Trying to finish up some other things, so I will keep this brief (famous last words, I know!). If Phil Jackson does sign on the bottom line, there will be endless chatter about him and endless opportunities to dissect that chatter.
For now, I just wanted to flag Henry Abbott’s comments at True Hoop. Though Abbott hedges his bets at the end of his column today, he’s down on Phil. Essentially, Abbott says Jackson, believing he has all the answers based on his past successes, has sounded recently a lot like a guy for whom the game is already passing him by. Among other things, a talk Jackson gave this year at the newly white-hot Sloan Sports Analytics conference left Abbott with the impression that Jackson might be indifferent to the new modes of player evaluation and statistical analysis that, in 2014, constitute the information environment to which NBA teams need to adapt. That attitude, in the context of an already dysfunctional Knicks’ organization, sounds ominous.
It’s not that Jackson can’t make the Knicks winners. He might. Indeed, as the argument goes, at least he has won, unlike everyone else in the building. But he’s sending all the wrong signals if the task is to outclass 29 other teams in a race starting in 2014. That prize will, almost certainly, go to whoever best masters new ideas, about which Phil says, basically: Who needs ‘em?
This might all be true. And yet, it might all be less complicated than a million commentaries are going to make it out to be. More than in any other sport, winning in the NBA is contingent on a assembling a small core of far-above-average players. If Jackson’s arrival in New York were, for example, to provide some enticement for Lebron to head to New York in 2015, then Phil Jackson could go all Sean Penn on every sportvu camera he sees and still be successful. I’m not saying that Lebron will come to New York. And how Jackson might handle ‘Melo’s impending free agency will provide some insight into what he values in players.
I know the track record here – Dolan’s a nightmare. He’s promised and failed to butt out before. But if his hiring of Phil marginally increases the chances that top flight players will want to come to New York, it will be a good gamble, analytics or no analytics. The Celtics changed the course of their franchise in two fell swoops in the summer of 2007. The question is whether Jackson increases the Knicks’ chance of doing something similar. That’s far more important than whether he changes the so-called “culture” of the organization, or embraces new data or whatever (don’t get me wrong. I’d be happy if the Knicks thought smartly about player evaluation including, of course, among secondary players).
The rest is (a blizzard of) commentary. (apologies for using the phrase in its misapplied modern form).