For the second time in franchise history, the Knicks have won six consecutive games by 10 or more points. But with the news of Phil Jackson's impending hiring, the team's current hot streak has become something of an afterthought.
The playoffs are still well within reach with 15 games left to play, though the focus has shifted to the future rather than the present.
Jackson’s hiring will become official at a press conference on Tuesday – just a day before a group of fans have scheduled a rally in response to how poorly the team has been ran in recent years – and his accomplishments give the Knicks an instant dose of credibility. At least in the interim, Jackson will go a long way in appeasing a frustrated fan base.
The pairing of Jackson and Carmelo Anthony – who can still opt out of his deal and become a free agent after the season – is an interesting one as the two have a lot more in common than one might think. Just as Anthony is a tremendously gifted player who needs a better team around him in order to win a championship, Jackson will need a strong supporting cast in the front office if he is going to give Anthony the necessary pieces to take the Knicks from a pretender to a contender.
Yes, Jackson has won 11 championship rings as a head coach, but his ability to manage a salary cap or construct a roster remains to be seen. Jackson will serve as the face of the franchise, but whoever is hired, or retained, to help Jackson in these areas will be just as important as the hiring of Jackson himself.
Speculation will run wild in the coming months about which players the team is going to acquire and who should be tasked with coaching the team going forward. If Jackson is as committed to the triangle offense as he’s been in the past, a superstar-laden roster won’t be as important as finding the right fits to execute the game plan.
As recently as 2012, in an interview for HBO’s Real Sports, Jackson said he wouldn’t be interested in coaching the Knicks because too much work had to be done. Jackson called the team “clumsy,” and said “they don’t fit together well.”
“[Amar’e] Stoudemire doesn’t fit together well with Carmelo,” Jackson stated. “Stoudemire’s a really good player, but he’s got to play in a certain system, in a way. And Carmelo has to be a better passer. The ball can’t stop every time it hits his hands.”
Unless Jackson is able to step in and make some major trades this offseason, he’ll be stuck having to watch essentially the same unit he didn’t want to coach for one more season before many of the players on the roster see their contracts expire in the summer of 2015.
Stoudemire, one of the aforementioned players with another year remaining on his contract after this season, has looked rejuvenated since returning to the starting lineup two weeks ago. He’s averaging 16.6 points over his last five games – serving as a major catalyst in the team’s recently improved play.
Then again, playing against many of the league’s lightweights during their six-game winning streak also hasn’t hurt in making Stoudemire and the Knicks more closely resemble their former selves.
Before heading out west next week for a five-game road trip, the Knicks will have two more winnable games when they travel to Philadelphia Friday night to take on the dreadful 76ers, and play the Cleveland Cavaliers at home Sunday night.
But first, the Knicks will get the opportunity to impress their new boss right away when the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers come to Madison Square Garden Wednesday night. Should the Knicks be able to claw their way into the playoffs, the Pacers would likely be their opponent in the first round. And what better way to gauge whether or not their current turnaround is for real than against one of the best teams the NBA has to offer?
As much fun as the Knicks have been to watch the past few games, it pales in comparison to the possibilities that await in the years to come. There’s no guarantee that Jackson will succeed, but for one of the rare times in recent memory, the Knicks and their fans have a genuine reason to be optimistic.
And for all the tens of millions of dollars owner James Dolan is paying Jackson to change the culture of the franchise, that sort of legitimacy and stability is priceless.