We all know that Phil Jackson would need a third hand to wear all of his championship rings at once and that, at age 69, he is supposed to be the closest thing to a franchise player the New York Knicks have had in a very long time, Carmelo Anthony included.
We all know that Jackson could have kept living a comfy consultant's life on a beach in California and that he didn't need the money offered him to rebuild a hopelessly lost franchise in a cold and unforgiving market. But in the end, the moment the former coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers did accept $60 million of James Dolan's money was the moment Jackson accepted full responsibility for the state of Dolan's team.
"I think, right now, we have a loser's mentality," Jackson told reporters Monday, "because we're not finishing games."
Those aren't Dolan's 4-18 Knicks with the loser's mentality. Those are Jackson's 4-18 Knicks with the loser's mentality and the potential to inflict unnecessary damage on what had been a near-perfect NBA career.
As a rookie team president marrying into a dysfunctional corporate family, Jackson knew he was taking a high-stakes gamble here. He knew the Knicks owner and amateur-hour musician could put down his guitar at any moment and, without notice, that James Dolan could go back to thinking he was James Naismith.
But there's been little evidence of much meddling to date, and here's the truth: Dolan paid Jackson superstar money, in part, so the executive would also take the blame if the new program unraveled like all the old programs did. So Jackson has to be looking around now and wondering if this was all some big mistake, wondering if he has any chance over the next five seasons to make it out of New York alive.
Jackson said in September the Knicks under his handpicked coach, Derek Fisher, would be a playoff team. Those Knicks start a three-game road trip in New Orleans on Tuesday with the same ungodly number of losses as the Philadelphia 76ers own.
Loss No. 18 unfolded in the presence of Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, who is among the prime free agents scheduled to be available in July, when the Knicks will have cap space to burn. Aldridge plays for a 16-4 team in the Western Conference, as does another Knicks target in the class of 2015, Marc Gasol of Memphis.
Does anyone really believe this serial losing won't compel free agents to stay far, far away?
"Yeah, and I'm not happy about that," Jackson conceded.
He shouldn't be happy with his own performance, of course, even if he inherited the likes of J.R. Smith. Jackson put seven new faces on this roster. He insisted the Knicks learn the triangle, and once Steve Kerr jilted him in favor of Golden State (the league's best team at 18-2), he insisted that Fisher be the one who taught them.
Fisher deserves a fair-and-square chance to succeed or fail here, but to date, his end-game stumblings and bumblings have made Jason Kidd's first couple of months with Brooklyn last season look like masterpiece theater. In the process, Fisher has also come across as no less afraid of his Garden shadow than his predecessor, Mike Woodson.
That's a bad sign. So is the judgment Jackson made in his first trade of a significant figure, Tyson Chandler, who is playing lights-out for Dallas and has an efficiency rating nearly the equal of LeBron James'.
As much as Jackson needed to get rid of Raymond Felton and upgrade the point guard position, he should've realized that Chandler would be ultra-motivated in the final season of his contract and that the center's history of being a worker and a winner trumped the temporary lack of respect he showed last season for Woodson, who didn't do much to earn that respect, anyway.
Chandler could've made the Knicks somewhat respectable for the free agents-to-be now studying them, and then Jackson could've let him walk off the books (or traded him for a better package in February). Instead the team president has left Anthony to face the challenge of adjusting to selfless triangle principles while being surrounded by a bunch of guys who can't play.
"What I'd like to see him do," Jackson said of Anthony, "is I'd like to see him flesh out the rest of his game."
Frankly, Melo would like to see the same from Phil, too.
"There's some resistance to discipline and order and culture change and things like that," Jackson said of his players. But is Jackson doing enough to resist the Garden/Dolan culture he swore he'd change? He's been made available twice to the news media since the start of the season (not counting his "Not ready for showtime, were we guys?" remark on opening night en route to his getaway car), and neither time did the Knicks give an industry-standard heads-up to reporters and columnists that Jackson would speak.
Fans don't, and shouldn't, care about the Garden's well-earned standing as the most hostile media work environment in sports (hey, that's our problem). But it is relevant here because Jackson was supposed to be a game-changer, the one who would clue in the fans (through the media) and sell the evil empire on the virtues of glasnost, and so far, he's been just another Garden suit afraid of who knows what.
Maybe Jackson just needs a little time to adjust to his new world; we'll find out soon enough. Meanwhile, he said Monday that the Knicks won't tank games for a better draft pick, that they won't be a much different team if Andrea Bargnani ever returns and that he doesn't feel any desire to return to coaching.
"I did end up having the urge to yell during the course of the game," Jackson conceded.
Knicks fans know how you feel, Phil. Times a thousand.
Jackson also maintained he's focusing more on small victories on the practice floor than he is on record over the first 22 games, the worst start in franchise history.
"I'm not carrying that type of a load," he said.
Oh yes, he is. Whether he likes it or not, Phil Jackson is very much a 4-18 team president. He took the money, so now it's on him to clean the mess.