On Monday, Phil Jackson's fiancée and Los Angeles Lakers executive Jeanie Buss shot down the notion that the Zen Master was planning on joining her in Los Angeles. "For him," she said, "it really satisfies the full circle of his basketball career—starting as a Knicks player and now going back to New York.''
It's easy to believe her. Nobody should doubt Jackson's commitment to the New York Knicks, the franchise that drafted and nurtured him as a player. He constantly cites legendary Knicks coach Red Holzman as one of his biggest influences, and still pals around with Bill Bradley and other former teammates whose jerseys hang in Madison Square Garden's rafters. The man is a Knick at heart. If you've paid any attention to the Knicks, or to the NBA, you know that this is perhaps not so much a compliment as a double-edged sword. To be a Knick is to act like a Knick, and no executive should ever act like a Knick.
Jackson's just-completed blockbuster, in which the team acquired former MVP Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, and a 2017 second-round pick for Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon, and Jerian Grant, is a deeply Knicks move that reflects a profoundly Knicks mindset. It checks off most of the boxes of a classic Knicks trade:
- Did New York give up the youngest player in the deal? Yes, in 2015 first-round pick Jerian Grant.
- Did New York give up the most roster depth? Yes.
- Did New York give up a solid player on a reasonable contract, who was derided by many fans for not being a star? Yes: Robin Lopez.
- Did New York acquire the biggest name? The player most recognized by casual fans? Oh hell yeah.
- Is said player better known recently for injuries than for performance? You already know the answer.
Rose is the undeniable centerpiece of this trade, and as such joins Antonio McDyess, Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry, Steve Francis, Carmelo Anthony, and Andrea Bargnani in the brotherhood of slightly damaged luxury athletes at the center of a major Knicks trade. The question now is whether Rose will give the Knicks the same boost as Melo, a legitimately great player who has watched the team crumble around him since their 54-win 2012-13 season, or whether will he be more like, well, everybody else on that list.
The numbers aren't encouraging. Rose finished dead last among 85 qualifying point guards in real plus-minus in 2015-16. Sure, you may argue, that's a NERD STAT, cooked up in a science lab by some lame poindexter who never PLAYED THE GAME. But also, come on: dead last? That's concerning.
There's no serious argument to be made that Rose was a more productive player than Robin Lopez last season. The less-heralded Lopez twin started all 82 games for New York, averaging a tidy 10.3 points on 53.9 percent shooting while helping to relieve rookie Kristaps Porzingis of much of his defensive load. When the trio of Lopez, Porzingis, and Anthony were on the court, the Knicks outscored opponents by 0.6 points per 100 possessions over 1,233 total minutes—which is pretty damn remarkable given the fact that the Knicks finished at -3.1 points per 100 possessions overall.
Lopez's rebounding numbers don't immediately jump out at you, but his ability to box out was a key to New York's success on the glass.
Knicks got 52% of available rebounds when Lopez was on the court. 47.7% when he was on the bench.
— Sean Highkin (@highkin)June 23, 2016
In fact, going by Basketball-Reference's win shares statistic, Rose was arguably the least valuable player included in this deal:
One area in which the Knicks come out ahead is near-term upside. Grant showed some promise in the final month of his rookie season, but he'll never approach the heights Rose reached in 2010-11. And there were some encouraging signs last season that Rose might finally be returning to form. He averaged 17.4 points per game after the All-Star break, and his true shooting percentage jumped from .460 to .521. Maybe he is rounding into form physically after all of those knee surgeries. Maybe his 2015-16 season would have been far better if he hadn't fractured an orbital bone during preseason; most things, after all, are better without a broken eye socket. Maybe all Rose really needs is to get away from the pressure and expectations that came with being a homegrown son of Chicago who was preordained to lead the Bulls to a title.
That, friends, is a whole lot of maybes. And what would the Knicks earn in that most splendid of scenarios, should Rose return to his MVP form in 2016-17? Only the opportunity to re-sign him next summer for even more money. More likely, the Knicks will let Rose walk and pursue yet another star, past or present (usually past), to fill out a bare-bones roster around Anthony and Porzingis. It's the never-ending cycle of Knicks.
On Wednesday morning, the Knicks had a dependable starter on a reasonable contract, a young playmaker to develop, and a bad contract set to come off the books next summer if only they'd be patient. By the afternoon they had an injury-prone former All-Star with one year left on his deal. By next summer they could have nothing to show for this deal but a second-round pick and the $14 million in cap space they saved by moving Lopez's deal. And that cap savings is only provided they don't turn right around and sign some past-his-prime center to an even bigger deal—which they totally will.
You've truly pulled off a quintessential New York Knicks trade here, Phil Jackson. Now if only you could get rid of that pesky draft pick.