Jerry Sullivan: Phil is gone, but Dolan remains the problem - The Buffalo News
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Jerry Sullivan: Phil is gone, but Dolan remains the problem

Time, and the playing of actual games, will tell if Bills and Sabres fans are correct in assuming a basic competence among the men who have been newly entrusted with running the town's two major sports teams.

But I can say one thing with assurance: Buffalo does not have the most dysfunctional franchise in New York State. That dubious distinction rests with the Knicks, who have demonstrated a bottomless capacity for chaos and self-destruction under the ownership of James Dolan.

Dolan, the MSG chairman, has turned one of the NBA's most treasured franchises into a national joke. The Knicks aren't just bad on the court, they're an embarrassment off it, thanks to Dolan's mercurial temperament, lack of basketball sense and stunning knack for hiring the wrong people.

Early this week, Dolan fired Phil Jackson as team president with two years left on his five-year contract. Jackson will be paid $24 million not to work for Dolan, so it's hard to feel any great sympathy for the man.

Jackson won 11 NBA titles with the Bulls and Lakers. It didn't hurt to have Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal helping express his genius. Yes, it takes a great coach to handle a star-studded squad. But Jackson was too smug to understand that coaching and managing a roster are entirely different skills, and that he wasn't the star in New York.

The Knicks went 80-166 with Jackson in charge. The Zen Master publicly sparred with his star player, Carmelo Anthony. He insisted that his coaches run his precious triangle offense, ignoring the fact that the NBA was trending in another direction, with an emphasis on speed and three-point shooting, and the scheme didn't suit his players.

Jackson put his job in peril recently when he contemplated trading the Knicks' young star center, Kristaps Porzingis, after Porzingis blew off an exit interview. It was poor judgment by the kid, but the episode turned off the team's fans and accentuated the general sense of unrest within the organization.

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So Phil had to go. Considering the payoff, and his utter failure as a team architect, you have to wonder if this is just what he wanted. This will tarnish Jackson's legacy to some degree, but he's not the first great player or coach to flop in a higher job. History will judge him as a coach.

Now it's up to Dolan to find a better answer. Ultimately, this is his mess, one he's been making for nearly two decades. Jackson was there for only three years. Blaming Jackson for the Knicks' woes would be like saying Chan Gailey was responsible for the Bills' playoff drought.

The Knicks' miserable run of failure almost parallels the Bills' drought. When you consider the Knicks' storied place in pro sports, the fact that their demise has unfolded in the media capital of the world in New York, and some of the major characters involved, I think their dysfunction has been worse than Buffalo's.

Think of the people whose reputations have taken a hit under Dolan: There's Jackson, considered by many the best coach in NBA history; Larry Brown, another coaching legend who was bought out for $18 million by Dolan after serving one year of a five-year contract; Isiah Thomas, a Dolan favorite who failed miserably as a team president and coach.

Dolan was a lot like Ralph Wilson, a persistent meddler who tried to win over the fan base with dazzling moves and by borrowing on other people's past successes. He loved a big name, and none other than Carmelo Anthony, who had his likeness plastered on the side of buildings in Manhattan.

The problem with Anthony was he wasn't an effective passer, team player and winner. He doesn't play much defense or make his teammates better, but he's an engaging personality who can really score. It was inevitable that Melo and Jackson wouldn't mesh, but Dolan forced them on each other, anyway.

Anthony's defenders will tell you the Knicks won 54 games and a playoff series a couple of years before Jackson arrived, as if that's some major achievement. Anthony's teams are 3-10 in playoff series over his career. He's a 40 percent postseason shooter as a Knick.

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But I'm not here to bash Melo. It's Dolan who was so infatuated with the idea of Anthony in the Big Apple that he acquired him from the Nuggets six years ago. Now there are reports that Anthony wants the Knicks to buy out the $54 million left on his contract -- but only if he can join LeBron James in Cleveland.

That figures. At 33, Anthony is running out of time to win an NBA title, or simply get to his first Finals. He's not capable of being the centerpiece of a champion. It's not happening with the Knicks -- unless James decides to take his talents to New York next year and get some more help to chase a title with Anthony.

That would be some challenge for LeBron, saving an owner who many believe is  the worst in all of sports. Since 2001, shortly after Dolan bought the team, the Knicks have won nine playoff games. Nine. That's the fewest of any team during that time. The Spurs have won 146. James has won 144 playoff games.

In 2007,  then-NBA commissioner David Stern derided the Knicks as "not a model of intelligent management." Ten years later, the model remains. After a season in which he had Charles Oakley, a beloved ex-Knick, forcibly ejected from a game, on the eve of NBA free agency, Dolan has another mess on his hands.

Dolan says he's ready to remove himself from the Knicks' day-to-day operations. Here's a better idea. For the sake of disgruntled, diehard Knicks fans, he should do what he did to Oakley and remove himself from the Garden altogether.

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