard to establish relationships with the players, and while she rattled some sabers with the NBA in negotiations, she also worked in a non-combative way with Adam Silver and team (unlike the Billy Hunter/David Stern relationship) and got a deal done the players liked without a lockout or labor mess.

Roberts’ contract with the union is up, but she is going to ask for a new deal — one she likely gets — reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With an original four-year agreement set to expire in September, Michele Roberts plans to seek a new contract as the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, sources tell ESPN…

Roberts had strongly considered staying in the NBPA’s executive director role for only the length of her original contract — and expressed that to the union’s senior membership — but has recently decided to pursue a longer tenure, sources said.

NBPA president Chris Paul played a significant part in Roberts’ hiring in July 2014 and he has built a strong working relationship with Roberts.

Roberts also has a good relationship with the star-heavy executive committee of the union — CP3, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and others — making it likely she gets a new deal.

As for what’s next, at the front of that list Roberts is working with Silver and others on reforming the NBA’s one-and-done rule (it was supposed to be part of the CBA negotiations but was too big and complex an issue to fold into that timeline).

Neither the owners or players can opt out of the CBA for four more years (and if neither side does it runs a couple more beyond that) so labor peace will continue in the NBA for a while.