NEW YORK -- The eighth wonder of the world, the triangle offense, was hopelessly overmatched on opening night in Madison Square Garden, leaving the New York Knicks looking perplexed and indifferent enough to inspire this question:
Who put this team together, anyway, Phil Jackson or John Idzik?
"Not ready for showtime, were we guys?" Jackson told a small group of reporters as he headed for the idling black SUV that would get him out of there.
The Chicago Bulls have a ton of talent and a great veteran coach in Tom Thibodeau, and Wednesday night they exposed a cold, hard fact about the metaphysical powers of Jackson's cherished system.
The triangle is much more effective when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are running it, and when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal are running it, than when Carmelo Anthony and the 2014-15 Knicks are running it.
"They did a great job of getting in the passing lanes," Anthony said of the Bulls, "kind of taking away all options out there. ... As far as the system, it's hard to break out of it without it being so obvious. I'm not too concerned about myself. I know I'll figure it out."
He didn't swear the same about his teammates. Done with a 14-point performance that was quieter than a church at midnight, Anthony spoke almost longingly of the toughness and passion of Thibodeau's Bulls, the team he nearly joined in free agency last summer.
"Their game plan was to not let me see daylight," Anthony said, "and I thought they did a pretty good job of just denying and corralling and sending two, three guys over when I touched the ball."
For good reason. As the NBA's leading defensive coach, Thibodeau understood that Anthony was the only Knick among the Samuel Dalemberts and Shane Larkins and Quincy Acys and Jason Smiths who could beat him.
Somewhere LeBron James, Thursday night's opponent in Cleveland, was allowing himself a laugh or three over this. The Knicks were so inept in executing the system Jackson rode to his record 11 titles in Chicago and Los Angeles, they reminded of a group of middle schoolers playing their first game of dodge ball in gym class.
I know, I know, this 104-80 rout represents only the first game of 82, and Derek Fisher is a rookie coach, and two of the Knicks' better players, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon, didn't suit up. But this was a disgraceful showing regardless.
The unfamiliarity with the triangle, and the parade of new faces on the roster do not explain the lack of intensity and purpose on the defensive end. Sitting in the Garden stands, Jackson heard the fans howling in the third quarter with the Bulls up 20. Soon enough, there was so little life in the building that it felt like a varsity-jayvee scrimmage, with the Bulls assuming the roles of the upperclassmen.
"We've got to be better at bringing energy," Anthony said. "You can't teach that. You can't teach energy and effort."
J.R. Smith advanced the same theme, acknowledging that his Knicks quit competing late in the game and "put our heads down and tucked our tails."
Fisher has to answer for how the Knicks could possibly lack desire in their opener. So does Jackson. On his way out of the building, the team president was asked if he expected this kind of result on opening night.
"Sure did," he said.
No, after a full training camp and seven preseason games it shouldn't have been quite this brutal. Pau Gasol, the recruit the Bulls landed after Anthony said no, spoke of the learning curve involved with the triangle he ran with Jackson's Lakers, saying that the Knicks "have to be patient" and that they have to "believe in it and buy in and put in a lot of reps every single day."
Of course, Gasol was in a charitable mood; he'd just finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes in his own debut.
Here's the bottom line: Talent trumps the triangle eight days a week. Jackson has to find worthy players for Anthony, and all that salary-cap space he has to play with in July might not be all it's cracked up to be.
Who's Phil going to get with that money, anyway? Kevin Love, once a 2015 free agent-to-be, has already committed the rest of his prime to LeBron James in Cleveland.
LaMarcus Aldridge? He's already verbally pledged his long-term allegiance to Portland. Ditto for Marc Gasol in Memphis. If they don't change their minds between now and next summer, Jackson could spend his available cash on Rajon Rondo.
Only the Knicks aren't toppling LeBron's Cavs with Melo and Rondo as franchise centerpieces. Of course, if Jackson played his salary-cap cards right, he could ask Anthony and the fans for one more year of patience, stuff his money under his mattress, and put the full-court press on Kevin Durant in 2016.
Either way, Anthony probably made the right call in returning to New York. He couldn't possibly gamble on Kobe Bryant's aging legs in Los Angeles, and as much as he fell hard for Thibodeau on his recruiting visit in July, betting on Derrick Rose remaining healthy would've been a dicey risk-reward proposition.
Anthony didn't have a sure-thing alternative, so he took the extra millions the system allowed to keep his family home in the big city, and to keep alive the possibility that he could someday be to New York basketball what Mark Messier is to New York hockey.
Messier won five Stanley Cups in Edmonton, and yet he'll forever be remembered for the drought-busting title he won for the Rangers in 1994. Someone is going to end the Knicks' biblical drought too, even if it felt Wednesday night like that someone might come along in the 22nd century.
By contract, Anthony is eligible to be that someone for the next five years. Jackson is the one who has to make it happen. If he can't land that second superstar, he'll need to do what Dallas did in 2011 -- surround one superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, with a perfect cast of intelligent, resourceful achievers.
That cast was nowhere to be found in this ungodly opener. One longtime NBA figure in attendance said he couldn't get over how weak the Knicks were on defense and on the bench, and suggested with a smile that they should play the Lakers in a best-of-82 to determine the league's worst team.
Asked for a timeline for improvement as he approached his getaway car, Jackson responded, "I can't say how long it's going to take."
It's going to take as long as the team president finds better players than the ones he put in the home whites Wednesday night.
Before the losers boarded their plane for Cleveland and a date with its prodigal son, the Chicago Bulls delivered this basic geometry lesson with full force:
The triangle will be only as good or as bad as the New York Knicks running it.