NEW YORK -- Phil Jackson not so long ago described the Knicks’ core as “clumsy.”
Now the Zen Master is officially in charge of transforming the bungling Knicks into a graceful championship operation.
In his first front-office job, Jackson will have to find a way to apply his own brand of feng shui to Madison Square Garden and the disorganized clutter that is the Knicks.
Moving some of the expensive furniture to improve the balance and flow of the Knicks’ energy is now the biggest basketball challenge of Jackson's career. Convincing Michael Jordan to sacrifice his ego, coaxing Scottie Pippen to get over Toni Kukoc and getting Kobe and Shaq to coexist and play nice is child's play compared to fixing the Knicks.
Jackson’s first major decision to meditate on is whether to keep Carmelo Anthony as the franchise's centerpiece. Can Jackson build championship harmony around Anthony? Does Anthony have the kind of greatness in him that Jackson has been so fortunate to have been surrounded by throughout his charmed basketball life?
Should Jackson decide to build around Anthony, then Melo should listen to Jackson’s plan and stay.
Anthony said Jackson's arrival won't "have any effect" on his thinking or decision. The two still have to meet to talk about their futures and whether they are better off together.
"I haven't talked to Phil yet, just to get his insight on a lot of things -- what's his plan, what's his future plan," Anthony told reporters. "Because everything's in his hands now."
While Anthony likely won’t have Jackson to coach him, the Knicks’ superstar should see if Jackson's tutelage can have a transformative effect on his game. All the proof he needs is to look at the profound and lasting impact the former Bulls and Lakers coach had on Jordan and his good friend Kobe Bryant.
Even if Jackson isn’t coaching Anthony, he can still influence Anthony. Jackson can surround Melo with his most devout disciples. Jackson will hopefully build a foundation at the Garden defined by his belief system that has produced 11 championships. He will attempt to apply it as an executive and have his lieutenants enforce it from a day-to-day general manager down to a hand-picked head coach and staff molded in his vision -- all hopefully with James Dolan’s blessing.
Anthony could find himself living and breathing the Jackson way if all goes well. And that could be a very good thing for the Knicks' scoring machine.
"We had a statement that we must have repeated so many times to the players,” Jackson once said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey on OWN. “No man is an island. No man goes his way alone. What I put into the lives of others will come back into its own."
Jackson’s philosophy is something Jordan and Bryant -- two of the best scorers in NBA history -- bought into years ago. Jackson loved challenging his players intellectually, often trying to stimulate their minds with unique methods such as giving books specifically selected for players with a certain theme.
If there’s another level of greatness in Anthony, Jackson could be the one to unlock it.
"Those words, sometimes, are difficult for the boys to hear," Jackson said of the "no man is an island" statement. "So then I would say, 'Do you understand what I'm saying? No man goes his way alone. We're in this together.'"
While Melo isn’t yet a top-50 all-time great like MJ or Kobe, he is a top-10 talent with top-three scoring ability in today's NBA. For all the things Melo does well, he still can improve on the two most vital skills for an elite superstar -- winning in the playoffs and making his teammates better.
Those are two of Jackson's strengths. It remains to be seen whether Anthony, who turns 30 at the end of May, can still improve and make that great leap from elite scorer to ultimate winner.
But Jackson, more than anybody else, can show Melo how he doesn’t have to do everything on his own and hopefully provide him with the kind of supporting cast he desperately needs.
"Carmelo has to be a better passer," Jackson told HBO’s Real Sports in 2012. "And the ball can’t stop every time it hits his hands. They need to have someone come in that can kinda blend that group together."
Even if Jackson never coaches Anthony, he still can share the kind of wisdom and insight no amount of money can buy. Anthony might be able to go someplace else and join another superstar for a shot at winning a title. But if he can’t join forces with, say, a Chris Paul in Los Angeles, then he should stay and see what Phil the Executive can do in New York. Even from the front office, Jackson can potentially develop a relationship with Anthony like the bond Pat Riley has with LeBron James.
James was lured to South Beach by Riley and his championship designs. Riley has his finger prints all over the Heat organization, with Erik Spoelstra, a dedicated Riley pupil, pounding the Riley way into James’ head every day. It would be foolish to think the famous Riley culture of winning at all costs hasn’t rubbed off on James in some way.
"You can always use Phil Jackson inside an organization -- his philosophy, his mindset, his résumé, what he brings to a team, what he brings to an organization," Anthony said. "That goes without even saying, so we'll see how that plays out.
"You can't take for granted what he knows about the game of basketball, whether he's on the sideline or in the front office."
Dolan might never admit it publicly, but hiring Jackson certainly comes with the hope that “Big Chief Triangle” -- as Riley disciple Jeff Van Gundy once referred to Jackson -- can duplicate the kind of success Riley has had in Miami as an executive.
Jackson brings the kind of credibility worth a Dolan fortune. Can he turn the Knicks back into a winning franchise? Can he lure other stars with his ring collection and infamous book club?
If Anthony is a part of Jackson’s master plan, then Melo should stay and find out how great he can be with the Hall of Famer.
The Jackson-Dolan marriage very likely could end badly years from now. But a Zen Master and Melo union already sounds like the kind of positive energy and flow the Garden and Anthony so desperately need.