Our latest soap-operatic tale from Madison Square Garden begins with two other NBA franchises which are very experienced at failing to get out of their own way.
The Sacramento Kings got blown out by the Brooklyn Nets Friday night, one dysfunctional organization losing to another. The Kings’ higher-ups were so incensed with that defeat that they considered firing coach George Karl — and could very well pull the trigger after a no-defense loss on Sunday to the surging Boston Celtics.
The Kings’ executives anger after the loss to the Nets on Friday was richly striking, if only for the fact that the Nets abruptly fired THEIR coach in the middle of this season… almost exactly a month ago, to be more specific. When Brooklyn cut bait with Lionel Hollins, it was clear that the Nets really never trusted Hollins to be their long-term leader. Any semblance of a plan disappeared into the mists of the Barclays Center, where no one had a vision or was willing to stick to it (or, most likely, both).
Once again, we are brought to that same pattern in New York, where the Knicks and Phil Jackson have manifestly shown that they’re not willing to stick to a plan and trust it.
Derek Fisher, midway through his second season as an NBA head coach, was on pace to create an improvement of at least 10 games from his first season, if not 15. Fisher’s record should be fairly viewed — partly as the product of Carmelo Anthony’s injury woes, but also the product of Fisher’s own adjustment process to the challenge of coaching. Conspicuously flawed but someone who was learning on the job and created noticeable progress, Fisher’s grade as the coach of the Knicks could only be one thing: incomplete. Any sensible teacher or professor would have handed out that grade on a report card.
So, what should any professional sports organization do when it encounters such a situation? Simple — let the coach figure out how to do his job, and wait until it’s patently clear that he can or can’t succeed. If it’s felt that such a coach is definitely your man for the future, secure him and support him. If it’s clear that he’s the wrong man for the job, fire him.
When a coach exists between those two polarities, however, he deserves a chance to demonstrate (or fall short of) clear competence. The organization should want to let events play out, too, for a very simple reason: It invested time, prestige and money in the hiring of said coach. Prematurely terminating a head coach’s tenure — before it is fully and conclusively known that said coach is the wrong man for the future — wastes everyone’s time. It is one of the most regularly galling tendencies of bad sports organizations.
The Knicks — like the ax-wielding Nets and the (perhaps) soon-to-fire-their-own-coach Kings — are a bad sports organization.
If Fisher was fired, one can only surmise (without too much effort) that Phil Jackson expected a lot more from this roster. However, how could one look at this roster and expect it to be a mid-level playoff team (perhaps a No. 5 seed) in the East? This should have been seen as a rebuilding year, a building block toward a summer in which the Knicks could have made smart acquisitions to enhance their product and take a measured step upward in the East.
Firing Fisher now should send a chilling message to prospective coaches: You’re going to be on a very short leash, even with suspect talent and an odd collection of players without imposing levels of skill at most positions. There’s Melo, and there’s Kristaps Porzingis, but who else? Is there another player who makes players fear the Knicks? With Melo hurt and Porzingis still new to the NBA (he’ll get better in the course of time), this season shouldn’t be freighted with unreasonable expectations.
Yet, Phil obviously possesses those expectations.
This is not GOINK to end well, is it?
Just exactly what is the plan at MSG right now? The most sensible move — the reason to pull the trigger on firing Derek Fisher — is to land a name coach, which would be Tom Thibodeau. However, if you’re Thibs, why would you want to step into this mess? After all, what attractive free agents would want to join the Knicks in light of this move? Projecting such instability (the perception is powerful regardless of whether the reality exists) can’t make the league’s best players feel comfortable about choosing New York as their new home.
If Thibodeau, then, sees that elite players aren’t likely to relocate to James Dolan’s house of horrors, why would he want to make the jump?
The Knicks face a multi-pronged problem. First, they have made themselves less attractive to high-end players. Second, even if they do pursue and land Thibodeau, what is the coherent, streamlined strategy to get the most out of the roster and not run Melo into the ground? Third, even if they bring in Thibs, are they going to give him time to remake the organization into his image.
Knicks fans have to be goink crazy right now.
The fans of the Brooklyn Nets, not too far away, would love to laugh at the Knicks’ predicament… if only it wasn’t their own as well.