PHIL Jackson explained the reasons behind the changes he made with the New York Knicks last year, particularly the trades that sent JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In a candid interview with Charley Rosen of ESPN, the Zen Master explained what went behind the scenes and in the locker rooms in what is probably the worst season in the Knickerbockers’ history.
"J.R. had been exhibiting some delinquent behavior and had gotten into the habit of coming late to team meetings, or missing them altogether," Jackson told Rosen. "Also, Shump and Tim [Hardaway Jr.] were regressing, so I decided to meet with them separately and try to find out what, if anything, was bothering them."
In a meeting with Smith, Jackson explained that the erratic guard was not doing his job of carrying the scoring load for the Knicks’ second unit.
“I also said that because of his unacceptable behavior, he had two strikes against him with this team. He didn't really respond. He's a very sensitive guy, with his big doe eyes. He looked like he was going to tear up. But he finally responded that he was going through some issues with his gal."
When it came time to talk to Shumpert, Jackson pointed out that "after he suffered a hip injury in Dallas, his game went rapidly downhill. Did he have any other issues to explain his decline? He said, 'No. I don't know what has gone wrong with my game.' As with J. R., nothing got resolved."
Jackson also took into account first-year coach Derek Fisher’s observations in the locker room.
"I asked Fish what players were the biggest distractions. He said that although J.R. never talked back to him, he always walked around under a dark cloud. Derek was worried that negative energy was contagious."
Shumpert also presented concerns.
"I like Shump," says Jackson, "but he has a very loud, big personality. It was difficult for most of the other guys to deal with, especially if things don't go well for him or the team."
Determined to create a winning culture in the Big Apple, Jackson said the two players were among those who had to go.
"We made the trade to Cleveland because that was the best place to get J.R. and Shump playing ball the right way. The money that comes back to our cap situation is the benefit of these trades. We need to get out from under our obligations of contracts."
The 13-time NBA champion coach and player said he did not consult with star Carmelo Anthony regarding the trades, citing that he did not want the Knicks star to lie.
“If I had done so, Carmelo would have to lie to the media when they asked him about that possibility. If we ever had the opportunity to bring in an All-Star player, I'd certainly ask Carmelo if he thought he could play with the guy. Otherwise, it's appropriate to keep him out of the loop."