The New York Knicks have struggled to execute the triangle offense over the past three seasons, and some players have complained publicly and privately about the utility of the offense. But Hall of Fame center Shaquille O'Neal defended the triangle on Monday, suggesting that it hasn't worked in New York because of some of the players' stubbornness and bad habits.
"It works,'' O'Neal said of the triangle, speaking with reporters in Los Angeles after calling Monday's Knicks-Clippers game on TNT. "When you're a player, you're used to doing something one way, and you bring in a system, a lot of guys don't like to give up their habits. But the triangle, the ball can't stop. It can't stop."
O'Neal didn't name any Knicks specifically, but team president Phil Jackson said earlier this season that Carmelo Anthony could thrive in the offense but has a tendency to stop the ball at times. O'Neal credited the Knicks' younger reserves for running it well, indirectly suggesting that veterans like Anthony and point guard Derrick Rose have struggled to adapt to the offense because of previously established habits.
"If you look at how the [Knicks'] second team runs the triangle, guys who don't have a lot of experience in the game and a lot of habits, they ran a lot of it late in the fourth quarter and got a couple of backdoor plays,'' O'Neal said. "It definitely does work. Look at the guys, when Phil put this team together, I was liking it: [Kristaps] Porzingis, Carmelo, Rose, [Joakim] Noah. I said, 'OK, it's going to work if they embrace the triangle. I like it.' But again, the ball can never stop.''
Under first-year coach Jeff Hornacek, the Knicks de-emphasized the triangle earlier in the season but have run it more frequently since the All-Star break, according to the coach. Some veteran players have expressed frustration with Jackson's preferred offense privately, according to sources.
These players often point to the number of midrange shots the offense produces (the Knicks lead the league in midrange attempts, per NBA.com) and the tight spacing, which makes it difficult to drive. They also question the number of contested shots taken (New York ranks in the top 10 in contested 2-point field goals, per NBA.com).
O'Neal said the Lakers, who won five championships under Jackson, also didn't initially appreciate the triangle.
"Guys are stubborn -- it took us a while to break it, too,'' O'Neal said. "When we first started, we were doing terrible. I had to look at the mirror and say, 'OK, I was probably one of the main problems.' Because I like to get the ball and tell everyone to move out of the way and get to work, so I had to look at the mirror and say, 'Let me try it.' It became easier. I get it. [Guys] cutting, and it opened up for me and made it easier for me.''
Jackson won a combined 11 rings as a coach running the offense with the Chicago Bulls and Lakers. But some observers say that those championships had less to do with the offense and more to do with the talent on those teams (Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, O'Neal).
O'Neal pushed back against that assertion on Monday.
"I have three championships because of the triangle,'' O'Neal said. "You always hear people say, 'Of course the triangle works with Mike [Michael Jordan], Scottie [Pippen], Shaq and Kobe [Bryant],' which is true. But if you look at all our games, it was the others who propelled us to the next level."
Initially expected to make the playoffs this season, New York has wildly underperformed, carrying a 27-43 record into Wednesday's game in Utah.
Overall the Knicks are 76-158 in Jackson's three full seasons as team president. So how has Jackson dealt with the losing?
"He's not used to it,'' O'Neal said. "He's definitely taking a beating, definitely have to make changes this summer. He's a strong guy. You're not going to really hurt his feelings. Just another chapter and challenge in his life. When you're dealing with certain people, everybody has to be on the same page."
Information from ESPN's Ian Begley was used in this report.