Phil Jackson stood out from the crowd, not entirely for his familiar visage and height but for his jeans and long-sleeve plaid shirt as the weather hit 101 degrees outside.
He has always chosen the path less traveled, content to zag as others zig, and now owns quite the reclamation project as president of the New York Knicks.
They had their worst season ever in his first year of front-office duties and then, like the Lakers, didn’t get the big free-agent splash they craved.
They struck out on versatile center Greg Monroe, met with DeAndre Jordan to no avail and couldn’t even get in front of LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Knicks’ last NBA championship was 1973. They haven’t been to the Eastern Conference finals since 2000.
What’s the greatest coach of all time to do?
“Win. We need to win, be a competitive team,” Jackson said during halftime of a Knicks-Lakers summer-league game Monday. “I think we showed agents and players around the league the serious nature of what we’re trying to get accomplished. People that know basketball will recognize that and we’ll have people that want to come here.”
Like the Lakers, the Knicks are putting a lot of stock in the draft these days. They took lanky Latvian center Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall selection. He was booed immediately after his name was called on draft night in New York, Knicks fans eminently more familiar with available college stars Willie Cauley-Stein and Justise Winslow.
Then New York traded for Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant, a first-round draft pick last month who has looked good so far in summer league.
When free agency didn’t turn in their direction, they grabbed workmanlike center Robin Lopez (four years, $54 million) and swingman Arron Afflalo (two years, $16 million), who weren’t among Portland’s top three players last season.
They also added enigmatic power forward Derrick Williams, a bust since being drafted second overall in 2011, and Kyle O’Quinn, a backup center in Orlando.
There are leftovers, too: New York is stuck with oft-injured point guard Jose Calderon for two more years (and $15 million) and Carmelo Anthony is owed $100 million over the next four seasons.
“How this all comes together is still a mystery for us. We’ve got five months to kind of get into it here,” Jackson said.
Porzingis was a relative unknown among the top draft picks even as grainy Internet video surfaced of the 7-foot-2 center swatting shots and drilling three-pointers.
Jackson liked his workouts in person. And his potential.
“Well, he’s 19 years old. That’s what I’ve thought about him so far,” Jackson said with a chuckle while Porzingis was on his way to nine points and three rebounds in 18 minutes of the Knicks’ 76-66 victory. “The growth is going to be interesting to see. He looks like a he can hold his own a little bit out there. I think he’s going to find a comfort zone.”
Jackson watched Monday’s game from a courtside seat next to his longtime companion, Lakers President Jeanie Buss. He found time to talk about her team, too.
“I like their young players that they have,” he said before moving to the Lakers’ main acquisitions this month, shot-blocking center Roy Hibbert and reigning NBA sixth man of the year Lou Williams.
“Hibbert’s going to do a job for them that’s required. He’s a big guy that can cover the middle. Lou’s been a fourth-quarter scorer, something that they may not need if Kobe Bryant’s playing the way he’s played over his career.
“But I’d just as soon not comment on another team at this time. I already did, so I’ll just leave it at that.”
He has his own team to worry about. The Knicks were 17-65 last season and unlucky on draft lottery night, falling from the second to fourth pick.
This is entirely new for Jackson, trying to repair a franchise while not on the sidelines. Plenty of people will keep watching.