Phil Jackson’s European smoke screen
New York Knicks fans spent most of the week leading up to the draft in a mad panic. Kristaps Porzingis trade gossip was unleashed from all corners of the NBA rumor mill, often paired with stories about Porzingis missing his end-of-season exit meeting — old news repackaged for maximum negative value — and KP’s supposed physical fragility.
This put Knicks fans at DEFCON 2 (DEFCON 1 would only be reached if Willy Hernangomez was also included in any deal). They spent days self flagellating different trade possibilities and talking themselves into best case scenarios.
Looking back, it’s now clear that Phil Jackson had no intention of trading Porzingis, even if he wanted to send him away. He spent the week pushing trade rumors and negative KP stories to distract fans from their plan to draft Frank Ntilikina and also to swat Porzingis on the nose and teach him to respect his Zen Master team president.
The smoke screen for draft night worked. The pick led to a mixed — but mostly positive — reaction from the MSG crowd, a stark contrast to the cacophony of boos that greeted their previous little-known European lottery pick, Kristaps Porzingis. Knicks fans were relieved to make it all the way to the draft without losing their unicorn and no longer had energy to object to the Knicks passing up on more immediately appealing and well-known college stars like Malik Monk.
It remains to be seen whether trashing your young franchise star, questioning his toughness and health, and dangling him in front of the Boston Celtics like a young bull in Jurassic Park works as a motivational technique. This might have worked for Phil Jackson as a coach, but as a team president he is no longer in the trenches with his players, earning their trust every single day. He may have some goodwill built up from his many NBA championships, but he’s still a suit from the front office, babbling about geometry.
Jackson was able to leave Knicks fans feeling mostly satisfied, but in a few years Porzingis will have some choices of his own. The difference between fleeing town and resigning with the Knicks might depend on whether Phil Jackson is still in their front office.