GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Pope Francis took over Madison Square Garden on Friday night, celebrating Mass with a crowd 20,000 strong.
Hours earlier, Phil Jackson was asked if he had any special requests for the Pope.
"Bless the Garden?" Jackson light-heartedly mused.
The Zen Master was joking -- we think. But the designated savior of the New York Knicks could use some divine help in accomplishing what would amount to a miracle -- turning the Knicks into a championship contender.
On Friday, Jackson addressed the media on the eve before Derek Fisher begins his second training camp. And this year, the Knicks president smartly avoided repeating an innocent mistake he made last year at this time.
"I want to stay away from expectations," Jackson said when asked for his thoughts on what this Knicks team can do this season. "It is such a long season."
Jackson felt that the Knicks could be a playoff team last season. It was an honest mistake by the newbie team president. Seventeen wins and a gazillion roster moves later, the Knicks enter 2015-'16 with more complementary pieces. But Jackson still doesn't have what he was missing when he first took over the job -- enough difference-making help around Carmelo Anthony to be a serious contender.
The Knicks did what they could this past free agency. They went and got role players they deemed worth the money in an exploding financial landscape with the cap set to rise. The Knicks didn't overspend by giving max money to a second-fiddle type of player.
But the Knicks will need a lot to go right for them to get perhaps 40 to 42 wins this season. Start with Anthony, who first has to return healthy from knee surgery and be the force that he was when healthy and do so in the triangle.
Will Kristaps Porzingis be the lottery talent the Knicks think he can be and surprise by contributing more quickly than expected? Can Jerian Grant not just be better than Tim Hardaway Jr. was but be a more dynamic player than father Harvey and Uncle Horace?
Can Jose Calderon and Arron Afflalo show they still have plenty left in the tank? Will the triangle suddenly unearth the potential that other teams could not draw out of Derrick Williams and Kevin Seraphin? And will other role players like Kyle O'Quinn and Sasha Vujacic be pleasant surprises and thrive in the system?
On top of this all, Fisher has to improve in Year 2 and be the coach Phil thinks he is and make this all work and exceed expectations this season before Jackson gets another crack at free agency and attempting to lure a difference-making talent.
Even if the Knicks somehow make the playoffs this season, they still won't be a contender. They lack the firepower to threaten LeBron James and the Cavs, and they don't even have the young, budding talents that, say, a Washington or Milwaukee possesses.
That is why we have to wait until next summer to see if Jackson can lure a talent who can help Melo stare LeBron and his friends in the eyes rather than constantly look up and try to reach King James' Eastern Conference throne.
When asked if we have to wait to see what the Knicks look like after next summer's free agency to see Jackson's rebuild vision come closer to fruition, the Zen Master deftly sidestepped that notion.
"It's too much between then and now -- or now and then -- that goes along," Jackson said. "There's just a whole season to go through. Teams develop rapidly. I've seen multiple teams in the NBA over the years [that] had this chemistry that just brings it together. That's what we're looking for, to find guys that have the chemistry that activates them as players and their team effort together.
"So we're not going to hold anything out about this year, next year," Jackson continued. "We're going to continue to try to bring the best talent here to Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks. So that kind of goes unstated."
Until he is able to make a franchise-altering trade or give Anthony a Super Friend or two of his own next summer, Jackson will do what he can. He said he will be more involved at Fisher's request, which certainly can only help.
But short of Phil returning to coaching and having the best player in his prime on his team, the Knicks will be a prayer away from reaching Jackson's goal of being a championship team this season.
Phil certainly can use a holy helping hand.