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.
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.
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?