Isola: Knicks give free passes to Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher

By on April 16, 2015

The season ended, appropriately enough, on tax day, so hopefully Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher and Carmelo Anthony remembered to send James Dolan a thank you note that includes a promise to do better next year.

Dolan, the eccentric and controversial Chairman of Madison Square Garden, rewarded the fans’ loyalty and patience by giving away free food for Wednesday’s season finale. It was a nice gesture that likely resulted in the largest dinner bill in modern history.

But it was nothing compared to the tab Dolan is picking up for the combined salaries of Jackson, Fisher and Anthony, the Knicks’ three most influential employees who didn’t exactly give the boss or the fans much bang for his buck.

The worst season of Anthony’s career ended in February with knee surgery. Meanwhile Jackson and Fisher, novices in their current roles as president and head coach respectively, began their new careers by having the worst season in franchise history on their resumes.

Jackson has to prove he can find players in unconventional ways. Rookie point guard Langston Galloway was a good addition. The undrafted Galloway was promoted from the D-League and showed that he is a competitor who plays hard and hurt. Whether he can be a rotation player on a playoff team is another question. Galloway proved himself to be more valuable than Jackson’s first draft pick, Cleanthony Early, who last June was being touted as the steal of the draft. Not quite.

Jackson could learn a thing or two from two of his long-time rivals, Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley. The Spurs have always been at the forefront of developing players. Look no further than Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Riley unearthed center Hassan Whiteside, a player who was available for the Knicks to sign.

Once Jackson builds a roster, it’s up to Fisher to make it all work. Fisher is probably wishing he stayed active as a player as opposed to running a team that Jackson never would coach. Early on there were the comparisons to Jason Kidd, but Fisher never turned things around. Instead, the Knicks fell into the abyss and Fisher was unable to get them out of it.

There’s no way of knowing if Fisher has the chops to make it as a head coach. Being married to Jackson’s triangle offense could be hurting his and the team’s development. Fisher wasn’t as media-friendly as advertised and at times talked in circles and came across as delusional. Saying that the Knicks could win as many as 63 games next season hurts his credibility more than anything.

But Fisher mostly received a pass this season. Ditto for Jackson. Their greatest accomplishment is getting the fans to buy into their plan, even though they really haven’t articulated that plan to anyone. So on Wednesday, the fans cheered and ate and ate. Dinner was on Dolan.

But if things don’t improve next season, the fans might just have Jackson and Fisher for lunch.

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