Phil Jackson once wrote that Kobe Bryant was uncoachable, and Wednesday morning that bygone critique was worth a good laugh or three.
Before the New York Knicks mercifully parted ways with him as president of basketball operations, Jackson had proved to be among the most uncoachable executives in league history.
He never did the legwork, the scouting, the recruiting, all the things that the two Jerrys -- Krause and West -- did for him in Chicago and Los Angeles. The league moved too fast for Jackson, and he never showed any desire to catch up. If you're thinking that Phil might have newfound respect for the jobs done by the two Jerrys, especially the late Krause, whom he regularly mocked while the Bulls were winning six titles, think again.
Jackson won a record 11 combined rings with the Bulls and Lakers, but he has been at the bottom of all league metrics measuring humility for a very long time.
Knicks owner James Dolan gave Jackson $60 million over five years in March 2014 to save the franchise and to end the public pounding he was taking from columnists and fans. The Knicks had won a grand total of one playoff series since 2000, and even though Jackson wasn't going to coach, this was one move the ever-bumbling Dolan couldn't be ripped for.
Phil was still Phil. He was still a link to the early '70s glory days of his mentor, Red Holzman. He was still a good bet to make the Knicks competitive and relevant before retiring to his favorite California beach.
When the losses kept piling up under Jackson on his way to a 90-171 record in New York, Dolan offered these same two words to those inquiring about the continued downward spiral: "Ask Phil." But Phil was rarely available to answer any questions about his bizarre mismanagement of the roster. He had pledged upon introduction to make the Knicks a more transparent operation, and that was one of many promises he wouldn't keep.
Jackson's detached arrogance never served him well, nor did his insistence on sacrificing simple win-loss mathematics at the altar of his cherished triangle algorithms. There's nothing wrong with the triangle offense, mind you; Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant did just fine with it. But there's something terribly wrong with forcing a system on guards and big men incapable of executing it, and with forcing a system on coaches who didn't love it any more than their players did.
Early on it became clear Jackson took this massive rebuilding job for all the wrong reasons. "If Dolan offered him $2 million a year or even $5 million, he wouldn't have taken it," Krause told ESPN.com in 2015. "But $12 million is overwhelming. Phil didn't take the job because he thought he had a playoff club. He took the job for the money."
He took the money and ran himself out of town. Jackson didn't just publicly humiliate one Knicks star at the end of his prime (Carmelo Anthony) and another at the beginning of his prime (Kristaps Porzingis), he also guaranteed that LeBron James would never consider playing full time in his favorite gym, Madison Square Garden, with an unnecessary and lazy-minded remark about James' business associates.
Jackson was supposed to recruit free agents, and instead he chased them away. One longtime league official said the other day that while he agreed with Jackson's desire to trade Anthony to start a true makeover, he couldn't understand why the Knicks president went out of his way to trash the forward at every turn.
"Phil didn't take the job because he thought he had a playoff club. He took the job for the money."Former Bulls GM Jerry Krause, in 2015
"Doesn't he understand that Carmelo still has a really big voice amongst the players in this league?" the official asked. "No, Carmelo isn't the same player he once was, but LeBron and Chris Paul and a lot of very important stars really like and respect him. So what do you think those guys are going to say when Phil tries to recruit them to New York?"
They don't have to worry about that anymore. Dolan dismissed his own promise to keep Jackson for the full five years and gave Phil the exit interview Porzingis didn't attend.
Truth is, Jackson began firing himself the day he didn't close the deal on Steve Kerr as his head coach. Derek Fisher was a disaster, and Jeff Hornacek was the very definition of an uninspiring hire. Jackson gave Anthony his no-trade clause, made the deals for Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and then tried and failed to pivot back to a youth movement.
"I think we know what we're doing," Jackson said on MSG last week. ESPN's Jay Williams reported that Jackson fell in and out of sleep while watching (or trying to watch) a draft prospect work out, and finally Dolan woke up.
"After careful thought and consideration," the owner said in a statement, "we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction."
Dolan then went on about Jackson's unmatched legacy as a coach. It should be noted that Phil built that legacy, in part, by doing exactly what he did for the past three seasons.
He killed the Knicks.