As the New York Knicks begin the massive undertaking of rebuilding a team with no picks, assets or cap space (sounds fun), the first and most important question is who the organization should tap as its next head coach. Unlike years past, the next Knicks coach needs to remain on the sidelines for seasons to come and become a staple of this once-proud franchise.
Sitting duck Mike Woodson has had two feet out the door since Phil Jackson was not-so-secretly wooed and brought in as the new lord of the manner. He put together a solid campaign in 2012-13 but found himself on the short end of the team's playoff loss to the Pacers and Frank Vogel.
Since then, Woodson has done slim-to-bupkis to prove himself worthy of his post, and his days have been numbered since December. If he hasn't already, he will be boxing up his coffee mug and stapler soon enough.
With Carmelo Anthony primed to test free agency, the team must resist the temptation to make its coaching search about who it thinks will convince Melo to stay. Rather, the team needs to focus on getting a solid, smart coach. Period. Regardless of what he can or cannot do for Melo.
The team cannot worry about which candidates can best coach the current roster or the two free agents it plans on pursuing in a couple summers, either.
No, the Knicks' next hire must come with the mindset that he will be a MSG staple for the next five, six, eight, 10 years of Knicks basketball, not just the next two-year push.
Part of that depends on the coach, of course, but another part depends on the organization's approach. The last few head coaches have worked under a constant spotlight, a seat that could get hot at a losing streak's notice.
"What have you done for us lately?" seemed to be the review process. That breeds insecurity and results in turnover at a position that demands consistency.
The team need look no further than its own history books to see how important stability at the front of the bench truly is.
When people talk about the Knicks of the '90s, they are talking about a team led by a star player in Patrick Ewing—but also one of two star coaches. Pat Riley was the Knicks head coach for four years and slithered away by choice to go to Miami, leaving but a trail of pomade behind him. Half a season later, Jeff Van Gundy took the reins and graced the MSG sidelines for six years thereafter.
In the 10 complete seasons that one of these guys coached the Knicks, the team finished in first or second place in the division all but twice. The team made the playoffs all 10 seasons and advanced beyond the first round in nine of those appearances.
Since then, the team has had a revolving door in and out of Penn Station. Bodies have come and gone, leaving unfinished jobs in their wake.
Don Chaney (72-112 in one full season sandwiched between two half-seasons), Lenny Wilkins (40-41 in two half-seasons), Larry Brown (23-59 in one season), Voldemort—aka Isiah Thomas (56-108 in two seasons), Mike D'Antoni (121-167 in three and a half seasons) and Mike Woodson (72-34 in a season and a half before this year's debacle). Only MDA lasted more than two full seasons.
Not coincidentally, the Knicks have won a single playoff series under their collective helm.
For the last—three, wait, no, five, maybe seven but more like 10...call it 10—10 years, the team has thought about and built its roster in a reckless, short-sighted manner. Shedding contracts to try to land a big free agent, changing coaches to try to land a big free agent, trading three more picks than any other GM would have considered to try to land...Andrea Bargnani.
If Phil Jackson plans to turn this franchise back into one that wins more than it talks about how it could've, should've won, this coaching decision must be made looking beyond the team's current makeup.
Everybody knows that Melo is a maybe to return, that Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire are simply playing out their contracts and that J.R. Smith is—well, nobody knows much about J.R. Regardless, the team's roster is bound to look drastically different in the coming years, and whoever is hired this offseason needs to be there when it does.
Ultimately, Jackson and the rest of the Knicks organization need to use this search as part of a plan for the next decade—and not just the next season—of Knicks basketball.