Phil Jackson had a chance to trade for Jae Crowder in 2014 and opted instead to acquire a second-round pick. Jackson calls this decision, which was part of the deal that sent Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas, his biggest mistake as Knicks team president.
Jackson made his remarks after the season in an interview with Charley Rosen, which was published Friday by Today's Fastbreak:
Here is Jackson's full quote from the interview:
"I don't consider hiring Fish [Derek Fisher] a mistake because he worked hard and got the guys to stay as positive as possible while the losses piled up. I think the biggest mistake I made was actually this. ... One of the first deals I engineered when I came back to New York was to trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, plus a second-round pick that the Mavs owed to the Celtics.
"In talking with Boston, I was given the option of taking that pick or else taking Jae Crowder. I liked Crowder but I thought he wouldn't get much of a chance to play behind Carmelo [Anthony], so I took the pick, which turned out to be Cleanthony Early. While Cleanthony has missed lots of time in the past two seasons with us, he still has the potential to be a valuable player. Even so, I should have taken Crowder.
"Anyway, for all of us, making mistakes are part of the learning process. ... We won 15 more games this season than we did last season, something that's not easy to do in the NBA. I'd be more than happy if we could make the same jump next season."
A few things to unpack here: Dallas traded Crowder to Boston in December 2014, and he signed a five-year, $35 million contract in the summer of 2015 to remain with the Celtics. That's one of the more valuable contracts in the NBA at the moment. The salary cap spike has led to a massive increase in contract values for free agents, and getting a versatile player like Crowder for $7 million a year is very team friendly.
Assuming the Knicks acquired Crowder in the 2014 trade and signed him to the same contract as Boston, he would be an extremely valuable piece. Adding Crowder -- who averaged 14.2 points and 5.1 rebounds last season -- also would have changed the complexion of the Chandler/Felton trade; none of the players the Knicks acquired in the deal is currently on the roster.
So Jackson's decision here hurts the Knicks, though I appreciate his candor. He knows he has given Knicks fans -- and his critics -- another reason to question his credentials as an executive. But he owns up to the mistake.
I disagree with Jackson when he says hiring Fisher wasn't a mistake. I don't think he should have fired Fisher, but if the coach you hand-picked to lead your franchise lasts less than two seasons on the job, then you've made a mistake.
There are a few other things worth noting from Jackson's interview published Friday, and some of the previous interviews conducted by Rosen:
Season expectations: Jackson said in an interview published last week that his goal for the 2015-16 season was to win 35 games. That makes sense for a team that's rebuilding, but it's fair to wonder how that goal was received by Anthony, who surely wanted to make the playoffs. Nonetheless, Jackson said in the interview published Friday that he'd be "more than happy" with a 47-win season in 2016-17, which is something all his players would probably sign up for.
Triangle issues: Jackson observed that the Knicks were having issues with the triangle offense throughout the 2015-16 season.
"The guys hadn't developed an instinctive feel for the triangle, so they were cautious, played by rote, and our offense became predictable. When in doubt, they too often resorted to individual play. All of this created lots of media criticism of the triangle offense itself," he said.
"But, really, when you come down to it, the triangle is just a way to format basic basketball. Lots of teams run many aspects of the triangle, with San Antonio being the most successful example. What we lacked that, say, the Spurs had, were guards who could penetrate and force defenses to make the kinds of adjustments that left other players open. That's one reason why we drafted Jerian Grant."
This interview was conducted shortly after the season. The Knicks subsequently traded Grant in a package that yielded Chicago's Derrick Rose. In Rose, the Knicks now have a guard who can penetrate and force defenses to adjust. It will be interesting to see how Rose changes New York's offense in the coming season.
Jackson also pointed out that the Knicks failed to execute the triangle offense's advanced options as the season progressed, putting some of the blame on Fisher:
"When you play teams multiple times, you have to keep adding elements to both your offense and your defense. Yet we never did evolve. For example, we were never able to develop the recognition to properly execute many of the basic automatic options that make the triangle effective. So we couldn't make the appropriate counters when defenses pressured the wings and we wound up turning the ball over and giving up easy run-out scores. Plus, the second or third times we played teams, our game plans remained somewhat elementary while theirs had progressed.
"Not to blame it all on Fish, though. Because we had so few holdover players from last season and so many new players this season, it was understandable why our overall development and cohesion was a slower process than we had hoped."
The Knicks will have at least eight new players on the 2016-17 roster. Will this group face the same challenges with the offense that previous groups have? Worth noting: Assistant coach Kurt Rambis has said that it takes about a full season for teams to get comfortable running the triangle.
Also worth noting: New head coach Jeff Hornacek plans to tweak the offense. Will his adjustments make the offense easier for first-year players to learn? That could be a key factor to New York's season.