GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Shortly before leaving the New York Knicks‘ practice court on Tuesday, Phil Jackson walked over to Kristaps Porzingis and chatted with the young star. It was a short conversation and seemed amiable, with Jackson and Porzingis sharing a smile.
It’s safe to say Jackson hasn’t had the same interaction with Carmelo Anthony in quite some time.
The team president has been taking shots at his star forward — directly and indirectly — throughout the season. The latest critique was delivered on Tuesday afternoon, in the form of a tweet.
Jackson seems to agree — at least in part — with the premise brought forth by Los Angeles-based writer Kevin Ding, who published a column on Bleacher Report that eviscerates Anthony, questioning his desire to win.
Jackson also makes reference to Michael Graham in the tweet, saying that he “learned you don’t change the spot on a leopard with Michael Graham in my CBA daze.” Graham was a talented player from Georgetown whom Jackson coached in the Continental Basketball Association. Their relationship was short-lived, and Jackson lamented that he could never reach the forward.
It’s open for debate whether Jackson’s decision to reference Graham is a critique of Anthony or an acknowledgement by Jackson that he has failed to reach his star forward.
More important here is the timing of Jackson’s tweet. In December, Jackson and Anthony met on the West Coast after the team president said in an interview with CBS Sports Network that Anthony has a tendency to hold on to the ball for too long. Anthony and Jackson met days later while the Knicks were on a West Coast trip.
In the meeting, Anthony wondered why Jackson always brought up his name in interviews.
So Jackson had to know that he’d upset Anthony by referencing him in a tweet on Tuesday. The Knicks remain motivated to move the 13-year veteran by the trade deadline, according to sources. So it’s fair to conclude that Tuesday’s tweet was another attempt by Jackson to motivate Anthony to waive his no-trade clause.
Reasonable people can disagree if it’s wise to deal Anthony. Several people in the organization believe the best approach is to deal Anthony and move forward with Porzingis and fellow young big man Willy Hernangomez, per sources.
The Knicks have a first-round pick in the 2017 NBA draft (and, if they are fortunate, maybe they land another pick in an Anthony trade, though Jackson might be hurting Anthony’s trade value). This draft is believed to be guard heavy, so the Knicks might be able to find a guard to pair with Porzingis and Hernangomez. Along with the $20-plus million they have to spend in free agency this summer, the Knicks could be in a solid position to rebuild.
But Jackson’s tweet on Tuesday might have impeded those efforts.
Multiple prominent agents said on Tuesday afternoon that the way Jackson has handled Anthony would turn off their clients and others to the idea of signing with Jackson’s Knicks.
For a team that has many holes to fill, that’s a problem — even if the new CBA will make it more difficult for opposing teams to lure free agents away from their present employer.
And another issue to consider is how this has had an impact on Porzingis, whose numbers are down recently. In the past five games, he’s averaging 15 points on 38-percent shooting, including 20 percent from beyond the arc.
The Knicks hoped that surrounding Porzingis with veterans and a winning environment would help his development. It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, Porzingis has played through another season filled with losses and off-court drama.
Porzingis shared some concerning thoughts about team chemistry and trust after Monday’s loss to the Lakers.
“We don’t have that trust. Some games we do, some games we don’t. Some games we have that second effort, some games we don’t, like today,” he said.
Porzingis was asked why the team hasn’t yet developed trust in one another.
“If we had the answer, I would tell you something. But it’s just not there,” he said. “It’s kind of everybody for [themselves] a lot of times — both ends of the floor. So I wish I had the answer.”
Right now, that’s another question for Jackson and the Knicks to answer. And it’s another problem that Jackson can’t solve on Twitter.