Phil Jackson believes the Knicks season went sour when he went on vacation, and moving forward he wants to be more hands-on with “mentoring” — regardless if he’s perceived as undermining coach Jeff Hornacek.
“I probably will (be viewed as undercutting the coach),” said Jackson, who suggested he’d rather be coaching than handle the duties of a front office figure. “I think that one of the things that I like about this job is that (GM Steve) Mills does a lot of the paperwork — the back and forth with the NBA headquarters and my issues is about talking to coaches, finding out the game plan.
“I took some time on the West Coast during the holidays when I think things really kind of fell down. We lost six in a row there which changed us from being a positive to a minus. So I think I’ve got to do a little bit more on scene, on-target mentoring.”
It was a bizarre statement from somebody who doesn’t travel with the team unless it’s to California. But to Jackson, the system — or the triangle — remains paramount as he attempts another rebuild this summer. And there is no greater triangle expert than Jackson (except for maybe 95-year-old Tex Winter).
“You know when you sit back on the position I’m at, I get on the court, a couple of times I’ve had to stop practice and say, ‘Hold it, we can’t play that way,’ just to emphasize what the coaches are trying to say,” Jackson said. “Because there is a point where you have to be there with the players and actually stop them.”
While hiring Jeff Hornacek over Kurt Rambis last summer, he agreed to let the head coach mold in his fast-paced style of play into the traditional triangle. But Jackson also portrayed Hornacek as losing the locker room, unable to control the friction.
“I think (Hornacek) is amenable to players. He is a young coach, he has only coached, what’s this, two and a half seasons? It is not like he has got a menu of 10 years of coaching. I think he listens. We have good communication going back and forth,” Jackson said. “I think there is some disconnect at times with this team and I think there is some rebelliousness in this team that created some of the discord during the year and I think that has to stop and that will stop.”
The part about listening to the team president is important to Jackson, who fired Derek Fisher for straying from the triangle and not listening to his direction. Hornacek, a strange hire for this type of gig considering he had no experience with the triangle, was forced to take on Rambis as his lead assistant and has followed the directive.
“Kurt Rambis has all the knowledge that I have and I thought as a combo with Jeff they could fit in pretty well,” Jackson said.
The 71-year-old, who has two years remaining on his $60 million contract, added that the players were responsible for the triangle failing, not the system. He alluded to cutting ties early with players like JR Smith because of the triangle, and multiple times praised the play of rookie point guard Ron Baker.
No player got more love from Jackson than Baker. Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, was a triangle problem as the player “at the top.”
“We faced resistence (to the triangle) and we faced resistence at the top,” Jackson said, adding later, “Somehow or another we got completely off course here in the idea that a system of basketball, particularly the triangle offense, is an impediment to a basketball team. It’s not an impediment.”