Phil Jackson, a guy who would look a lot dumber without his glasses, continues to emit ill-advised takes that make good NBA players angry. For his most recent target he chose his own star forward, Carmelo Anthony. Now feels like an odd time to seed resentment among Jackson’s Knicks, who, last night’s spanking notwithstanding, looked bracingly competent these last few weeks, going 7-3 over their last 10, buoyed by solid bench play, the occasional outpouring from from Melo or D-Rose, and the steady growth of their chosen son.
But you can always trust the Zen Master to harsh the vibe: “Carmelo a lot of times wants to hold the ball longer than—we have a rule: If you hold a pass two seconds, you benefit the defense. So he has a little bit of a tendency to hold it for three, four, five seconds, and then everybody comes to a stop,” Jackson told CBS Sports on Tuesday.
Today, ESPN reported that the typically chilled-out, mumbly postgame Melo turned “visibly annoyed” and clammed up when asked to address Jackson’s comments.
Anthony, who is normally affable with the media, maintained a smile but began to walk away from reporters when asked about Jackson’s comments before stopping and continuing with questions. He then responded to a query about the timing of the Knicks president’s remarks and whether they were productive.
“I don’t even know what was said, to be honest with you. I just don’t even want to talk about that, what he’s talking about exactly. I want to stay away from that at this point,” Anthony said. “My focus is my teammates and winning. We’ve been playing great basketball, and that’s the only thing I’m focused on. Whatever Phil said, he said it. I have nothing to say about that.”
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I have 11 fewer rings than Jackson, no M.B.A., and can’t claim any expertise in interpersonal management, but if I had to hazard a guess, this here is not good people skills. Even if you have legitimate ideological disputes within your staff—and even if those disputes, maybe, just maybe, have something to do with mashing a square peg into a triangle-shaped hole—nothing forces you to litigate them out in public. (Phil is perfectly capable of staying slippery and dodging questions; he did exactly that when he declined to rehash his quasi-feud with LeBron, opportunistically citing a rule that prevents him from discussing other team’s players.)
Venting dissatisfaction in that kind of interview puts your player in a tough position, with almost no perceivable benefit. It also, predictably, puts your head coach in an impossible bind, where he’s forced to mediate the dispute. “Yeah, I think there’s probably times that happens. But then there’s other times when he does what he did last night and just carries us ... it’s a fine balance. He’s a star player who can really create his own shot from that midrange area. Sometimes we talk about maybe moving the ball and holding it, maybe it’s a second or two too long for a normal guy, but for Carmelo, it’s fine, because he can make that play,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said when approached with Jackson’s comments, threading a needle he never should have had to pick up.
Phil hasn’t been all bad. Though the four-year Joakim Noah contract hangs over the team like an ungainly, broken albatross, some of this summer’s roster rejiggering looks smart, especially when you consider some of the unheralded reserves. (The only part I could have predicted is that Brandon Jennings would channel the Knicks spirit as purely as anyone ever has.) And Jackson at least had the clarity of mind to hire Hornacek as head coach instead of letting Kurt Rambis fester there, smothering Kristaps under a pillow. More recently, Jackson put Rambis in charge of what was then the league’s worst defense, and is now, uh, the league’s 27th best defense. Still, it’s unclear that the kush-smoking basketball guru will guide them to any fate nobler than an eighth seed in the east and first-round exit, with a resentful starter or two to show for it.
Surely we’re not the only people tired of Jackson’s antics. His last true acolyte among active players burned out last April in a blaze of vainglory. Someone—LeBron, Melo, all the Banana Boaters in unison—should slowly leverage their social capital in this league and get him out of the paint.
Update (4:59 p.m. ET): Yes, Carmelo Anthony is definitely tired of Phil Jackson’s shit.