With Mike Woodson in Trouble, Who Are the Knicks' Best Options to Replace Him?
Mike Woodson's seat has been hot all season.
Back in early February, signs were already pointing to his departure. Per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, word around the organization was that it was merely a matter of time before the Knicks canned "Woody":
For a while now, the firing of New York Knicks' coach Mike Woodson has become a "when," not an "if," conversation.
Whether it happens before the All-Star break, after the All-Star break or after the season, there is almost certainly going to be a new coach for New York. The Knicks' front office knows this, or at least it seems like it does, already quietly reaching out to potential candidates to gauge interest. The Knicks players appear to know it, both publicly and privately grumbling about Woodson's strategies and methods.
The recent hiring of Phil Jackson as the Knicks' president of basketball operations makes Woodson's departure all the more inevitable, as Jackson will surely look to put his imprint on the organization by making a bold new hire.
If the Knicks make a miraculous playoff run, could Woodson potentially save his job? Sure. I'd be happy for the guy, too. The majority of the team's problems this year weren't his fault, but he's being blamed nonetheless.
However, if we take a step back and look at the state of the New York Knicks, it just doesn't make much sense to retain Woodson—regardless of any playoff run he's able to lead.
This is an organization that was the laughingstock of the NBA for much of the season. Bringing in Phil was a sign that James Dolan and Co. finally recognized that some serious changes were in order.
Keeping Woodson around would be a step in the wrong direction.
So then who will replace him? Who will be asked to lead this once-storied franchise out of the darkness and into the light?
Christian Bale? Unfortunately, he's not interested.
There are some coaches who might be, though. Let's take a look.
Honorable Mentions (That Won't Happen)
After another successful year at Iowa State, rumors are flying that Fred Hoiberg could be headed for the NBA.
In fact, one NBA general manager had this to say, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: "If I had to make a hire this year, [Hoiberg] would be one of the first calls I'd make...He is a natural for our league."
It would be an interesting choice, that's for sure. I'm just not convinced Jackson would trust such an unproven guy. Plus, can you imagine Knicks fans' outrage if Hoiberg doesn't deliver, considering no one in New York knows who he is?
Thibs to the Knicks was suggested by the New York Post's Marc Berman.
He'd be a total steal. He's one of the best coaches in the entire NBA and would be the perfect man to turn this organization around.
But it's not going to happen. No chance.
Zero chance this happens.
In fact, I'd say there's a better chance Thibodeau becomes the next head coach of the Knicks than Derek Fisher.
The Jason Kidd hire this past offseason was a total anomaly, so we shouldn't get comfortable with the idea of players retiring and immediately landing head coaching gigs.
While Kidd has done fairly well with the Nets and has them playing some great basketball right now, he clearly struggled early on, and that isn't something that the Knicks can afford.
They can't hire someone as inexperienced as Fisher and deal with the insane amount of backlash that would come their way if he struggled out of the gate.
Now, could Fisher be in line for a front-office position? Absolutely.
But he won't be coaching.
5. Allan Houston
So why wouldn't he still be a candidate?
Houston, the current Knicks assistant general manager, has worked with Dolan and his fellow Knicks brass for years now, so he'd be familiar with how things work.
Plus, being one of most popular Knicks players in recent memory wouldn't hurt him in terms of fan support.
While I think that hiring Houston would be a huge stretch, if Jackson wants a "puppet," Houston could be his man.
That sounds really negative, but honestly, the Knicks could do a lot worse.
Jackson is one of the brightest basketball minds we've ever had, and if he doesn't want to coach, the next best thing could very well be hiring a coach who will listen to him, teach his philosophies and play second fiddle when it comes to the media.
4. John Calipari
John Calipari has amazing hair. Sorry, I just had to get that out there. Amazing hair.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand.
Hiring Calipari, who coached the New Jersey Nets from 1996 to 1999, would be exactly the kind of splash fans expect Jackson to make.
He's a high-profile name with a tremendous history of success.
The biggest question with him (outside of whether he'd even consider leaving the ideal situation he's in at Kentucky) is the same question that every college coach rumored to be in contention for an NBA job faces:
Can he make the transition from college to the pros?
If any college coach can do it, it's Calipari. In many ways, his role at Kentucky is much more similar to the role of an NBA coach than a college coach, anyway.
Think about it.
Most college coaches around the country are asked to develop talent, teach fundamentals and recruit.
Calipari, on the other hand, is asked to do something totally different.
Instead of developing talent, he's tasked with getting the incredible amount of talent that he has to mesh.
Instead of teaching fundamentals, his job is to ensure that a collection of blue-chip recruits is playing their best basketball come March.
And sure, Calipari recruits, but not in the way that most coaches do. The University of Kentucky basketball program does the recruiting for him. It's slogan: Come here and we'll make you a first-round pick in a year.
So, yeah of course Calipari would have to adjust to the NBA game, but he's more than ready for the opportunity.
If he was able to get five of the top 11 recruits in the 2013 recruiting class (Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson and James Young) to play together and share the ball, I'm pretty sure he could handle Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Co.
3. Jim Cleamons
Jim Cleamons, a current assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks, could be Jackson's first choice to replace Woodson in Manhattan.
Because Cleamons and Jackson share a ton of history, having won nine championships together in Chicago and Los Angeles.
With the belief being that Jackson wants to install his patented triangle offense in New York, he'll need to hire a coach familiar with it—and Cleamons knows it as well as anybody.
Phil is bright. He understands the game. He’s going to put good people around him...That’s my feeling. I know nothing else.
I know the offense, but I don’t know what his plans are...I’m worried about the Milwaukee Bucks. You have to ask Phil that question.
Even if Jackson doesn't make knowing his offensive scheme a priority during the hiring process, the fact that he and Cleamons have a solid working relationship is a huge plus.
What person in Jackson's position wouldn't want a head coach he can trust and is familiar with?
Cleamons isn't a sexy choice, but he could very well be the right one.
2. Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr wants to be an NBA head coach.
Appearing on the Dan Patrick Show (h/t NBCSports.com), he had this to say:
In general terms, what’s intriguing, for me, I’ve been broadcasting for eight years. I love visiting with the coaches beforehand, hearing what they are trying to do that night, the strategy, how they are trying to attack the other team. It’s fascinating to me. That’s the intriguing part of it for me. If I ever end up going down that path, it’s because of what I've been able to experience as a broadcaster and a player.
Jackson wants Kerr.
According to USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt:
"If indeed TNT analyst and former NBA guard Steve Kerr, who played for three of Jackson's championship Bulls teams, wants to coach, he is the front-runner, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports."
OK, so it's a match made in heaven. A well-respected figure in the basketball world wants to try his hand at coaching, and the man in charge of hiring the next Knicks head coach wants him.
What's the holdup then?
Like I mentioned previously with Fisher, the Knicks aren't exactly in a position where hiring a rookie head coach makes a lot of sense.
If they had a solid starting five, a sixth man and other role players who understood what they needed to do to win, then fine, hire Kerr. But this Knicks team is a disaster right now. Is Kerr ready to take all that on?
Personally, I doubt he is, but I could also see him surprising everyone and turning this thing around.
This would be a bold hire, to say the least.
1. Mark Jackson
Is Mark Jackson going to leave the Golden State Warriors? Probably not.
Would the New York Knicks head coaching position be his dream job? Definitely.
Therefore, we have to at least consider him as a potential candidate.
In addition to being born and raised in Brooklyn, Jackson also won the Rookie of the Year award as a Knick and trails only Walt Frazier on the team's all-time assists leader board.
Jackson has turned the Warriors into legitimate championship contenders by getting the most out of his players. How has he done that? By instilling confidence in them.
That's something that this Knicks squad desperately needs.
Playing in Manhattan is tough. Scrutiny comes much more often and hits a whole lot harder than does praise.
So, a coach like Jackson could be the perfect person to maintain the team's focus throughout a grueling 82-game season.
There was a report from Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that Jackson could be interested in other coaching positions. Though CSN Bay Area's Monte Poole reported that Jackson has denied those claims (h/t CBSSports.com's Royce Young), the fact that reports have surfaced always means something.
One specific rumor coming out of Golden State is that Jackson is a very controlling presence in the locker room. This apparently contributed to the recent reassignment of Warriors assistant coach Brian Scalabrine.
"League sources say Jackson is very insecure about his assistants getting credit. He doesn't allow them to speak on the record to print media, and Scalabrine did not respond to requests from The Chronicle for a comment."
Just in case you aren't a Knicks fan or don't follow New York sports journalism, a coach who doesn't allow assistants to speak on record to the media sounds like the perfect fit for New York.
The Knicks have, for years, been a very tight-lipped organization. So, something that is potentially being viewed as a negative in San Francisco could be viewed in a much more positive light by Knicks management.
Plus, with the Knicks in legitimate shambles, inserting a controlling, dominant figure at the helm might be a smart move.
Will Jackson spur Steph Curry and Klay Thompson for Anthony and his hometown team? The always entertaining Stephen A. Smith seems to think so.
Sound off in the comment section below and let me know what you think about the Knicks head coaching situation. As always, thanks for reading and be sure to follow me on Twitter @kbaker0506.
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