It's hard to remember now, but there was a time when Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson had a relatively normal relationship. Shortly after the New York Knicks hired Jackson as president, Anthony said he was willing to do anything Jackson asked if it led to building a winner in New York. Around the same time, Jackson described Anthony as a great player with another level to reach: "I hope together, with the team we create, he can get there." Less than four years later, Anthony and Jackson found themselves stuck in one of the more dysfunctional marriages in NBA history. Bizarre public criticisms, organizational politics, an erosion of trust -- it all played a role in the ugly end for Anthony and Jackson in New York. Now, with the Knicks owning a surprising 16-14 record and sitting eighth in the Eastern Conference, there's reason for optimism again in New York. In the wake of Anthony's trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder just before training camp began, Kristaps Porzingis has emerged as the leader of a young group. Through Tuesday, he was ninth in the NBA in scoring and third in the league in blocks per game. "Everyone just seems a little lighter," one team source said. "The drama Phil created with Carmelo really affected the team and the joy factor," said another source with knowledge of the Carmelo-Phil dynamic. The joy factor seems to be back, and the dark cloud hanging over the team was significant. We spoke to coaches, executives and agents familiar with the Knicks during Jackson's and Anthony's tenure for a behind-the-scenes look at how things imploded between the two in their final season together. 1. The odd man out Some members of the Knicks organization became convinced in the summer of 2015 that the club was better off trading Anthony and building around Kristaps Porzingis. A little more than 12 months later, that feeling was shared by nearly all of the Knicks' decision-makers. "Everybody was on board to try and get rid of Carmelo," is how one source familiar with the matter described the sentiment. "The feeling in meetings was almost unanimous: They felt he just wasn't a winning player. They thought they could turn everything around if they just moved him." Some of those execs who wanted Anthony out were the same people who strongly supported him earlier in his tenure. Anthony was well aware of this, and it was one of the things that bothered him most about the organization, according to people familiar with his thinking. When the executives acted as if they were still on Anthony's side during face-to-face interactions with him, he saw right through it. 2. No love for the triangle Three weeks into the season, Knicks executives, coaches and players gathered for a meeting at practice. Jackson was there with members of the front office and coaching staff, but the players did most of the talking. One of the bigger issues that was discussed? The triangle offense. At least two veterans told Jackson directly that the offense wasn't working -- and wouldn't work -- because it didn't put players in position to be successful. Jackson defended the offense and eventually left the meeting upset, per a source. Some of the players and members of the coaching staff had heard from opponents that they loved defending the Knicks' offense because they knew exactly where players would be in their sets. "They could predict it," one opponent told a friend. The meeting, which lasted more than an hour, didn't change much. The Knicks went back to running an offense with a heavy emphasis on the triangle later in the season. Jackson regularly went on the court during practice to point out different aspects of the offense, interrupting and essentially overriding head coach Jeff Hornacek. It was one of the many things Jackson did that rubbed Anthony the wrong way, according to people in the organization.
Inside the implosion that rebuilt the New York Knicks
ESPN | Dec 21