How Phil Jackson went from the expected savior of the Knicks to one of the most highly criticized executives in sports

When Phil Jackson was hired as president of basketball operations of the New York Knicks in 2014, they were a moribund franchise with no direction.

Jackson, one of the most revered coaches in NBA history, who had played on the Knicks during their only two championships, was seen as a savior of the franchise, a leader to instill a culture and end the team’s constant dysfunction.

Instead, over three years, the Knicks struggled mightily, going 80-166 during Jackson’s three full seasons in charge.

Jackson’s Knicks tenure will be known for a franchise-worst regular-season record, squabbles with star players, a steadfast belief in an outdated offense, and near constant roster turnover.

Here’s how it all went downhill.


One of Jackson’s first moves with the Knicks was overhauling the coaching staff, letting go of Mike Woodson, who struggled through a disappointing 37-45 season in ’13-14.

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Jackson began a coaching search that mostly involved players he coached – from Steve Kerr to Derek Fisher to Brian Shaw.


Jackson was reportedly close to landing Kerr, but at the last moment, Kerr took the Golden State Warriors job.

We’ve seen how that worked out for Kerr.

Jackson instead hired Fisher, a first-time coach fresh out of the league. Fisher, who won five championships with the Lakers under Jackson, promised a culture change and stability to the team.


Jackson made several questionable moves as president of the Knicks, including trading star defensive center Tyson Chandler before the 2014-15 season.

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The Knicks traded Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks for a package that included Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, and second-round pick that became Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. None of those players are on the Knicks anymore and four of them are no longer in the NBA.


The Knicks struggled mightily almost right away in Fisher and Jackson’s first season.

The team limped out of the gates to a 5-20 record and Jackson quickly blew up the team, an indication that their best move was to tank. Not quite the start fans were hoping for.


The Knicks shifted gears by trading J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cavs. Both players proved to be welcome additions to the Cavs while the Knicks got little in return.

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One of Jackson’s better moves, however, was picking a little-known, 19-year-old, 7-foot-3 Latvian center named Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 draft.

A benefit of the tanking, the immediate returns were evident: Porzingis looked like the future of the team.


But even Porzingis’ impressive play didn’t change the Knicks’ fortunes.

After beginning the 2015-16 season with a 22-22 record, the Knicks then did a tail slide, leading to Jackson firing Fisher 55 games into the season.


The following offseason was a big one for the Knicks that produced mixed results.

The Knicks hired Jeff Hornacek, a surprise move, given that he never played for Jackson or coached the triangle offense.

The Knicks also had a big free agency, trading for Derrick Rose, then signing Courtney Lee and Joakim to combined $120 million.


After a promising 16-13 start, the Knicks once again went into a tailspin and were forced to tank.


Worse than the losing, however, were several controversies the team didn’t handle well.

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In November, Jackson was criticized for referring to LeBron James and his business associates as a “posse,” inciting angry responses from James and his business partner Maverick Carter.


Jackson also came under fire for saying Carmelo Anthony holds the ball too long, irking Anthony.


During a December game, Derrick Rose went AWOL, never showing up or letting the Knicks know why he was absent. He later said he had a family emergency to attend to in Chicago.

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Many were surprised when the Knicks didn’t suspend Rose, only fining him for the missed game.


The Knicks also found themselves in the headlines in February after former Knicks big man Charles Oakley was ejected and arrested at MSG for heckling team owner, James Dolan.

Though Jackson was not involved in the incident, it didn’t reflect well on his regime, either.


The triangle offense also became a sticking point during Jackson’s tenure. The offense, though successful with Jackson’s ’90s Bulls and ’00s Lakers, often appeared outdated and ill-suited for today’s NBA.

Several Knicks grumbled about it, with Adrian Wojnarowski reporting that players were “fuming” about the team’s plans to hold summer training sessions for the offense.

Furthermore, Jackson’s insistence on running the offense also relegated Jeff Hornacek’s preferred up-tempo, spread-out offense that better suits the game today.


Things came to a head when the season ended. During his season-ending press conference, he said Carmelo Anthony would be “better off somewhere else,” suggesting Anthony waive his no-trade clause.

The comment came after months of trade rumors surrounding Anthony, who reportedly didn’t want to leave New York unless it was for a contender.


Likewise, Knicks fans became disenfranchised with Jackson with reports that he was listening to trade offers for Porzingis.

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Prior to the draft, Jackson even acknowledged the rumors, saying he had to be mindful of the future. Many reports indicated Jackson was miffed when Porzingis skipped his exit interview out of frustration over the franchise’s dysfunction.


Jackson, however, ended up not trading Porzingis, to the relief of many.


Still, with the Knicks facing an uncertain future and clear inner-turmoil over Jackson’s tenure, James Dolan made a move on Wednesday, firing Jackson.


It’s unclear what Jackson or the Knicks’ future is, but it seems as though Jackson’s Hall of Fame NBA career may be blemished with a largely unsuccessful executive stint.


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