Phil Jackson And Prototype Remodel Franchise
NEW YORK -- In the days leading up to the introduction of Phil Jackson as president on Tuesday, there was a lot of talk in recent days about how the New York Knicks are looking to "change the culture" of the organization. The Zen Master is coming to town, the story goes, to cure the disease that's infected James Dolan's franchise for the last 15 years.
Jackson, for his part, said during his introductory press conference, "The idea of developing a 'culture' is an overwrought word in the NBA right now, but that's the cachet, I think, that brought me here."
While Jackson may be right that the idea of culture-building is overwrought these days, the Knicks need only have looked across the court at Wednesday night's opponent for a glimpse at the positive effects -- this particular game's result (Knicks 92, Pacers 86) notwithstanding -- such a process can bring. Not 10 years ago, the Indiana Pacers organization -- still ridden with lingering remnants of the infamous Malice at the Palace -- was considered a toxic one, and so management set about stripping the roster of all reminders of that era, planning to foster a newer, cleaner, brighter culture in the future.
Slowly but surely, Larry Bird dismantled a team that many considered a title contender entering that 2004-05 season. By the time Jermaine O'Neal, Jamaal Tinsley and David Harrison all left the team in the summer of 2008, every player who was active for the Pacers' game against the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 19, 2004, was gone, and the teardown was complete.
In the span of three years between the end of the post-Malice rebuild and Indiana's first-round loss to the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in 2011, the Pacers picked up some very important parts, and perhaps just as importantly, found those parts without bottoming out and tanking for more ping-pong ball combinations in the lottery. Sustained and purposeful losing, after all, can adversely affect a culture too. With a trade agreement in place, Toronto selected Roy Hibbert for Indiana in the middle of the first round (No. 17) in 2008, and then took Paul George in the back half of the lottery (No. 10) in 2010. It also managed to snag the wildly talented but supremely enigmatic Lance Stephenson in the second round (No. 40) of the 2010 draft.
A 2011 draft-day trade for George Hill and a signing of David West later, and the Pacers had been completely remade into a legitimate playoff contender, one with a clear identity perfectly suited to the temperament of the man building the team (Bird), the man tasked with coaching it (Frank Vogel), and the players in the locker room. The Pacers are a clean-cut bunch (the starting five of Hill, Stephenson, George, West, and Hibbert recently posed for GQ Magazine looking more than a little bit like a 1990s boy band), sure, but they are also tough as nails and have absolutely no problem letting opponents feel that every night. They play a brutal style of basketball, consistently imposing their will in the paint on both ends of the floor.
Vogel credits West with immediately setting a new standard upon his arrival. "Very few players have a presence like David West, where you come into the locker room and it's going to be pure, and you're going to care about the right things and that's just how it's going to be," Vogel said. "He doesn't even have to say anything. A lot of people say you need a guy that's going to come in and put people in place. But with David West, people don't get out of place. So he doesn't have to put people in place."
It took the Pacers a while to completely remake their culture, but Vogel doesn't necessarily think the same has to be the case with the Knicks.
"It can happen right away," Vogel said. "Whether it's a new coach; whether it's a new president like they have in Phil, or there's a change in personnel. Sometimes you need all those factors to come into play. Sometimes it takes a while. I don't think there's any hard-line rule as to how long it takes."
The Knicks have previously shown a nearly pathological degree of impetuosity when it comes to team building, but Jackson, in both his introductory news conference and in radio interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday, seemed willing to take a more patient approach. When asked how soon he thought the Knicks would contend, Jackson simply said, "We're not anticipating that. We're going to make one step at a time."
The Knicks entered the first official game of Jackson's reign riding high on a six-game winning streak, while the Pacers came in on a four-game run of their own. With both teams struggling early, the fans weren't exactly engaged, but when Jackson was introduced over the public address system in the middle of the first quarter, the Garden crowd roared to its collective feet.
As New York subsequently built and then slowly squandered a double-digit lead, it looked as though those fans were getting treated to more of the same old Knicks. In the end, though, the Knicks buckled down on defense, hit some big shots and hung on for the victory, getting the Jackson Era off to an auspicious start.
Maybe the change has already begun.
Around the Association
MVP: Tim Duncan. The Big Fundamental started off the game with a pair of assists to Tiago Splitter and controlled proceedings on both ends of the floor, finishing with 12 points, 16 boards, six assists, three steals and a game-high plus/minus with +28.
That was ... closer than expected. Credit to the undermanned Lakers for battling tough with the team holding the NBA's best record. Los Angeles was clearly overmatched, talent-wise, but played with energy all night.
X factor: Not much separated these two teams other than shooting percentage. The Spurs are a well-coached, disciplined defensive team that did exactly what you'd expect against the L.A. offense. The Lakers? Well, they struggled with the Spurs attack.
MVP: You have to feel for a veteran like Arron Afflalo, who had 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Night in and night out, the Magic are getting pummeled. But he still goes out there and competes. A true pro.
Defining moment: The Suns' bench turned a 75-74 deficit late in the third quarter to a 101-80 lead midway through the fourth quarter thanks to a 3-point barrage. That's a 22-point turnaround. And that's how you get a blowout victory.
That was ... another lopsided road loss: It can go without saying, but the Magic are a horrendous road team. They are now 4-32 away from home. And it could get worse, given that they have two games left on their West Coast road trip.
MVP: Coming into the game, Carmelo Anthony was only shooting 38 percent in the fourth quarter this season. Tonight, he hit 3-for-4 on his way to 34 points on 12-for-23 shooting, three rebounds, five assists and a slew of clutch buckets to rescue New York from some stagnant iso sets.
LVP: Paul George looked hesitant and awkward, whether it was with the ball in his hands or trying to corral Anthony. That plus a John Starks-ian 4-for-17 shooting line nets him the goat's horns.
Defining moment: Yes, the Knicks are trying to claw their way back into the playoffs, and this is certainly the most impressive win of their seven-game streak, but the thumbs up that Phil Jackson gave to the Madison Square Garden crowd and the resulting hope-filled standing ovation is the moment that will resonate.
MVP: DeMar DeRozan has been one of the Raptors' best players all season long, and his 31 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the field was much needed on a night where the Raptors were missing half their frontcourt.
X factor: With the game knotted up late, Greivis Vasquez sunk two straight baskets and scored 5 points, which gave the Raptors the lead for good. He finished the game with 14 points and provided a much-needed spark off the bench.
That was ... perimeter heavy: No Anthony Davis, no Ryan Anderson, no Jonas Valanciunas, no Patrick Patterson. Both teams were forced to attack from the perimeter, and the Raptors starting guards won out, scoring 54 combined points to the Pelicans' 26.
MVP: Aaron Brooks was unstoppable tonight. The Pistons had no way to contain the water-bug point guard, as Brooks got to any spot on the floor he wanted. He did damage both scoring and distributing the ball, recording 27 points and a career-high 17 assists.
X factor: Randy Foye caught fire in the second half, and never cooled down. His five 3s were key to Denver both taking the lead and then extending it to where the Pistons couldn't come back.
Defining moment: Josh Smith and Kenneth Faried were called for a double technical in the third. Unfortunately, Smith kept running his mouth, and was whistled for a second technical, earning him an ejection. Detroit's defense never recovered, and Denver went on an extended run to win the game.
MVP: While Kevin Love hit the game-winner and chipped in 35 points and eight rebounds, his point guard owned the night. Ricky Rubio's monster line of 22 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists and four steals powered the Wolves all game.
X factor: Over the final five minutes of regulation and overtime, Monta Ellis willed Dallas back to within reach by pouring in 15 points (including four 3-pointers), grabbing three rebounds and dishing out two key assists.
Defining moment: Dirk Nowitzki gave Dallas a 122-121 lead with 33 seconds in overtime. Love responded by calmly navigating a double team, shot-faking Shawn Marion, and hitting a short hook over Brandan Wright to give Minnesota the victory.
MVP: Deron Williams looked like vintage D-Will tonight. He had 25 points, eight assists and essentially the game-winning basket to put the dagger in the Bobcats.
Defining moment: Hard to not mention Williams' step-back, midrange jump shot to put the game just out of reach for a Bobcats team that was with them all night long.
That was ... important: Nobody in the East wants the seventh or eighth seed, and this game was a big one because of that. The Bobcats are trying to make a charge on the Nets for the sixth seed, but Brooklyn denied them, adding a little more breathing room between them and Charlotte.
MVP: Rajon Rondo dominated the final minute of the fourth quarter and finished with 15 assists as Boston beat the LeBron James-less Heat. Rondo's final basket was his biggest: A floater in the lane that pushed Boston's lead from three to five with less than 20 seconds remaining.
X factor: The Celtics were 13-for-28 from 3-point range for 46.4 percent. For the season, Boston is averaging 32.6 percent.
That was ... so Rondo. Rondo recorded a double-double, and neither of his double-digit categories were points. His final line: nine points, 10 rebounds and 15 dimes.
MVP: Joakim Noah. Energetic as usual, Noah did a bit of it all for the Bulls in a game that was probably closer than it should have been. Talk about versatility; Noah posted 14 points, 10 boards, an impressive 6 assists, and 4 blocks.
X- Factor: D.J. Augustin. What a pickup Augustin has been for the Bulls. He hit four 3-pointers and posted 20 points in 33 minutes of action off of the pine, providing the Bulls with enough offense to outlast the struggling Sixers.
That was ... close: The Sixers, desperate to put an end to a 21-game losing streak, managed to hang in there for most of the game, even outscoring Chicago in the third. The Bulls, although clearly in control, couldn't run away from Philly, and the battle made for some exciting basketball.
MVP: The honors are shared by Zach Randolph (21 points, 11 rebounds and three assists) and Marc Gasol (20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists).
Turning point: After trailing by as many as 18 points in the first half, Utah tied things up in the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run. Memphis answered with six straight points of their own. Utah would not threaten again.
X factor: Freebies. The Grizzlies cashed in at the line, hitting 22 of their 25 attempts. The Jazz, meanwhile, got to the charity stripe just 10 times and made only five.
3. Wednesday's Best
Ricky Rubio, Wolves: Earning a playoff spot looks unlikely, but winning a close game was big for Rubio and the Wolves. Rubio had 22 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds for his third career triple-double in a 123-122 overtime victory over the Mavericks.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Paul George, Pacers: George missed all six first-quarter shots and finished 4-for-17 for his 17 points. Not to mention Carmelo Anthony did damage on the other end as the Knicks earned a 92-86 win over the East leaders.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"It's good to hear that. I'm blessed and honored to hear that. I'm glad, I was hoping that I would be part of the future plans. I never once said that I wanted to leave New York or anything like that. The only thing I said was that I wanted to dabble in free agency that I could opt out and become a free agent. I'm excited about that. I'm excited about the opportunity to hopefully go forward with Phil."
-- Carmelo Anthony, on hearing that Phil Jackson has him in the team's future plans.
8. Split Decision
9. Stat Check
Ricky Rubio notched his third career triple-double and second this season. He joins Kevin Garnett and Micheal Williams as the only Timberwolves in franchise history with multiple triple-doubles in a season. Rubio is the first NBA player with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists in a game since Rajon Rondo on Feb. 12, 2012.
10. TrueHoop TV