The video of the young Knick fan crying and booing at the NBA Draft last night is perfect. It’s short and visceral and hysterical, perfect for going viral. It’s also completely accurate of how most New York hoops fans feel. An 8-year-old representing middle-aged men longing for Clyde, tortured thirty-somethings in their Oakley jerseys, cynical twenty-somethings still cursing Isiah.
But it also symbolizes something a little deeper. Something a little more unspoken. That the faith and trust in the Zen Master has officially faded away into the skyline like the steam from a hot dog cart outside the Garden. “In Phil We Trust” has turned into “In Phil We Doubt.”
Because while Kristaps Porzingis might one day be the best player in the draft, there’s no way to logically believe Phil knows what he’s doing. He’s burned all of his good faith and leeway in just 15 months on the job.
None other than Yahoo! basketball whisperer Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted, “I think Porzingis will be a star in New York. More elite GM’s believe in his talent than any other player in the draft.” Which would normally swing a huge voting block of Knicks fans toward the pick of the Latvian big man. But you have to take into account what Big Apple fans have already witnessed.
Phil’s first big splash was to re-sign Carmelo Anthony for $125 million over the next five years, which means he’s largely unmovable until he’s 34 years old. Melo’s proven unable to lift lesser teammates (like his fellow ’03 draftee LeBron) or single-handedly dominate important postseason games (like his fellow ’03 draftee Dwyane Wade). He also decided instead of shutting it down to have mandatory knee surgery, he would make his media blitz at All-Star weekend, then play in the meaningless exhibition. There were sponsors to be glad-handed, a brand to be expanded. And this is who Phil yolked the franchise’s wagon to.
But one could rationalize that move. Melo is undeniably a dangerous scorer, and to have lost him meant another enormous void to fill. Then Phil started making other head-scratching moves, though. Derek Fisher was named as a rookie head coach, and promptly looked like someone searching for Newark’s Delta terminal in the middle of Central Park. Totally, completely perplexed and lost.
Phil dealt one of the franchises only dependable pieces (and locker room leader) Tyson Chandler to Dallas for Jose Calderon. Chandler had a career renaissance with the Mavericks (funny how that always seems to happen to former Knicks) and Calderon became a walking (limping) punchline, tallying numbers well below his career averages in every major category (funny how that always seems to happen to new Knicks).
The Master whipped up another bowl of Zen Chowder when he essentially gave away Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to Cleveland. Like dumping a bag of unwanted clothes in the Salvation Army bin, Phil donated to the Cavs Foundation, and the duo ended up in the NBA Finals.
Phil wasn’t present at the draft lottery, when the hoops gods struck one more bolt of lightning into the hearts of Knicks fans, delivering the 4th pick, instead of 1-2-3 in a draft with (wait for it) three no-brainer studs. Was Jackson too lazy or apathetic to show? Probably not. But was it beneath him? Probably so. Which when you’re running the Knicks you better get over quickly. Because you’ll find yourself in the lottery more often than not. The homeless guy can’t demand a Starbucks gift card when you hand him a buck.
There’s always been a sinking feeling around the NBA that Phil has been an opportunist, lurking in the shadows until the position was perfect. Then taking over and basking in the glory. Doug Collins did most of the heavy lifting in Chicago with a young Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen. Phil took over a team that had a burgeoning superstar (and soon to be the greatest player ever), a terrific nucleus, and had already been to the East Finals. He coached the Bulls to six rings.
The moment Michael retired, Phil headed for the beach. Tim Floyd took over the flaming wreck, and lost 60 games a season. Phil’s got timing down pat. In ’99, Jackson took over the Lakers, who had a burgeoning superstar in Kobe (and soon to be one of the greatest players ever), the most dominant big man in the game (Shaq), a terrific nucleus, and had lost in the conference finals two years earlier. Sound familiar? He coached the Lakers to five rings.
Phil obviously has coaching acumen, basketball smarts, and solid leadership skills. You don’t accomplish all he has as a player and coach without them. Maybe Porzingis becomes a star, Jerian Grant is a perfect complimentary piece, and the Knicks are able to lure Marc Gasol to the Big Apple with huge free agent dollars. But forgive that whimpering kid in the Knicks jersey last night. The future doesn’t look so bright through those blue sunglasses.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.