In an offseason in which the New York Knicks will keep player development coach Dave Bliss and part ways with assistant Josh Longstaff, team president Phil Jackson remains confident in Clarence Gaines Jr., vice president of player personnel.
"Phil has a small circle of friends,'' Walter Perrin, vice president of player personnel for the Utah Jazz, said, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman. "He has a sense of loyalty to him, someone he's felt comfortable working with in the past.''
Gaines joined Jackson's staff three summers ago, where he started as an adviser and played a big role in the team drafting Kristaps Porzingis in 2015, according to Berman.
"His argument for Kristaps Porzingis convinced me to make that out-of-the-box choice,'' Jackson said, according to Berman.
Gaines had been with the Chicago Bulls for 11 years from the 1989-90 season through 2000, spending time as a scout and special assistant to the GM while Jackson was Chicago's coach.
"He's got a unique perspective of players and their character and how they'd blend into a team,'' former Knick Bill Cartwright said, according to Berman. "He's been around a basketball team his whole life. It's not necessarily he knows players for the triangle but an understanding how they could fit into a team and bring the team value. That's the biggest part of scouting."
Jackson's Knicks tenure has been muddled by controversy, questions, uncertainty and poor treatment of his players to boot. With three full seasons under his belt as an executive, collective progress is hard to pinpoint. Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez certainly represent two promising cornerstones for success, but Jackson hasn't proved he can build around them and/or instill the element of positive culture this organization has craved for years.
Alas, his only sure thing, a home run decision, was hiring Gaines. The longtime scout turned VP of player personnel has had his fingerprints on many of New York's rare bright spots in recent years -- Porzingis, Hernangomez, Langston Galloway, etc. Also with a high regard for a player like Maurice Ndour, it's worthwhile to wonder if New York failed to utilize him properly this past season. Granted, a scout isn't necessarily dialed in 100 percent of the time but Gaines' track record is impressive, so it may be worth taking another look at Ndour just based on that alone.
With that in mind, it's a contrast from Jackson's inability to build a successful team as an executive (so far). It'd be so easy to have faith in New York's scouting efforts of Frank Ntilikina over some of the more well-known NCAA prospects. The Knicks obviously have a plethora of scouts and other personnel behind Gaines who deserve credit as well, but if he sees something favorable in such a prospect, there's a reason to pay attention. The Knicks have had success scouting internationally, and Gaines has proved to find unique talent in surprising places.
Much like Games, Jackson, too, is known for some very unorthodox practices. Perhaps this is part of the reason why the two trust each other and have such a camaraderie. Jackson's recent trail of negativity, however, should create a cause for concern. There's no guarantee he'll be able to turn this team around. Gaines may be Jackson's guy, but he's more responsible for the positive things tied to Jackson's tenure. He may simply have an eye for talent, but it'd be interesting to see if he could develop a brighter and more positive culture if given the responsibilities Jackson holds today. Perhaps he would excel if given the opportunity. After all, it's not likely he could do much worse, and there have been plenty of mistakes to learn from.