There is little doubt the New York Knicks will be in the market for a new head coach in the offseason and absolutely no doubt they will seek the input of star forward Carmelo Anthony in making that decision.
True, the Knicks still have a head coach on the payroll in Mike Woodson, but he might not last until next week, let alone next season. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported on Thursday that Anthony met with owner James Dolan to discuss Woodson's future with the team.
Anthony confirmed the meeting, but denied it was regarding anything serious, calling it "generic conversation," per the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring.
Woodson is going to be fired eventually, regardless of what actually transpired in that meeting. His Knicks have struggled terribly in 2013-14, and the coach has alienated fans and players alike with his condescending attitude and never-ending supply of excuses for his poor performance.
As for Anthony, he will be a free agent at the end of the season, and the Knicks' front office will clearly do everything in its power to make sure he re-signs with New York. They wouldn't dare sign another head coach without at least Anthony's tacit approval.
That makes the Knicks' next coaching decision a perilous one.
They need to find a coach who can mold the Knicks poorly conceived roster into an effective unit, particularly on defense. They need to find a coach who can develop young talents like Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert and Jeremy Tyler (assuming they haven't been traded by then). Most importantly, they need to find a coach who commands the respect of their star.
Can they find a coach who is right for the franchise and right for Melo? The success of the franchise likely rides on the question.
The "Name" Coaches
If Anthony stays in New York for the 2014-15 season, he will likely be playing for the fourth coach of NBA career, not counting interim coaches.
With the exception of his first coach, Jeff Bzdelik, Anthony's NBA coaches have all fit a similar profile. George Karl, Mike D'Antoni and Mike Woodson were all retreads—coaches who had led different clubs to the playoffs before joining up with Anthony.
That pattern fits with what Knicks owner James Dolan usually looks for in a head coach. Six men have coached the Knicks for at least 50 games since 2002—Don Chaney, Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas, D'Antoni and Woodson—and all of them were retreads. For better or worse, Dolan prefers coaches with name value.
In a perfect world, this would leave coaching legend Phil Jackson at the top of New York's candidate list. Jackson has been the dream choice of Knicks fans for a quarter of a century. He has roots with the club—playing 10 seasons with New York. He was a part of New York's last championship club—the 1972-73 Knicks—and learned the coaching trade from the greatest coach in Knicks history, Red Holzman.
Of course, Jackson would immediately garner the respect of Anthony and everyone else in the Knicks organization. His resume is impeachable.
But this is not a perfect world, and nobody knows this better than Knicks fans. Jackson spoke to NBA TV in January and sounded pessimistic about a return to coaching, citing age and health concerns:
Another dream candidate with ties to the Knicks is former head coach Jeff Van Gundy. Marc Berman of the New York Post floated out Van Gundy's name as a possible replacement for Woodson back in December.
Van Gundy is known as strict, defensive-minded coach. Would that jibe with Melo? Absolutely, it would.
Carmelo Anthony isn't necessarily the same person he was a few years ago, when he butted heads with George Karl and Mike D'Antoni. Like most people, he has grown over the years.
He still may not be a good defender, but nobody in the NBA has played harder this season than Melo. He leads the league in minutes per game. He willingly plays either forward position. He is constantly hammered by multiple defenders, who can key on him as the Knicks' only legitimate scoring option. He averages nearly as many rebounds per game (8.6) as center Tyson Chandler (8.8).
In fact, Melo seems like the kind of player who should get a chance to work with Van Gundy—a coach who will demand accountability from the rest of the team.
If Van Gundy turns down any New York coaching offer, it won't be because of Anthony. Berman reports that, although Van Gundy and Dolan have seemingly set aside most of their differences stemming from the coach's abrupt departure during the 2002-03 season, Van Gundy would likely demand input into personnel decisions.
If anything, it will be control, and not Melo, that keeps Van Gundy away from the Knicks job.
Throughout the NBA, a host of promising first-time head coaches have enjoyed immediate success in 2013-14. In Phoenix, Jeff Hornacek looks like a strong Coach of the Year candidate for guiding the young Suns to a 29-20 record.
In Charlotte, former Knicks assistant coach Steve Clifford has the Bobcats in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, 1.5 games ahead of New York. The Bobcats are playing the kind of defense Knicks fans can only dream of, the kind of defense New York used to play, way back in the glory days.
With his strong defensive pedigree, Clifford is comparable to another former Knicks assistant, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. In one of the NBA's cruelest ironies, the defensively inept New York Knicks specialize in churning out fine defensive head coaches...who no longer coach for the Knicks.
It is no accident that New York's best coaching talent has to look elsewhere for advancement; it is a byproduct of Dolan's lust for "name" coaches. Why hire a Hornacek or a Clifford when you can grab headlines with a Larry Brown or a Mike D'Antoni?
There is a popular line of thinking that one needs previous head coaching experience to survive the MSG maelstrom. The idea would be laughable if it wasn't so destructive to the franchise. It can be immediately dismissed merely by looking at the Knicks' own history.
Who was the last first-timer to coach a full season in New York? None other than Jeff Van Gundy, who took over for Don Nelson (yet another unsuccessful retread) during the 1995-96 season. He would go on to win 248 regular-season games in his career with New York and lead the Knicks to their last NBA Finals.
There are a whole host of talented coaches in the college and professional ranks who could excel with a player as talented as Anthony. Bleacher Report's own Adam Fromal would like to see what Iowa State head coach (and former NBA player) Fred Hoiberg could do with Melo:
Haven't seen this said much, but I'd love to see Fred Hoiberg coach Melo. Great ball movement and spacing would do wonders for NY offense.— Adam Fromal (@fromal09) February 9, 2014
Fred "The Mayor" Hoiberg as coach of the New York Knicks? It's almost too beautiful to imagine. I wholeheartedly support our new Hoiberg overlord.
Anthony has already shown signs that he is looking for a coach with a talent for calling plays. At least he seems tired of Woodson's policy of simply giving him the ball in isolation time after time in the fourth quarter. They seemingly disagreed on how to run the Knicks offense during the fourth quarter of a December game against Chicago, per Herring:
Woodson, on the late-game shots: "I'll take a shot from Melo all day long [in that situation]." Says some of those iso plays were designed.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
Melo, on the late-game isolations: "Guys are kinda waiting around for me to do something. ... We've gotta get away from that. And we will."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
But could Melo be able to respect someone with no previous head coaching experience? Only if he heeds the lessons learned by his friend, LeBron James.
In 2010, James came to Miami to play for Eric Spoelstra a young man with no NBA head coaching experience outside of the Heat organization. Spoelstra caught a great deal of flak for his inexperience during that 2010-11 season, but both he and the Heat players grew on the job, and now Spoelstra is one of the most respected coaches in the game.
The Middle Road is No Road at All
But the Knicks aren't likely to go in either of the directions mentioned above. In its current state, the organization isn't very attractive to the biggest names in coaching, unless they can negotiate total control. And James Dolan isn't likely to give that kind of power to an outsider.
Instead, New York will settle on a compromise candidate—a coach with an NBA resume but not enough cache to demand personnel input. In other words, a coach who looks a lot like Mike Woodson.
One potential candidate is former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins. But his departure from Memphis last summer was particularly acrimonious, and Berman believes that his noted distaste for advanced statistics may not jibe with the Knicks' front office.
Many retread candidates, like Nate McMillan, are more reputation than results, according to Herring:
Nah. His defenses have ranked No. 17, 17, 27, 27, 28, 26, 17, 13, 15 & 14. MT @TheRealBLee30: How do u feel abt Nate McMillian as an HC?— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 8, 2014
These are not the kind of candidates the New York Knicks need. The organization is floundering. If the Knicks want to keep Carmelo Anthony and build a successful team around him, they need to make a bold choice for head coach, and they need Anthony to respect that choice.