So James Dolan goes from saying “Ask Phil” to “Axe Phil.”
Phil Jackson and the Knicks are parting ways, as confirmed while you were sleeping by the Daily News’ Stefan Bondy, thereby ending one of the most bizarre and failed front-office tenures and flameouts in the history of New York sports — and that is saying an awful lot.
Zen? Zen’s dead, baby.
Everything Zen, everything Zen? I don’t think so. (Ah, the nineties.)
The Knicks went 80-166 in Jackson’s three full seasons as team president of a five-year, $60 million contract, while firing coaches Mike Woodson and his Zen-picked $25 million successor, Derek Fisher, while alienating stars Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis along the way.
Now Jackson and his 11-ring circus (hat tip, Bondy) are gone on the eve of free agency after he somehow was permitted to draft a player with the eighth overall pick last week -— point guard Frank Ntilikina out of France — to fit the triangle offense, which presumably is gone now, too.
But where does Jackson rank on our list of worst executives in New York sports history? Here is his main competition:
ISIAH THOMAS, Knicks
Like Jackson, the Hall of Fame point guard was an unmitigated disaster as team president from 2003-08. The Knicks actually made the playoffs, albeit with a losing record (39-43), in Isiah’s first season at the helm, before they were swept in four straight games by the Nets in the first round. The Knicks didn’t make the postseason again during Thomas’ tenure, however, going 112-216 (.341) over the next four seasons until Donnie Walsh took over in 2008. That poor record also featured an identical winning percentage (56-108) in Thomas’ two seasons as head coach.
While his managerial resume did include a couple of decent draft picks (David Lee, e.g.), Isiah also made a slew of awful trades that crippled the Knicks’ salary cap, notable deals for Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry and others. In 2007, of course, Thomas also was prominent in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him and the Garden by former team executive Anucha Browne Sanders, with a jury returning a verdict holding MSG liable for $11.6 million in punitive damages.
CEDRIC TALLIS, BILL BERGESCH, MURRAY COOK, BILL BERGESCH (again), CLYDE KING, WOODY WOODWARD, LOU PINIELLA, BOB QUINN, SYD THRIFT, BOB QUINN (again), HARDING PETERSON, GEORGE BRADLEY (whew), Yankees
Impetuous owner George Steinbrenner changed general managers as often as he changed field managers — that is, as often as the rest of us change our socks. Ten different men, including a couple multiple times, served as GM under The Boss from 1980 to 1990 until Stick Michael finally arrived to right the ship and the set the course for the championship dynasty that followed while Steinbrenner was suspended from day-to-day management by then-MLB commissioner Fay Vincent for paying sleazy gambler Howie Spira to find some dirt on Yanks outfielder Dave Winfield.
With George obviously pulling the strings of his various GMs, the ’80s were littered with terrible baseball decisions and outlandish free-agent signings (Dave Collins, Steve Kemp, anyone?) and ended up being the only decade since before Babe Ruth was acquired in 1920 (other than the current one, mind you) that the Bombers didn’t win any World Series championships.
M. DONALD GRANT, Mets
Grant technically was chairman and/or minority owner with the Mets from their inception in 1962 until 1978, but his imprint on some of the worst baseball decisions in team history earns him a permanent spot here. If not for the Miracle Mets run to the World Series in 1969, Grant actually might head this list. Not only did his Mets include future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan in an ill-fated 1971 deal for Jim Fregosi, but his outright opposition to free agency and refusal to pay market value for star players led to an ugly divorce from franchise pitcher Tom Seaver in 1977, prompting Tom Terrific to say that Grant had a “plantation mentality” when it came to his players. Shea Stadium also aptly became known as “Grant’s tomb” late under his watch. Enough said.
JOHN IDZIK, Jets
The former Seahawks VP only made it through two years of his stated three-year plan to turn around the Jets upon replacing Mike Tannenbaum in 2013. Idzik did draft defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson in the first round in his initial draft — with the pick acquired from his trading of Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis — but not much else remains with the organization from his drafting tenure. Idzik whiffed on high-end picks such as Dee Milliner, Geno Smith and since-dumped safety Calvin Pryor. He was axed along with head coach Rex Ryan at the end of the 4-12 2014 season.
MIKE MILBURY, Islanders
While covering much of his tenure, I always used to say that “Mad Mike” — with his impulsive trades and say-anything candor — would have landed on the back pages of the New York tabloids regularly if he’d been the GM of any team in New York other than the low-profile Islanders. He also likely would have been fired far sooner than the 11 years he had in the GM seat out in Uniondale from 1995 through the 2005-06 post-lockout campaign.
Unstable ownership and hamstrung budgets played a part in some of it, but among the future stars or solid NHL contributors Milbury dealt away included Ziggy Palffy, Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo, Todd Bertuzzi, Olli Jokinen, Wade Redden and a host of others. He also ran through nine coaches, including himself twice, in barely 10 years.
OUTTA BOTTE EXPERIENCE
Have to appreciate Ron Darling’s candor, as always, in calling out training staffs throughout baseball — particularly, with the Mets — for the rash of muscle pulls and other injuries that continue to befall various players.
“Get (the trainers) in a room with some of the old trainers and people who took care of baseball players and how to keep them healthy and get them in a room and try to tap into their knowledge on how to train baseball players,” Darling said on SNY after pitcher Robert Gsellman left Tuesday’s game with a hamstring injury. “Not weightlifters. Not six-pack wearers. Baseball players.
“They’re doing a disservice to the million-dollar athletes they are paying. It’s a joke to watch this happen each and every night.”
“Six-pack wearers” is a phrase that definitely needs to catch on.
— Can’t wait for the first radio caller on Wednesday to wonder how in the world Girardi took out Tyler Clippard in favor of Dellin Betances for the ninth inning Wednesday night. That train is usually never late.
— Anyone else envisioning what a 3-4-5 combo of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Cody Bellinger (not necessarily in that order) might have looked like, as John Harper detailed with Cody’s dad, Clay?
— OK, one more. To paraphrase Ralph Kiner, Phil Jackson officially is “Goink, goink, gone, goodbye.”
Phil Jackson didn’t talk directly to the media too often the past few years, so here are our Top-5 favorite Jackson tweets during his time with the Knicks.
5. SPEAKING WORDS OF WISDOM…
3. J.R. STILL INDUCES HEARTBURN
2. COMPARING STEPH TO WHO?
1. SERIOUSLY, PHIL, HOW’S IT GOINK?