Phil Jackson poses during a news conference announcing him as the team president of the New York Knicks basketball team at Madison Square Gardens in New York on Tuesday. (REUTERS: Shannon Stapleton)
NEW YORK — The New York Knicks reached into their past in the hopes of a better future.
Phil Jackson, a forward on the Knicks last championship team in 1973 and the owner of 11 championship rings as a coach with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, was named New York’s President of Basketball Operations on Tuesday at a press conference at Madison Square Garden.
The 68-year-old Jackson will make a reported $60 million over five years.
With former Knicks teammates Walt Frazier and Dick Barnett in attendance, Jackson proclaimed “This is the best place to play basketball.”
That may have been the case during the Knick halcyon years in the early 1970s, but Jackson finds himself in charge of a team that is 27-40 and trailing Atlanta by four games for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“Regardless of our record, when you have a chance to get Phil Jackson, you do it, plain and simple,” said Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan.
New York is currently riding a six-game winning streak, its longest of the season, heading into Wednesday’s home game against the Indiana Pacers.
This is Jackson’s first time as an executive and the Knicks say he will be given full autonomy of all basketball decisions. Dolan said he “willingly and gratefully” is stepping back to give Jackson the power to make the changes the franchise needs. Dolan also added that ticket prices wouldn’t be increased next season.
Dolan, who is perceived by Knicks fans and the media as a meddlesome owner, said current general manager Steve Mills will stay on.
“It was important to me that Phil (Jackson) and Steve (Mills) be able to work together,” Dolan said. “The three of us have spent a lot of time together speaking about strategy, philosophy and culture. Phil has a vision for the Knicks that I know will put us on a path to success and Steve has great abilities as GM.
“He (Jackson) was part of that special group of players led by the great Red Holzman that not only won, but won by teamwork. This is someone who knows about winning.
“In his role as president Phil will be in charge of all basketball decisions and Steve as the GM will support his efforts to establish a consistently winning franchise.”
Jackson was non-committal regarding coach Mike Woodson.
“Mike (Woodson) has had a difficult season,” Jackson said. “We’ll have discussions with Mike at the end of the season considering going forward.”
In the 90-minute press conference, Jackson stressed the importance of bringing back the concept of ‘team basketball’ that worked so well when he played for Holzman with the Knicks and when he coached the Bulls and Lakers.
“We want to build a health record where injuries are limited,” Jackson noted. “We want to develop a mindset in which focus is a capability and a mindset where balls are moved, passes are made and people make cuts to create open opportunities for teammates.
“These are things that are important to me. I came out of a system where team ball movement was important. I was on a team with seven all-stars so you can imagine there weren’t a whole of shots for me, but we did play team ball.”
Jackson’s primary order of business will be to convince forward Carmelo Anthony to stay in New York after he becomes a free agent this summer. Anthony has been a workhouse this season, averaging an NBA best 38.8 minutes while averaging 28 points a game, second to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (31.8 ppg), but lacks enough secondary players for the Knicks to be considered legitimate championship contenders.
“There is no doubt about Carmelo (Anthony) being one of the top scorers in the league and maybe one of the best individual isolation players in the game,” Jackson admitted. “I have no problem saying Carmelo is in the future plans.
“There are a number of things I see Carmelo doing as he moves forward. I was on record a year ago as saying he is a great a player who still has another level he can go to. I hope together with the team we create we can get there.”