Phil Jackson will have the final say in all New York Knicks’ basketball decisions as James Dolan “willingly and gratefully” ceded some control of the organization.
Jackson, who was a Knick for the team’s only two championships and won a record 11 more titles as a coach, today was named the Knicks president by Dolan, the executive chairman of Madison Square Garden Co. (MSG), which owns the franchise. Jackson’s contract is for five years. Steve Mills, who returned to the club in September as its president and general manager, will keep the title of GM.
Jackson, 68, pledged his support for building the Knicks around All-Star Carmelo Anthony and that he’ll consider coach Mike Woodson’s future after the season. He’ll also “take that load off” Dolan from running a team that has seen several management changes, a culture of secrecy and an inability to succeed in the playoffs. Jackson pledged to have “an open attitude toward speaking,” distancing himself from Dolan’s leadership style.
“Jim knew that I wasn’t going to come if this didn’t happen,” Jackson said.
Dolan, taking questions during the news conference, said he was “by no means an expert in basketball,” and that he looks forward to supporting Jackson and Mills as they rebuild the franchise.
“I am a fan, but my expertise lies in managing companies and businesses,” Dolan said. “I think I’m a little out of my element when it comes to the team. I found myself in a position where I needed to be more a part of the decision-making for awhile. It wasn’t necessarily something that I wanted to do.”
The hiring of Jackson came less than three weeks after Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the Knicks and the National Hockey League’s Rangers, promoted Tad Smith to president and chief executive officer after Hank Ratner stepped down.
Led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Jackson won six championships in Chicago while coaching the Bulls from 1989-98. He then joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999 and won five more titles before resigning in 2011.
Having had five surgeries in recent years, Jackson said he isn’t a candidate to become a coach again, while Dolan said the two quickly discussed that possibility before “quickly moving on.”
As for whether the Knicks will resemble the Bulls’ and Lakers’ squads that Jackson ran, he said he plans to install a system such as the triangle offense that he employed as a coach.
“I would educate anybody that wants to know the nuances of the triangle,” Jackson said. “It’s not an insistence, but I do like to have a system. I do like to have a logical method of playing basketball.”
His most pressing concerns include seeing to it that seven-time All-Star Anthony, who can become a free agent this summer, returns to the Knicks.
“I have no problems with committing to say Carmelo is in the future plans,” Jackson said. “I was on record a year ago that Carmelo, as great a player as he is, still has another level he can go to. Together, with the team we create, he can get there.”
Jackson also will have to decide whether Woodson will return. The coach said three days ago that he feels that he has nothing to prove to Jackson over the final month of the season.
“Mike has shown that he’s a very good basketball coach,” Jackson said. “He’s had a difficult season. He’s turned this team into a contender for the playoffs. Hopefully, we will make that happen, and we will have discussions at the end of the season.”
Jackson was selected by the Knicks with the 17th pick of the 1967 NBA draft. He was inactive during the 1969-70 season following spinal fusion surgery as the Knicks, with future Hall of Famers Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier and Dave DeBusschere, beat the Los Lakers in a seven-game championship series.
The Knicks captured another title in 1973, again beating the Lakers, as Jackson averaged 8.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in 17 playoff games. That squad also included future Hall of Famers Earl Monroe and Jerry Lucas.
Today, banners that read “Welcome Home Phil” were hung in Madison Square Garden, and the video screen on Seventh Avenue showed Jackson highlights.
The Knicks are outside the playoffs now, though playing their best basketball of the season. After winning six straight games, they’re 27-40 and four games behind the Atlanta Hawks (30-35) for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with 15 games remaining.
The Knicks lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season after exiting during the first round of the playoffs the two previous campaigns. They missed the postseason eight of nine years between 2002 and 2010.
“We will not raise ticket prices for next year,” Dolan said, pointing to the team’s struggles this season. “Instead, we’ll have a great year next year at the same price and hopefully everybody will find that that product is more valuable, and probably after that we’ll raise ticket prices.”
Single-game Knicks tickets, with fees, range from $74.55 to $3,812.85. The average price is $129.38, the most among the NBA’s 30 franchises, according to Chicago-based Team Marketing Report.
In 2013, MSG completed a three-year privately financed $1 billion renovation of the company’s namesake Manhattan arena.
Though his fiancee is Los Angeles Lakers President Jeanie Buss and most of his family is in California, Jackson said he plans to move back to New York, where he began his professional career.
“Moving to New York is a big challenge to me because last week it was 80 degrees in LA,’ Jackson said. ‘‘But there’s an energy here that I always remember.”
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