Why Steve Kerr Doesn't Make Sense as Next Knicks Head Coach

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Why Steve Kerr Doesn't Make Sense as Next Knicks Head Coach
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One day, Steve Kerr is going to make himself a fine head coach for a respectable NBA team.

That team shouldn't be the New York Knicks.

This is hardly an indictment of Kerr, who is a well-spoken, thoughtful individual with the presence of mind to always say the right thing. It's not even an insult to the Knicks, who could actually receive brownie points for not attaching themselves to the most ostentatious and expensive name out there.

This is a rare occasion in which neither party needs to be vilified or belittled. It's simply not the right fit, and not just because Mike Woodson is still in the Knicks' employ. He's not the issue.

Woodson is about as likely to be coaching in New York next season as Hostess is to mass produce batches of Chewy Spree-stuffed Twinkies. For those too calorie-conscious for Twinkie analogies, the New York Daily News' Frank Isola had this to say:

Mike Woodson is a long shot to survive the anticipated purge at MSG. However, he may have a job lined up sooner than later. According to a source, Woodson would be a top candidate at his alma mater, Indiana University, if current coach Tom Crean does not return. The source claims that several prominent IU boosters are pushing to buy out Crean and install Woodson, a product of Indianapolis, as the coach.

[...]

Woodson, according to a team source, has been resigned to the fact that this would be his last season with the Knicks even before last Friday, when the Daily News first reported that Madison Square Chairman James Dolan had offered Phil Jackson a front-office job. Jackson has said on numerous occasions that he is no longer interested in coaching.

So, yeah. Happy trails, Mike.

But let's all hold off on ushering Kerr into his still-occupied seat.

 

Why Kerr Is a Candidate

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Assuming Woodson doesn't survive the cleansing newly hired Phil Jackson is expected to chief, that leaves a prominent opening on the sidelines, where many a man hath perished since the turn of this century. And if that's what happens, if Woodson's days are indeed numbered, ESPN's Marc Stein says Jackson already has his sights set on someone else:

Are you surprised you're not surprised? Didn't think so.

From the moment Knicks owner James Dolan hijacked negotiations with Jackson, Kerr's name has slithered deeper and deeper inside New York's uniformly churning rumor mill. And for good reasons. 

Kerr wants to coach. He's done the general manager thing with the Phoenix Suns, and he's doing the on-air thing with Turner Sports. Oh, and he's done the player thing too, milking five championships—three of which came under Jackson with the Chicago Bulls—out of an understated 15-year NBA career.

After all his previous experience, he wants to make his next foray into the Association as a head coach, which he made clear while appearing on the Dan Patrick Show (h/t Sports Illustrated):

I’ve been talking about [coaching] the last couple of years. I left Phoenix when I was a general manager knowing that I didn’t want to get back into management, but feeling like coaching would be a possibility at some point. I love being on the floor with the players. As a GM, that was one percent of the time. I love the game. I have probably one of the best jobs in the world … I’m perfectly happy doing what I’m doing, trust me. At some point in my life, if there’s a [coaching] opportunity that intrigues me, I might take it.

Could that opportunity lie in New York, say, within the walls of Madison Square Garden?

Kerr wouldn't say, but he did admit to remaining close with Jackson.

"We’ve stayed close over the years," Kerr told Patrick. "He’s in Los Angeles and I’m in San Diego. I see him occasionally … we email quite a bit. We stay in touch. I played for him for five years. We share that bond and the love for the game. We talk basketball when we get together."

Basketball? As in, "Will you coach the Knicks next season?"

Kerr still wouldn't say. But it doesn't matter.

Rumors and speculation aside, he's a natural candidate for any Jackson-counseled franchise. Not only does he have an existing relationship with the Zen Master, but he spent five years playing in Jackson's notorious and mysterious Triangle offense.

As far as comfort goes, the fit is there—for Jackson and Kerr, not the Knicks.

 

One Too Many Risks

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New York is already taking a gamble on Jackson.

Bringing him in was an aggressive move aimed at altering perception of a team that has no plans to cease retooling through free-agent and superstar gambits. For what the Knicks want—even if that includes a $60 million scapegoat—it was a good move. 

But Jackson, for the first time in decades, is a neophyte. The extent of his front office experience includes trifling responsibilities, the most noteworthy of which came last summer, when he advised the Detroit Pistons' coaching search. That stint as a consultant culminated in the hiring of Mo Cheeks, who lasted all of 50 games before being shown the door.

Like it or not, Jackson is a risk. A big one. Fans won't settle for a coaching legend turned patsy. They want results and stability. Jackson's arrival is precarious enough. Despite what anyone hopes, the impact he will have remains unknown. Now the Knicks are supposed to add a rookie head coach to the fold?

Pass. Respectfully, of course, but still pass.

Jackson, per Isola, is in New York to land the big fish. That's not limited to superstar free-agent players. It includes coaches.

Gary Dineen/Getty Images
Kerr may be too big of a dice roll for New York.

The Knicks will want another big name to fortify their current situation, someone with experience and credentials that rival Jackson's. 

Someone who won't necessarily support the Triangle offense.

Yes, I'm serious. While built for teams without elite point guards, the Triangle is complex and difficult to implement. Many a coach not named Phil Jackson has failed to effectively use it in the past, as Pro Basketball Talk's Brett Pollakoff pointed out last season:

The Triangle Offense isn’t an easy one to implement, nor is it an easy one to teach to a team without the proper pieces to run it successfully. Jackson had the offense’s architect, Tex Winter, as a member of his staff throughout, along with assistants Frank Hamblen and Jim Cleamons who were familiar with it inside and out and able to teach and run it seamlessly.

Kurt Rambis tried to bring it with him to a rebuilding Minnesota team, and failed miserably doing so, getting fired after compiling a brutal record of 32-132 in his two seasons there.

History isn't littered with NBA coaches who mastered the Triangle. There is only Jackson, and he needed Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan to keep it together. 

Can Carmelo Anthony do the same in New York? Should the Knicks even want him to? After he's spent the last two seasons developing into a stretch 4, does he want to see more time on the block?

"The triangle must have a center who can hold the post and can read and react and make the right passes," former Bulls player Stacey King told Newsday's Al Iannazzone.

Jennifer Pottheiser/Getty Images
Can these Knicks even run the Triangle?

Is Tyson Chandler that center? Is Amar'e Stoudemire that center?

King also says you need "high basketball IQ" to run the system. Are the Knicks flush with those types of players?

There are so many questions that would go into razing New York's current system. While they could have the personnel to make it work, Kerr might not be the coach to make it work. You don't hear of other coaches at the NBA level boasting Triangle success stories, just Jackson.

Working directly under him could help Kerr implement the Triangle, but the Zen Master wasn't brought in to coach. He was hired to oversee everything, not micromanage to the point of coaching. If he wanted to coach, the Knicks would have offered him a blank check.

If he wanted to coach, he would be coaching.

 

Good Prospect, Bad Fit

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More unnerving than anything continues to be Kerr's experience, or lack thereof.

This summer is pivotal for New York. Anthony could leave. Three sources "familiar" with Anthony's thinking told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith he actually plans on leaving. 

Kerr isn't the coach to stop that from happening. 

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The absence of cap space dissuades the Knicks from landing big-name players to preclude Anthony's departure. They cannot go superstar fishing until 2015.

But they can do the next best thing, much like they did with Jackson, by hiring a well-respected, polarizing figure to police the sidelines.

Even now, this side of Jackson's hiring, the Knicks are still all about Anthony. They have to be. It's him that can help recruit fellow superstars to New York—should he choose to stay—beyond this season, not Kerr.

If overlooking head-coaching novices in favor of a flashy name, such as Jeff Van Gundy, Lionel Hollins or—complete-lapse-in-judgment-by-the-Bulls permitting—Tom Thibodeau is what it takes to assure the Knicks of Anthony's return, Jackson must oblige.

None of this, again, is to say Kerr cannot coach. For a patient team in a smaller market committed to a more conventional rebuild, he's an intriguing prospect. Think Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix or Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Bobcats, among other situations. Kerr's personable demeanor makes him a viable option elsewhere—just not New York. 

The Knicks are spent on risks. They now have $60 million invested in one upstairs. Their next staffing move must be less ambiguous, more certain.

 

*Salary information via ShamSports.


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