GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Knicks president Phil Jackson sees a troubling characteristic developing in his team.
"It's about a loser's mentality," Jackson said on Monday. "It's not about the skill or the talent level."
At 4-18, Jackson's Knicks are off to the worst 22-game start in the 69-year history of the franchise. One of their biggest issues of late is a failure to execute late in close games.
Seven of New York's past eight losses have been by seven points or fewer. In their past five losses, the Knicks have been within one score of the opposition with less than five minutes to play.
"Obviously, we're disappointed," said Jackson, who has won a record 11 NBA championships as a head coach. "... I think guys understand what we're trying to do. Hopefully, they're getting to be more compliant. There's some resistance to discipline and order and culture change and things like that. I will call it a crucible for what we're going through here. The process, maybe the heat, is going to refine some of the stuff so that we come out and be a pretty good team after all is said and done."
Jackson said before the season that he thought the Knicks could contend for the playoffs. They don't look like a playoff contender through 22 games, though.
The Knicks enter play Tuesday with the same number of losses as the Philadelphia 76ers, a team at the center of speculation of losing games intentionally to be in line for a high draft pick.
Jackson, who agreed to a five-year, $60 million contract to serve as president this past March, sees progress. He pointed on Monday to the Knicks' recent close losses as evidence -- the team has lost its past five games by an average of four points.
"[They] have all been games that I felt we played competitively and had opportunities to win," Jackson said. "... I like the competitive nature. I think right now we have a loser's mentality because we're not finishing games, so we have to break through that zone and get to that point."
Jackson also addressed the possibility of the front office making an in-season trade to improve the roster. He said he will not make a move that jeopardizes the Knicks' long-term financial flexibility. New York is expected to have significant salary cap space this summer and hopes to woo big-name free agents.
"I'm not going to make movement for movement's sake. There is sometimes addition by subtraction but I don't see anybody that doesn't want to be part of this organization, doesn't want to play with his teammates, doesn't want to learn," he said. "... What we have to do is protect our future. ... If we evaluate a player and see he's going to be a long-term player who is going to fit in our organization, we'll do that."
Asked if he's considered the benefits of losing this season to improve the team's lottery position for this June's draft, Jackson said he wasn't "thinking in those terms."
He did acknowledge that all of the Knicks' losing may impact the way free agents view New York as a potential destination.
"I'm not happy about that," he said. "We have players that are part of our long term that must consistently perform at a level in this system of offense to demonstrate that they're progressing and what the advantages are to what we're doing."
Finally, Jackson said that he was upset that the team hasn't had Andrea Bargnani on the court. Bargnani has been out since the team's second preseason game with hamstring and calf injuries.
"We're so disappointed in Andrea's condition. He's so disappointed. He's expressed to me this has never happened to him as far as strained hamstring, calf, whatever it is," Jackson said. "... The opportunity is still there for him to step up and help us out. ... But, he has to know his own body and feel comfortable with how he can perform."