GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Phil Jackson said it happens every time he walks around New York.
“Someone asks the question, ‘How we gonna be? How we doing?'” Jackson said.
OK, so how are the Knicks going to be?
“We believe we’re going to be a playoff team,” Jackson said Friday, “and then we don’t know how far we’ll be able to go, but we’re hoping for the best.”
It was an optimistic and possibly realistic view of the Knicks, who went 37-45 last season and missed the playoffs. Jackson was hired as team president late in the season, re-signed All-Star Carmelo Anthony, hired Derek Fisher as coach, and engineered a number of roster moves to make the team younger, deeper and quicker.
He also hopes that makes them better, but the 11-time champion as a coach with the Bulls and Lakers realizes there’s a process to building contending teams that the Knicks haven’t been following.
“Usually teams come into the playoffs and learn from being in the playoffs, and gradually assume the capabilities of carrying out the championship,” Jackson said. “I was fortunate to have a situation in L.A. where a team had gone into the playoffs. They had been swept a couple of times in the playoff run, but they had been in the midst of the playoffs and were able to win the very first year that I coached that team there, which was a ready-made team basically with tremendous talent. Very similar situation in Chicago.
“This team does not got a personality. It’s got over 35 percent of this team has changed, so we still have to kind of come together in a bonding way that creates trust, teamwork, identity, some things like that.”
But at least they have stability. The chaos of the Knicks’ 2013-14 season began just before training camp, when Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan shook up the franchise by firing general manager Glen Grunwald and hiring Steve Mills after the Knicks won 54 games and the Atlantic Division title. Grunwald was a longtime friend of coach Mike Woodson, who lost his strongest supporter in the organization and had nobody to publicly back him when the team sputtered at the start.
“I think it feels much, much better now,” Mills said. “I think the addition of Phil to the team I think adds a different look in terms of creating a culture. I think that was important to Carmelo and I think it’s important as how we move forward as a unit. So I think there’s a lot more stability, I see the sort of rhythm to how we need to build the team.”
Besides retaining Anthony, Jackson’s biggest move was a trade that sent starters Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas that brought the Knicks veterans Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert. But Jackson and Fisher both expect the Eastern Conference to be tougher than the one that allowed Atlanta to make the postseason with a 38-44 record last season, so those moves may not be good enough for the Knicks.
Fisher said Anthony is the only certain starter at the moment. He will begin figuring out the rest Tuesday at West Point, when he opens his first training camp as a coach.
Jackson said it usually takes a team a month to six weeks from there to jell, which would mean he should have an idea of what the Knicks have by the time he returns to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. But he cautions that things can change.
“Last year the Knicks had an injury right away to Tyson Chandler. Everything was kind of upset. J.R. Smith was suspended to start the season. All kinds of things hindered their progress and it affected their season,” Jackson said. “So we can’t control that. We try to control what we can control, and the fact that we have pretty good supporting cast and we have some young players, we think that we can really get them playing hard and playing together, and that’s what we’ll try to do.”