Ron Harper knows a thing or two about winning NBA titles under Phil Jackson, after the former guard played on Jackson’s Chicago Bulls teams during the club’s second NBA Finals three-peat in the mid to late 1990s, and later on the Jackson-coached NBA champion Lakers during the 1999-00 and 2000-01 seasons.
So when it comes to front office decision making, Harper said he is in favor of Jackson’s moves as Knicks president, even including the Zen Master’s recent proclamation before Thursday’s NBA draft that he was listening to possible deals involving star player Kristaps Porzingis.
“He’s trying to turn (the Knicks roster) over. I agree with him,” Harper said Monday, when he was an attendee at Mariano Rivera’s charity golf event at Winged Foot Golf Club. “Porzingis, listen, if you get the right deal for him, you can get three or four players and a couple of draft picks. But you know you’re not going to receive that. It was just talk ’cause (Jackson) was mad because (Porzingis) wouldn’t come to the exit meeting and all that.”
Yes, in the end, Jackson held onto Porzingis and the team drafted Frenchman Frank Ntilikina, a point guard, in the first round of the draft. But Harper said part of the conversation that gets left out of criticizing Jackson’s performance in the front office is that the 11-time NBA Finals champion coach inherited an unenviable task when Garden chairman James Dolan hired Jackson in 2014.
“Everybody tells me, ‘Phil’s done a bad job,’ First of all, let’s go back. (Jackson) had (three) draft picks in three years,” Harper said, referring to Jackson drafting Cleanthony Early, Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Porzingis during the stretch between 2014 and 2017. “(The Knicks) were $30 million over the salary cap before Phil came. So how are you going to build a team? They traded all their draft picks to get Carmelo (Anthony, in 2011). (Jackson) was behind the eight ball before he even got here. He knew what he was getting into. He had to at least come in and try to get a new player, but you don’t have much to trade to get value back for it. You can’t make deals.”
Harper said Derrick Rose is the first “true point guard” the Knicks have had in a while, and Harper lauded Rose’s ability to “really push” the Knick offense, even though Rose went AWOL for a game last season. As for the team’s other star attraction – forward Carmelo Anthony, whom Jackson said earlier this year would be better suited playing on another team – Harper said he “likes” Anthony as a player, but it’s up to Carmelo to become a more dominant force in a Knicks uniform.
“If (Anthony) wants to stay with the Knicks, he’s got to (take) more of a leadership role. He’s got to lead more than just going out and scoring the basketball,” said Harper. “You’ve got to play two ends of the floor, rebound the basketball. That’s how you show people that you’re serious about playing.”