Who Should Replace Mike Woodson as NY Knicks Coach?
The conclusion: Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau and Phil Jackson remain little more than pipe dreams, either by dint of personality or past Knickerbocker baggage.
With these rock-star candidates out of the question—at least for now—owner James Dolan would be wise to reel in a skipper who, while perhaps lacking in the aforementioned trio’s rings and accolades, can no less put his Knicks in a position to succeed going forward.
Today, we examine four coaches that stand a good chance of landing this no-doubt difficult duty.
The candidates will be ranked in ascending order, from “good fit” to “best fit possible.”
Throughout, we’re assuming one, rather big what-if eventually comes to pass: New York bringing back—and summarily rebuilding around—Carmelo Anthony.
4) Robert Pack
What’s a high-office race without a sneaky sleeper?
Pack raised his profile as a hard-nosed but fair instructor, the guy on staff unafraid to get in a player’s face and tell him when he’s disrespecting the game. The Clippers’ roster is a tough audience of veterans and young supernovas, but Pack quickly earned credibility as someone who offered coaching and an honest ear.
Pack brings a floor general’s approach to the game, and can claim Darren Collison and Eric Bledsoe as young point guards who flourished under his direction. Chris Paul has conveyed his respect for Pack’s expertise and manner.
That last point might be the most critical: Of all the Knicks’ glaring weaknesses, their point-guard play is at or near the top of the list.
Raymond Felton has been an absolute train wreck, but at 28 years old, it’s unlikely that Pack would be able to work the same magic with him as with the above-mentioned, more malleable talents.
Still, Pack is exactly the kind of guy you’d want at the reins should a roster rebuild become necessary—a coach who, like the Boston Celtics’ Brad Stevens, can be allowed to grow into the job over a period of years, rather than months.
Whether James Dolan has that kind of patience is another question entirely.
3) P.J. Carlesimo
If you’re a Knicks fan looking for flash and sizzle with your team's next coaching hire, this probably wasn't the name you wanted to hear.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a well-respected NBA staple who’s seen it all, done it all and has the scars to prove it? P.J. Carlesimo might just be your horse.
Carlesimo was unceremoniously dismissed following a solid 35-19 rescue of the Brooklyn Nets a season ago—a push that ended with a disappointing loss to the shorthanded Chicago Bulls in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Despite the deflating finish, Carlesimo could prove a good fit for the Knicks, eager as they likely are to have a relatively low-key authority running the show.
How Anthony and the rest of the Knicks would mesh with Carlesimo would certainly be a wildcard, although he seemed to do just fine dealing with Deron Williams, not exactly a paragon of subordinate flexibility over the years.
More importantly, unlike a Jerry Sloan or Phil Jackson, Carlesimo wouldn’t necessarily be looking to force-feed his players into a particular system.
When your best player is as intermittently hardheaded and systemically fickle as Carmelo Anthony, that kind of flexibility counts for more than one might think.
2) Patrick Ewing
How’s this for a sentimental favorite?
In the forty-plus years since New York’s lone title-winning teams, no player brought the Knicks closer to a third banner than Ewing, who currently serves as an assistant with the Charlotte Bobcats under head coach Steve Clifford.
Of all the candidates on this list, Ewing poses by far the biggest risk-reward: Failing in his first head-coaching stint—in the caustic cauldron of commentary that is New York, no less—would be disastrous for both sides.
On the other hand, Ewing’s unrivaled pedigree and presence could be just the kind of centering force the team needs.
From Dolan’s perspective, hiring Ewing would accomplish three, equally important things: mending fences with the Big Fella himself, providing some much-needed positive PR and giving the Knicks a coach who, like Carlesimo, will likely look to foster a system that best fits the personnel.
Whether hiring Ewing would result in a snowballing of sentiment and success or an unmitigated disaster, it’s impossible to say. But seldom does an opportunity arise that meets the criteria of sound public relations and a [possible] brilliant basketball move alike.
For a succinct summary of why the Knicks ought to take a flyer on their former cornerstone, you could do a lot worse than this paragraph, from a column written by the New York Daily News' Mike Vaccaro last June:
All due respect to Clifford, who did win 86 games as a head coach at Adelphi 15 years ago, but if Jordan were going to take a flier, he couldn’t have done it with one of the greatest players of all time? Maybe it would be a fiasco. Maybe Patrick isn’t cut out for the job. It sure would be nice to find out one way or another.
1) Lionel Hollins
In four-and-a-half seasons under Lionel Hollins, the Memphis Grizzlies met the following benchmarks: improved their record every year, crashed the playoffs three straight seasons, and made it to the 2013 Western Conference Finals following a 56-win campaign.
How did Memphis reward this success? By not renewing Hollins’ contract, of course.
In a story about former Grizzlies assistant coach Barry Heckler, Sean Deveney of Sporting News managed to shed some light on the contentious relationship between Hollins and his superiors.
But Hecker said Hollins had resisted some of the changes management had made—he was angry about the trade that sent Rudy Gay to Toronto in January, for example—and was not going to be able to co-exist with the front office.
Say what you will about Hollins’ purported aversion to advanced analytics, the respect he commands from his players would certainly bode well with the Melo-centered Knicks.
And while Mike Woodson never hesitates to talk the talk when it comes to team defense, Hollins' teams actually practiced what their coach preached, finishing in the top 10 in overall defensive efficiency in each of his last three seasons.
The offense probably won’t change much, but if Hollins can at least get the Knicks to commit to being an upper-fold team at the other end of the floor, they’ll stand a much better chance of making good on their all-in Carmelo Anthony gamble.
Mending the Melo Fence
Regardless of who the Knicks ultimately choose to lead the troops, their search for a new head coach remains just one of the manifold decisions the team stands to make over the next few months.
The domino under which all the rest stand to fall: whether New York—currently two games back of the eighth-place Bobcats—can pull it together in time to sneak their way into the playoffs.
Meaningless moral victory though it may be, a late-season push just might be a deciding factor of what Melo decides to do.
Should Anthony choose the stay, the onus will be on Dolan to not only restructure the team’s on-court personnel, but to find a coach with more potential and more prone to being flexible than the one he’ll replace.