If the Knicks sneak into the playoffs, new team president Phil Jackson thinks the re-emergence of J.R. Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire "will give teams trouble."
Meeting with reporters for the first time since his introductory news conference on March 18, Jackson described the Knicks' play of late as "up and down." But he said Stoudemire and Smith have provided secondary scoring options that make the Knicks a potentially dangerous matchup in the playoffs.
They are percentage points ahead of Atlanta for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot, but Atlanta has one fewer loss and holds the tiebreaker advantage.
"I felt like they played a lot better against higher quality teams, or tougher teams, than they have against also-rans," Jackson said of the Knicks' play since he was hired. "But I think they're playing with great energy now and they're playing with a purpose, and I appreciate that."
Jackson said he's spent his first few weeks on the job mostly in assessment mode, as he anticipated would be the case. He said he speaks daily with general manager Steve Mills, has had a few "getting-to-know-you" chats with Carmelo Anthony and met with the team's scouts this week to begin discussing his vision for the future.
What happens with Anthony's anticipated free agency this summer -- he has said he will opt out of his contract -- will go a long way toward determining the Knicks' plans, but Jackson said his conversations with Anthony have been more about the short term because of the toll this season has taken on their star player.
"He's had to carry a big load and it's been a tough year for him," Jackson said. "It's been a tough year for everyone, it's not just isolated with him, but I think he feels the weight of it a lot more on him."
Jackson said at his introductory news conference that Anthony has the potential to be even better, and he said Thursday he has seen signs of that already happening because he believes Anthony has been more open to passing. As evidence, Jackson said he recently told Anthony how impressed he was with a sequence late in the win over Sacramento last week in which Anthony drew a double-team and found an open Stoudemire under the basket for a dunk.
"When Carmelo had to carry the load of scoring a lot of times on his own back and other people weren't stepping up and helping him carry that load, which Amar'e and J.R. have done, it could be a struggle," Jackson said. "But now they have more than one option out there on the floor."
Aside from the play of Smith and Stoudemire, Jackson thinks the biggest reason for the Knicks' 12-3 record since March 5 has been their improved defense, which he said was on full display in their 110-81 win over the Nets on Wednesday night.
"I'm still a coach that believes in pressure and pressure defense," Jackson said, "and playing like we saw the Knicks play [Wednesday] night."
But while he'll still instinctively refer to himself as a coach, Jackson said he doesn't feel the urge to take the job: "I have no intention of coaching."
Still, he speaks with players -- he talked with Iman Shumpert about defense Thursday -- and has felt the urge to yell at referees from his seat, but that's as close as he gets.
Jackson doesn't think speculation about coach Mike Woodson's future has had any bearing on the coach, saying, "He survived a hard year, so this is nothing for him."
Jackson said he won't travel with the team during its final playoff push because "that's not my job," but if the Knicks make the playoffs, he said he will be there for every game. And he hopes they get that far not only because he thinks they could do some damage, but because he thinks it's a great setting to assess players.
Jackson said the Knicks' strong ties with players and executives represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA) will have no bearing on his decision-making going forward. Anthony, Smith, Andrea Bargnani, Woodson, assistant GM Allan Houston and player personnel director Mark Warkentien all are represented by the agency.
Despite the team's salary-cap issues, Jackson doesn't expect to sit still this offseason.
"There's always ways to make moves," he said. "Even though the limitation and flexibility is limited, but we anticipate we're going to try and improve the team at every position we can."
The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, Madison Square Garden and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday and amNewYork.