Report: James Dolan meddles into Phil Jackson’s attempts to fire Knicks employees

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Willingly and gratefully.”

That’s how Knicks owner James Dolan chortled he’d cede control to Phil Jackson when the Zen Master was introduced as the team’s new president.

I believe Dolan meant it – or at least wanted to mean it. He wasn’t paying Jackson $60 million to preserve the status quo, and if that meant changing how Dolan himself did things, he probably believed he was up to it.

But like the scorpion who hitched a ride across the river on a frog and then stung the frog, drowning them both, Dolan is meddling again despite his best intentions. It’s in his nature.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

Just one month into his role as Knicks president, Jackson has already clashed with Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, over personnel decisions, the Daily News has learned. According to a team source, Jackson is looking to remove several staff members, which is commonplace when a new administration takes over, but Dolan opposes removing certain employees.

According to the source, Dolan’s reaction to Jackson’s request was to tell the 11-time NBA championship coach to simply focus his attention on building a winning team. To say that “minor friction,” as one Garden source called it, can be classified as Jackson’s honeymoon with Dolan being over may be stretching it a bit.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

CAA represents two key members of the front office, Allan Houston and Mark Warkentien, and has close ties to general manager Steve Mills. All three are likely to be cut loose or pushed into new roles.

Jackson, inexperienced as an executive, needs a seasoned general manager who shares his vision. That probably means a reassignment for Mills, who did little in his one season as the Knicks’ president and GM.

The same goes for Houston, a favorite of owner James L. Dolan who has been serving a front-office apprenticeship for six years but has gained little traction in NBA circles as a viable executive.

It would be easy enough to move Mills back to the business side, where he began his Garden career, and to leave Houston in charge of the Knicks’ D-League affiliate, a role he already has.

Warkentien is the Knicks’ most experienced (and most networked) basketball official. But with Jackson pursuing a thorough housecleaning, Warkentien is surely on his way out, too.

This was really inevitable. Dolan, over the years, has stocked the organization full of people he likes and forced out those he didn’t. It’s going to be painful to see those people lose jobs.

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Among Dolan’s faults or virtues, depending on your perspective, is an incredible amount of loyalty to his friends/employees. Just look how long a leash Isiah Thomas got, and Dolan still occasionally vouches for him.

You think Dolan going to let Allan Houston get shown the door much more easily?

Here’s the thing, though: Jackson shouldn’t have full autonomy, and if he was promised it, that was a mistake. Dolan controls the franchise, and he should have some say in what happens. The buck ultimately stops with him, and he shouldn’t give Jackson – or anyone – free reign to operate unilaterally.

There’s a line somewhere, and from the outside, it’s difficult to see where this falls. Ultimately, it’s up to Jackson – like anyone who works for a boss – to convince Dolan why these firings are justified. That’s part of Jackson’s job, though one of the less-glamorous aspects of it.

There are surely compromises available, including giving the employees Jackson wants to fire reduced roles or Jackson using his contacts around the league to help them find soft landings. Or maybe the best move is to leak it to reporters in hopes of applying pressure to Dolan to back off, but given Dolan’s history with the media, that might cause a bigger rift. (To be clear, there’s no telling Jackson or his people leaked the information. It could have come from many possible sources.)

Really, this could all blow over quickly and harmlessly. If this is the worst meddling Dolan does, that wouldn’t be so bad.

But does anyone really believe this isn’t just the beginning?

It’s official: Phil Jackson out as president of the New York Knicks

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The build up was slow. It began simmering when the feud with Carmelo Anthony became public, as talk of a trade and then a buyout started to come to become louder and louder. It picked up steam when the triangle offense was being forced on players and a coaching staff that didn’t like or fit it. Things really got hot when Kristaps Porzingis skipped his exit meeting last April, and rather than try to smooth things over and find a solution it became about sending a message and threating to trade the team’s best player and the face of the franchise.

Wednesday everything boiled over — Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks have parted ways, the sides announced.

“After careful thought and consideration, we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction,” Knicks owner James Dolan said in a released statement. “Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA. His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched. We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the Knicks as both a player and an executive.”

“The New York Knicks will always hold a special place in my heart,” Jackson said. “This team and this town launched my NBA career. I will forever be indebted to them. I am grateful to Mr. Dolan for giving me the opportunity to return here. I had hoped, of course, to bring another NBA championship to the Garden. As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to do that. New York fans deserve nothing less.”

All this just three days before free agency opens.

Current Knicks GM and trusted Dolan confidant Steve Mills will run basketball operations for now. Former Raptors executive Tim Leiweke will work with Mills and with Dolan to find a new head of the Knicks’ front office.

Dolan reportedly wants to hire Toronto’s Masai Ujiri, one of the most respected team presidents in the league — and the guy who fleeced the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade from Denver and the Andrea Bargnani trade with Toronto. However, Ujiri signed a contract extension — with a raise and a title bump — a year ago, the Raptors have no obligation to let him out of that deal. If he does leave, it will cost the Knicks plenty.

Other viable options, such as just-released by the Cavaliers David Griffin, are available. What the Knicks need to do is hire someone with experience.

Despite the public issues with Anthony and Porzingis, plus the insistence on running the triangle, Phil Jackson did some good with the Knicks. He drafted Porzingis, as well as Willy Hernangomez and the recent Frank Ntilikina (we will see how he pans out). He also stopped the Knicks ridiculous of trading away their first-round picks, the Knicks have theirs going forward (he did move some second rounders). Whoever replaces Jackson will have a foundation to work with that was not there when Jackson arrived.

However, Jackson’s unquestioned knowledge of the game — he does have 11 championship rings as a player and a coach for a reason — did not translate well into the front office. The mind-games Jackson liked to play, such as calling out a player in the media, work when as a coach and you see the players every day, if they have a problem they can come talk to you. It comes off very differently from the ivory tower of the front office. Jackson kept changing his team vision and plans, brought in expensive older players such as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, and continued feuding with the team’s stars.

Now the Knicks are starting over. A good thing, but the timing of the move just days before the start of free agency was very Knicks.

What’s next for Knicks? Owner reportedly targeting Raptors’ Masai Ujiri, but it’s longshot

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Phil Jackson is out as the Knicks head of basketball operations. The Knicks just made it official.

That’s a good thing for the future of the franchise and has New York fans celebrating, but making this move just four days before the start of free agency is the most Knicks of timing. While other teams are laying back-channel groundwork for the July 1 free agency onslaught, the Knicks will be trying to figure out who is in charge (likely trusted GM Steve Mills for a while).

Who is next in line to lead the Knicks? Before you say “anyone is better” think back over owner James Dolan’s hires. The worst of the lot was Isiah Thomas, and he and Dolan are still friends. Plus there are the times Dolan himself was involved in the basketball decision making.

There are a lot of potential quality candidates available, but Dolan appears to be going with the “if you can’t beat them, join them” idea of chasing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Marc Stein of ESPN adds:

Leiweke hired Ujiri in Toronto.

It’s been known for more than a year that if/when Jackson was pushed out, Ujiri would be the Knicks target. Dolan wants to hire the guy that keeps beating him. Ujiri was the GM in Denver when the Knicks traded far too many young assets for Carmelo Anthony, stripping the team of any chance to win by gutting it to get a star. Then when he was in Toronto, Ujiri orchestrated the trade that sent Andrea Bargnani and his massive contract from the Raptors to the Knicks. Dolan reportedly was so worried about being fleeced by Ujiri again he blocked a trade for Kyle Lowry out of fear of being burned (of course, the Lowry trade would’ve been a good one for the Knicks).

However, this is a longshot. Last year, Toronto gave Ujiri and extension and the title of President of Basketball Operations. The Raptors can simply refuse to let him talk to the Knicks, and even if Ujiri wanted the job (which is not clear) then it will be very expensive to buy him out.

If not Ujiri, then the Knicks could and should consider just released David Griffin, who was able to help turn the Cavaliers into a contender when LeBron James decided to return home. Griffin did an impressive job, came up with creating ways to get more talent on a capped-out roster, all while working for a notoriously difficult owner. That seems like the right resume for New York.

There are a number of other qualified candidates available, or the Knicks could hire a smart up-and-comer ready to make the leap such as Mike Zarren out of Boston, or a host of others in that spot.

What would be a mistake is to chase big name who has no front office experience. Or one with a questionable history as GM. Which is to say, don’t make the Phil Jackson mistake all over again. The Knicks need quality front office experience, someone who has proven they can do the job well. With Kristaps Porzingis on the roster, the Knicks have what can be the cornerstone piece of a championship roster in place — drafting him was Jackson’s one shining moment in the job. Building a team around him needs to be the priority (not getting in stupid squabbles with the star and threatening to trade him).

Knicks fans are right to celebrate Jackson being gone, but until the next shoe drops they shouldn’t completely relax.

Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns ticked he didn’t make All-NBA team

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Players in their first few years in the NBA almost never make an All-NBA team. There are exceptions — Larry Bird was First Team All-NBA as a rookie, for example — but it usually takes time and development before a player can crack the top 15 in the league.

Karl-Anthony Towns is frustrated he didn’t make All-NBA in his second year, he felt snubbed. He was the person with the most points/votes of anyone not to make the team, but the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan had one more first team vote (three to two) and ended up just four points ahead of Towns. Here’s what KAT told Sean Deveney of The Sporting News about that.

Karl-Anthony Towns averaged 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just his second season, but still was snubbed from the All-NBA team, beaten out by a mere four points by DeAndre Jordan.  And now it can be told: It bothered him — a little.

“You know what, it did a little bit, it did a little damage to me,” Towns told Sporting News. “But that’s all right, because it is all about team success. You’ve got to win. You’ve got to win to be respected in this league. You have to do little things, there are things we can do as a team. We have to come back as a stronger team and win in the playoffs, because the playoffs are the most important thing.”

For the record, I was one of those official voters who had Jordan in front of Towns (Jordan was my third team All-NBA center). It was close and something I debated (and watched film on, and talked to people around the league about), but for me the deciding factor was not winning, it was defensive impact.

Towns is improving fast on both ends, and the Timberwolves should win more with the addition of Jimmy Butler next season. Having Butler and Andrew Wiggins on the wings should help the Timberwolves defense that held the team back last season. Minnesota is poised to make the leap into the playoffs (although it will not be easy, with the Nuggets and Pelicans both improving the final few slots in the West could be tough to get).

Towns is going to end up with a ridiculous amount of All-NBA honors before his career is done. However, the best players use anything as motivational fuel, and if this is what fires Towns up, then go for it. We’re all expecting big things from him next season.

Suns’ Dudley has surgery on left toe ligament and bone

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PHOENIX (AP) Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley has undergone a left toe ligament and bone procedure.

The Suns issued a statement on Tuesday saying Dudley had surgery last Friday and is expected to return to full basketball activities in 3-4 months.

The 31-year-old averaged 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 64 games with Phoenix last season. Dudley is in his sixth season and second stint with the Suns. He has two years and nearly $20 million left on his contract.

Dudley has career averages of 8.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in 10 NBA seasons.