Phil Jackson likely looks at the same job and sees all of those things, yet none of those things.
If Jackson's history teaches us anything, it is that the 13-time champion does not look at a situation and sees its requisite parts. His candid books reveal that Jackson's holistic approach applies not only to his personal life but his professional life as well, as his relationship with a star like Michael Jordan is only one very important piece of a deep and meaningful whole.
With this in mind, it was no surprise to hear Jackson's comments regarding the Knicks job in an HBO interview. From the sound of it, Jackson has no desire to coach the Knicks, and the feeling evidently is mutual as the team "never called" him and he "wasn't going to take the job," anyway.
"Well, it's just — there's just too much work that has to be done with that team, you know?" Jackson told Andrea Kremer. "It's just not quite — it's clumsy. It's a little bit of clumsy team."
Jackson's "clumsy" remark was immediately taken as a rebuke of Anthony and Stoudemire, and there was no doubt the two All-Star forwards were included in his analysis. But Jackson has never been overly concerned with difficult individual personalities. If he were, he never would have had success with Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O'Neal. He has made clear through his writing that, under the right circumstances, strong personalities can be beneficial.
The Knicks' problems go deeper than Anthony or Stoudemire, although those two are indicative of the problematic culture of the franchise. In a mentality characteristic of many things in New York City, the Knicks under James Dolan chase the flashy names that sell now over the solid infrastructure that builds long-term success. That approach may work (for a while) in investment banking, but very rarely does such an approach yield even short-term, championship-caliber success in the NBA. As the Miami Heat discovered last year, champions are crafted over time, not manufactured in one offseason.
Jackson's immediate success with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999-2000 has made many fans forget that it took him three years to win his first title with the Chicago Bulls after he took over as head coach in 1989. Before that, Jackson had two years as an assistant under Doug Collins to observe the complex interpersonal relationships between Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. No matter how much Jerry Krause rankled him, Jackson had two of the best players ever in Jordan and Pippen to make the headaches worth it. Anthony and Stoudemire, talented though they are, are no Jordan and Pippen. And the Knicks, deep though Jackson's history as a player with the franchise may be, have not shown the patience necessary for a coach like Jackson to craft a dysfunctional roster into a title contender.
Unlike any other coach in NBA history save Red Auerbach, Jackson understands that team success relies not merely on the interaction between the best players but in the larger, organizational dynamic. To say Jackson does not like Anthony and Stoudemire's games is simplistic. They are "clumsy" together because they were clumsily brought together, on a team that was clumsily constructed and reconstructed multiple times, with vague organizational goals that are clumsily defined ("Win a championship" is not a specific, realistic or actionable goal.).
Jackson has changed his mind before — he did say he was done coaching after his second three-peat with the Bulls in 1998 — but his rebuke of the Knicks is hardly surprising given Jackson's stated philosophies, and his disinterest in the coaching job goes deeper than two maligned players.
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