The Knicks overhauled their roster and hired a new coach over the summer after a disappointing end to the 2015-16 season. A few days into training camp, however, a key problem that made them a dysfunctional mess last season has already reappeared. President of basketball operations Phil Jackson is already pushing the new players to run the triangle offense, and they are already struggling with it.
“[Jackson] got mad at us one time because we were running the offense and we didn’t throw the ball into the post,” Derrick Rose said on Tuesday, according to Newsday's Al Iannazzone. “He came over, kind of grumpy a little bit. That was my first time ever seeing him like that.”
Endless talk about the triangle has been the one constant in Jackson's tenure in New York. He was supposed to step back and let head coach Jeff Hornacek put his own spin on the offense, but clearly that's not going to happen. Jackson does not seem ready to move on from his beloved system.
Unfortunately for Jackson, the other constant in his tenure is players struggle to pick it up. Two years ago, J.R. Smith said it was "a struggle" to adapt his game to fit the new system. He was soon traded to Cleveland, where he won a title. Last season, Derek Fisher was fired partially because he began to stray from the fundamentals of the triangle system.
But at least those troubles happened in midseason. This year, it took just a handful of practices for Rose to call the "complicated" and "foreign." Though he expressed confidence that he would pick it up eventually, he added that he expects the Knicks to move away from it late in games.
“At the end of the game or a game-winning shot or something like that, I don’t think it’s going to be the triangle,” Rose said, via Newsday. “Either me or Melo will have to create for someone to take the shot."
To be fair to Jackson, other Knicks fit the system better than Rose. Carmelo Anthony has two years of experience with it, Joakim Noah is a terrific high-post passer, Kristaps Porzingis is gaining strength to score on the block, and players like Courtney Lee and Mindaugas Kuzminskas are good at moving without the ball. The Knicks could be proficient offensively even if Hornacek and Rose have to make concessions to make it happen.
As Rose suggested, Jackson's teams have also occasionally strayed from the triangle at times, especially late in games, to give his stars room to improvise. While he's trying to have the team stick to the system in training camp, Jackson might be fine with Hornacek empowering Rose and Anthony to take over for stretches once they have mastered the system.
At some point, however, Jackson must realize that he's the only coach who's experienced NBA success running the triangle, and he did it with some of the best players in league history. He’s tried to find the right personnel since becoming an executive, but has little success to show for his efforts after rebuilding the Knicks’ roster from scratch. In the last two seasons, the Knicks have finished 29th and 26th in offensive efficiency.
Alas, Jackson is clearly not ready to try something new, so expect to keep hearing plenty of stories about the Knicks struggling to pick up the triangle.