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NBA AM: Phil Jackson Has A Lot To Figure Out

Phil Jackson puts in his first day on the job in New York… The myth of the agency running the show.

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All Knicks, All The Time:  By now you are probably sick of all the New York Knicks coverage, but unfortunately they are the ones making the news. So we’ll try and keep today’s Knicks-fest as brief as possible.

Newly anointed Knicks president Phil Jackson – still sounds strange doesn’t it – took in his first game at Madison Square Garden. His Knicks got the 92-86 win over the top seeded Pacers and moved themselves another win closer to the postseason. They gave the home crowd a good show that ended in a standing ovation.

Jackson met with his team earlier in the day, spending time with the coaches and the basketball staff before meeting with the players before the game.

Jackson is taking stock of the situation and there are no plans to make any changes. Like most of the Knicks staff, he is hoping the team can close the four game gap between their current ninth place seeding and the eighth spot in the East. Unfortunately for the Knicks they are four games back from Atlanta, who is winning games too and the Knicks only have 14 games left on the schedule.

With Jackson in tow, there has been a lot of talk about what needs to happen this offseason for the Knicks to right their ship and get in championship form. The concept of making it all work was presented to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich last night in LA and he shared his recipe for success in San Antonio – a model a lot of teams are trying to emulate.

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“It’s difficult to be specific, but what’s true is a synergy has to form between the owner, whoever the president is, whoever the GM is, whoever the coach is. There’s got to be a synergy there where there’s a trust,” Popovich said to Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “There is no walls. There is no territory. Everything is discussed. Everything is fair game. Criticism is welcome, and when you have that, then you have a hell of an organization. That free flow through all those people is what really makes it work. And that includes everything from draft to O’s and X’s. Nothing should be left to one area — only to the president, only to the GM, only to the coach — or the culture just doesn’t form. At least that’s what’s worked for us.”

Popovich said he knows it will take some time for Jackson to work through everything in New York and that assembling a system and a staff as unified as San Antonio doesn’t happen overnight.

“It’s certainly a process, but it has to start with people who are comfortable in their own skin and people who are confident in what they do, but understand it’s about a group,” Popovich said. “It’s not about any one person. We always talk about we like players who have gotten over themselves. Well, it’s the same with a GM or a president or an owner: You got to get over yourself and realize that it takes a group to get this thing done, and I’m sure Phil knows that.”

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony shared some of his conversation with Jackson before the game, saying he liked what he heard from his new team president.

“He was just excited about joining,” Anthony said. “He came in and … said how excited he was about this opportunity and told us to focus on the game.”

Anthony also said he heard what Jackson had to say about his game and his future with the Knicks during his introductory press conference.

“I love it. I don’t think that was anything bad that he said,” Anthony said. “As an individual over the years, I think I’ve gotten better as a player, playing at a very high level as an individual. Like right now. For him to come in and say that, we’re on the same page. There’s a whole other level that I haven’t taken this to. I feel each season I’ve gotten better so just as Phil can teach, I can rely on him, talk to him, use him as a mentor to try and get to that next level.”

Jackson has also been adamant that keeping and building around Anthony was part of his vision for the future, which Anthony said was something he wanted to hear.

“I’m blessed and honored to hear that,” Anthony said. “I’m glad, I was hoping that I would be part of the future plans. I never once said that I wanted to leave New York or anything like that. The only thing I said was that I wanted to dabble in free agency that I could opt out and become a free agent. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about the opportunity to hopefully go forward with Phil.”

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The Knicks are currently 28-40 on the season with 14 games left on the schedule. The Knicks have just five more home games and nine road games in front of them, which includes nine teams with a plus .500 record and nine teams that play in the East.

The Knicks have a favorable schedule down the stretch with games at Philadelphia, home versus the Cavaliers, in LA versus the Lakers, at Sacramento, at Phoenix, at Golden State and at Utah to round out March, giving them two winning teams in their next seven games. Clearly the Knicks have some control of their playoff dreams.

» It’s March Madness time and Basketball Insiders has you covered with detailed game-by-game capsules featuring all the details on every game. Want to know more about each matchup check out each capsule and make sure you are ready all the way through to the championship game.

The Myth Of The Agency:  There has been a running narrative about the New York Knicks regarding the volume and number of clients from one particular agency the team has not only on the roster, but among its front office and coaching staff.

The story goes that Creative Artists Agency (CAA) who represents Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani and JR Smith along with head coach Mike Woodson “runs” things in New York.

It’s an interesting narrative and certainly makes for compelling headlines, but the truth of the matter is while a lot of agents and agencies pool together to create power in a very pulverized industry – the belief that the individual agents are working together to manipulate the Knicks is a little bit more theater than substance.

There is no doubt that certain agents create relationships with certain executives, and that those agents can develop an inside track for their clients that some on the outside might not be able to do, but to suggest huge collusion and control from an agency is a little over stated, even for the dysfunctional Knicks.

The way the reports from New York frame it, you’d think that every unclaimed roster spot would belong to a CAA client, or that all of the 10-day contracts issued are going to CAA clients or that an unusual amount of minutes or shots are going to CAA clients. The stats and the data just don’t support that.

So how do you explain Smith’s contract? The Knicks were a capped out team. The Knicks had to either use their Early Bird rights to re-sign Smith and meet his price or lose him for nothing and have to fill his void in free agency with the NBA minimum. Smith was coming off a Sixth Man of the Year award campaign and arguably one of his best years as a pro. The Knicks won 54 games and seemed like a power team in the East. Did his brother Chris get a roster spot as part of the deal, maybe, but that is what happens when a player has all the leverage. Smith is not the first nor the last player to be able to hold a capped out team hostage to a contract.

So how do you explain Andrea Bargnani? The Knicks wanted to be in a position to have as little money on the books are possible in 2015 and where willing to eat his money on the off chance he could help them get better. Did Bargnani being a CAA client help the process? Maybe. There is no doubt that when an agent has the ear of an executive he can share all the things that a team might not know about a player and make the idea more tolerable. The Knicks wanted Steve Novak and Marcus Camby’s money off the books in 2015; they felt like Bargnani could help them this year and be off the books next year – that was the logic explained when the trade was made, long before the stories of CAA running the show in New York started to surface.

»In Related: The 2014 NBA Free Agents .

Knicks Roster By Agent/Agency

 Amar’e Stoudemire   Relativity Sports
 Andrea Bargnani   CAA Sports
 Carmelo Anthony   CAA Sports
 Cole Aldrich   Excel Sports
 Earl Clark   BDA Sports
 Iman Shumpert   Relativity Sports
 J.R. Smith   CAA Sports
 Jeremy Tyler   Full Court Sports
 Kenyon Martin   ASM Sports
 Pablo Prigioni  Claudio Villanueva
 Raymond Felton   Dutt Sports
 Shannon Brown   Priority Sports
 Tim Hardaway Jr.   Priority Sports
 Toure Murry   Lee Basketball
 Tyson Chandler   Excel Sports

There is no doubting that the Knicks, prior to hiring Phil Jackson were listening to and trying to respond to the perceived needs of Carmelo Anthony. Not only because of his possible free agency, either. But, to look at the Knicks as being a franchise run and controlled by a single agency is a little silly given the agents that have clients on the Knicks roster. Excel Sports is Jeff Schwartz one of the top agents in the business with more $217 million in guaranteed contract dollars under management. Relativity Sports is Happy Walters and Dan Fegan – Fegan is one of the more aggressive agents in the business. ASM Sports is Andy Miller, again one of the more influential agents in the game. Priority Sports is Mark Bartelstein, he represents the bulk of the NBA’s middle class. Alienating any of those agents would be a massive blow to the Knicks ability to recruit future free agents.

So while it’s fun to talk about one agency pulling the strings or the perception that one agency is getting more favor around the team than another, the truth of the matter is the Knicks are catering to Anthony, and as long as he remains the Knicks best player his agent is going to have the ear of the organization, just as LeBron James’ agent has with the HEAT, just as Kobe Bryant has with the Lakers. That’s what franchise players get, especially when they are approaching free agency and there is doubt about them hanging around beyond their current deal.

The rest just comes off as sour grapes during a dreadful season.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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