Guys, Phil Jackson might be kind of dumb.
It's difficult not to reach such a conclusion after reading this article from yesterday's New York Times, in which Harvey Araton talks to Jackson about everything that's gone wrong for the Knicks this season. Naturally, much of their conversation focuses on the triangle offense, and Jackson's disastrous attempt to install the system in New York. The good news is that Jackson acknowledges what a failure his experiment has been thus far—"So far, my experiment has fallen flat on its face."—but the bad news is that Jackson doesn't give much indication that he's going to stop humping his archaic system anytime soon.
There are quite a few moments here that should worry Knicks fans. For instance:
But as to skepticism about whether he can make the triangle work in a league in which no one else plays it, Jackson said: "I'm not daunted by the number of people who have commented that this way of playing is arcane, that the game has moved on. The game has moved on."
He also believes that the game, stylistically, moves in mysterious ways.
"I think it's still debatable about how basketball is going to be played, what's going to win out," he said, leaving no doubt of his disdain for the point-guard-dominated concept of "screen-and-roll, break down, pass, and two or three players standing in spots, not participating in the offense."
It's nice that Jackson acknowledges that the game—now dominated by offenses that value ball movement, spacing, and the three-point shot—has evolved from the state it was in when Jackson's triangle-heavy teams dominated, but that bit about the game moving in "mysterious" ways is exactly the kind of philosopher-as-basketball-coach bullshit that makes Jackson ill-suited to construct a modern NBA roster.
Leave aside the fact that Jackson's successful triangle teams always featured at least one all-time superstar in his prime (and usually two). Leave aside the fact that he seems to fundamentally misunderstand how a screen-and-roll offense works—if he really believes that Klay Thompson isn't "participating" in the offense while he waits for the kick-out pass in the corner, or that the best versions of those offenses don't rely on an enormous amount of synchronized off-the-ball motion, then the Knicks are really in trouble—and consider that Jackson seems to be more concerned with directing the "mysterious" movements of NBA offensive trends in a direction that suits his legacy and ego. For instance:
In disclaiming the quick fix, Jackson said that it would take that long to render judgment on his methods and that Dolan had asked him to "set up something that would be long-lasting, that may go beyond my being here." He continued, "That was exactly what I'd been thinking of, building a foundation, a way of playing basketball, getting a bunch of guys that can do it. If I'm not here four or five years down the road, then I have a young coach I believe in who will complete it."
This is damning. This is an admission that Jackson isn't so much trying to build a good team as he is trying to validate a set of dusty philosophies in the modern era, and build an infrastructure of teet-suckling dunces who will propagate a version of basketball in Phil's own image after he retires. This is a man cloning himself so he can better suck his own dick. "Building a foundation" that will dictate "a way of playing basketball" for the future is the rhetoric of a Silicon Valley TED-talker, only this one is trying to convince us that fax machines are the future of the "digital landscape."
No move has exposed this particular inadequacy more than Jackson's decision to trade Tyson Chandler, who was probably the Knicks' best player last season, in the offseason. Even with Chandler thriving in Dallas, Jackson still believes he made the right move:
He nonetheless expressed no misgivings — "not one moment"— over trading Chandler, whose defensive presence would have helped this season but who, in Jackson's view, did not have the matching skills to play in the triangle going forward.
GMs make bad trades all the time, usually because of financial restrictions or poor talent evaluation. But here's Phil Jackson admitting that he dealt away his team's only good defensive player not because he thought Chandler was bad or on the verge of breaking down, but because he didn't fit into an arbitrary system—a system that was itself designed, supposedly, to best allow a roster's most talented players to maneuver. That's madness! It's the kind of thing that any other GM in the league, one who does not possess Jackson's aura of respectability, would be run out of town for.
Maybe the Knicks, armed with a shiny new draft pick and a new all-star to fill their cap space, will have a shot at actually being good next year. Or maybe they'll crash and burn again, proving once and for all that the triangle is a dead system that has no place in today's NBA. Either way, Phil Jackson will probably be more concerned with whatever's coming five years down the line.