Have the Knicks become the most dysfunctional franchise in the NBA? Not yet, but it seems like this recent rift between Derek Fisher and Kurt Rambis can help them get there. When Derek Fisher was brought in to coach the Knicks by Phil Jackson, it was because of Fisher’s thorough understanding of the triangle offense.
The organization became angered with Fisher’s reluctance to teach the offense, which he defended by saying that it was “difficult” to teach because of the lack of time he’s able to spend with the team. Fisher was with the Lakers when they three-peated back in the early 2000s, so he (and Rambis, who was an assistant) knows how complicated the triangle can be.
Kurt Rambis, Fisher’s replacement as HC, fired back, saying “it’s not difficult.” He elaborated and stated that you need to immerse yourself fully in the offense to learn it. However, there’s more to it.
There are a bunch of commonalities between the mid-90s Bulls and early 2000s Lakers — these two dynasties experienced the most success with the triangle — that the Knicks don’t share in.
Yes, it’s tough to teach any system when you have limited time, and the triangle usually takes around a year to fully learn. That’s no excuse. For anyone unfamiliar, the triangle offense is, in short, a form of motion offense with no concrete sets. Instead, players react to what the defense is giving them. Many cuts are made throughout the offense, and it typically requires at least one player who’s proficient in the post.
Learning anything, physics, Spanish, basket weaving, whatever, there has to be a willingness to learn from the student. Before the Lakers went on their three title spree, Kobe called Tex Winter and “picked his brain” for hours, just to understand the nuances of the game and the triangle; Jordan was the same. Both teams had perpetual students of the game who had very high basketball IQs.
I just don’t see that with the Knicks.
Jackson coached four of the 50 greatest, most competitive players ever (Jordan, Pippen, Bryant, Shaq) and they developed a championship culture inside their locker rooms. If a championship wasn’t won, that season was a failure.
With the roster the Knicks have constructed, it seems like they’re not fully into rebuilding when they should be. The best player on the Knicks is Carmelo Anthony, who’s averaging about 22 points per game on 43% shooting. His wingman is Kristaps Porzingis, who goes for about 14 points a contest on 42% from the field. The coach doesn’t have much control over this last point, but for the triangle to work, it’s evident you need to have two guys who are legitimate threats on offense.
The Bulls had Jordan and Pippen as the focal points of their triangle. We know what Michael did but during his time with the Bulls, but Pippen was just as dangerous and averaged 20 points on 48% from the field. Did he benefit from having an all-time great on his side? Most definitely as teams always worried about Jordan, but he had his two best years as a pro when Jordan left to play baseball. And we all know how the Bulls did not make the Finals those two years.
Shifting over to LA, Shaq and Kobe rose to become one of the top duos of all time. Kobe, from 1999-02, averaged 25.4 PPG on 47% shooting — similar to what ‘Melo averaged in his prime. The contingency is that the Diesel was at 28.6 points on 58% shooting during the championship years, making the Lakers’ triangle incredibly lethal. Once Shaq would get the ball on the block, and the two guys made cuts, O’Neal had two options: if no double came he’d go to work one-on-one; if the double came he’d dish it to the corner, or free throw line, for an open shot. Once Shaq left, the Lakers went on a dry spell until they acquired Pau Gasol.
The point is this: the triangle — evidently — has a low success rate if you don’t have at least two legitimate options running it. The Knicks could evolve into that team if they can wait another year or two for Porzingis to develop a consistent offense game, and compliment him with someone else; Carmelo Anthony is falling out of his prime and the injuries have impacted his game.
As with every other aspect of basketball, the Knicks lack of success is a total team effort. The players, coaches, or front office can’t be singled out for the miserable season they’ve constructed. Phil Jackson has made questionable choices; the coaches should’ve devised a better offense for their personnel, and the players just need to go out and play.