Raissman: Selling future only Zen-sible game plan for Knicks

Howard Simmons There’s only one thing Phil Jackson has left to sell with Knicks — hope.

Too bad all those championship rings can’t be turned into life preservers. That’s what Phil Jackson needs, in a basketball sense, of course.

Despite his celebrated hoops genius, despite the many cerebral portraits a gushing media has painted, Jackson has arrived at the same destination others running the Knicks (mere mortals, Non Zen Men) have already reached. Jackson is caught in the middle of another lost season in the Drecca looking up from the bottom.

Mostly he has skated. The media has not held him accountable for the current fiasco, choosing to focus on, and basically sell, his long term plan — whatever that is.

Still, Jackson must be leafing through the dusty manifestos left behind by some of his predecessors, at least the ones who were allowed to speak in public. By now, Jackson has found out he’s got only one thing to sell — hope.

The Zen Master should not sweat this. It does not matter if his pitch is reality-based or just another in a long line of con jobs authored by Knicks brass. The same sales pitch has been delivered from James (Guitar Jimmy) Dolan’s Gulag for years. It has worked.

It doesn’t matter that this direct marketing has not led to positive results on the court, where it counts most. What matters is the media surrounding the Knicks have bought it and acted as de facto salespersons.

Nothing is about to change.

Granted Jackson is delivering the word from a shaky foundation (now a rickety 10-43). On the court all he has to show for his first season of maneuverings is the NBA’s version of Question Mark and the Mysterians. Not exactly inspiring, right? Yet all that matters is taking the focus off the present.

That already is being accomplished in different ways. Dolan, unwittingly , provided a smokescreen when he sent a scathing email to Irving Bierman. In doing so, Guitar Jimmy hijacked the media spotlight at the All-Star break, taking it off his team and the miserable failure Jackson’s first season at the helm has been.

Carmelo Anthony actually earned some of his max salary by providing Jackson with more cover. Media seals lapped up, and totally blew out of proportion, this “controversy” about whether he should play in the All-Star game knowing his season might end shortly after Sunday night’s extravaganza if he opted for knee surgery.

Instead of talking about the awful job Jackson has done, the Valley of the Stupid, and other media precincts, focussed on Melo, his knees, and whether he should play in the All-Star tilt. What a fine diversion.

Then there’s LeBron James. After he said: “If I could have 82 regular-season games in the Garden I would because it’s the Mecca of basketball,” the old, moldy speculation (no matter how wishful or false) about the King eventually winding up with the Knicks was resurrected. ESPN Radio’s Ian O’Connor talked about James ending his career in the Gulag and becoming a “hero” by leading the Knicks to an NBA title.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images Carmelo Anthony provides a smokescreen for the Knicks’ woes during All-Star weekend by drumming up ‘controversy’ on whether or not he should play in the game.

Hoop dreams can serve to distract. That’s what selling hope is all about. Convincing fans to live in the future — and believe in the notion the Garden is still a place to be seen — is why the Knicks are far from floundering at the box office.

From now through the summer, Jackson will be pitching the fan base on the type of moves he expects to make, the kind of players he wants. He used Amar’e Stoudemire’s departure to do just that Monday when he said: “As we move forward in structuring this team, we will look for players that exhibit his desire to win.”

Like he did last summer, Jackson will say the team he builds, with his kind of guys, will make the playoffs. The media, with no interest in focussing on the current product, will serve as Jackson’s conduit and accomplice. It will speculate on moves he might make and swallow the crumbs he feeds them.

Jackson knows this. He also knows the toxic environment where he works makes it incumbent on him to watch what he says. An effective sales pitch means staying on message. Two weeks ago, Jackson said: “So far my experiment has fallen flat on its face.” Last week, he talked out of the other side of his mouth, saying: “Things are working out just the way we want them to.”

Was this flip-flop a result of a Gulag operative whispering in his ear? Or was it the realization he must always push a positive vibe, that the long-term plan is always “working out?” Those questions have yet to be answered.

There are other questions that should/could be posed. Like, Phil, considering the Knicks’ dreadful performance, should ticket prices be reduced next season to reward fans who have stuck by your team this season?

Or, should cable rates be reduced to compensate those who have been paying an inflated price to watch awful Knicks basketball?

The answer to both those question will be a resounding NO. For there is no need to drop prices. Read all about it: Things are going to be much, much better next season.

Hope is alive.

Just ask Phil Jackson.

Phil Jackson ,

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