Interview List for New York Knicks' Next Head Coach
When Phil Jackson looks to hire a new head coach of the New York Knicks, he'll need to pursue candidates who can establish a strong team culture.
That was one of Jackson's greatest accomplishments with both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, and it was a key to his 11 championships as a coach. After all, shouldn't his first question in finding a new Knicks leader be What Would Phil Do?
There has never been anyone else quite like him on an NBA sideline, but he can still seek out someone with a structured vision for how the team should operate on the court and how the personnel should coexist in the locker room.
As of right now, Mike Woodson is still charged with leading New York into the future, but in the event Jackson parts ways with him after a 37-45 season, the Knicks president's search could take him in any number of directions.
A natural place for Jackson to look for a new coach would be his own right-hand man.
Jim Cleamons worked alongside Jackson for 20 years, serving as an assistant for four Bulls title teams and all five of Jackson's Laker champions, though his own time at the helm was less successful.
Cleamons started as the Dallas Mavericks head man in 1996-97, but after posting a .286 winning percentage through 96 games, he was sacked midway through the following season. He has not gotten another head coaching job in the NBA since.
So why would Jackson hand him the keys to the Knicks?
Familiarity is a factor, of course, especially when it comes to Jackson's love for the triangle offense. As Cleamons told Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling, it takes someone practiced with the strategy to be able to implement it effectively:
If you go back and you study your basketball genealogy, the teams that have been successful in this league had a system in place. There aren't that many guys out there who know the triangle.
You can read Tex's book all you want, but there are very few people who understand the breakdown drills and how the system is built. See, that's the beauty of the triangle, and I don't know if you could almost run it. I think you either run it or you don't.
Zwerling also spoke to Frank Hamblen, another longtime Jackson assistant, though he's not in the league anymore; Cleamons spent last season as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks. The working coach is the more likely option, so if Jackson wants a triangle guy, Cleamons could be the pick.
His Iowa State team made an unlikely run to a Big 12 title and played some of the most exciting basketball in the nation, making Fred Hoiberg one of the hottest coaches in the college game.
Hoiberg, nicknamed "The Mayor" after starring for his hometown Cyclones for four years and returning them to prominence as head coach, recently told Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune that he wants to spend the rest of his career where he began it:
“I’d love to end my career here,” Hoiberg said in a phone interview with the Ames Tribune. “I’ve got something special in Ames. My kids get to see their grandparents every day if they want to, and that’s stuff you can’t replace. To look up in the crowd (during games) and there’s my parents, my in-laws, my brother, my sister-in-law, my other brother drives over from Omaha a lot, just to have that family support, you can’t replace that.”
But Hines also points out that Hoiberg's buyout would be just $500,000 if he takes an NBA head coaching position, a pittance for James Dolan. The 10-year extension Hoiberg received after winning the Big 12 tourney must be nice for him, but that's not stopping the Knicks from making him an even more tantalizing offer.
He proved last season at Iowa State that he can take a collection of potent offensive weapons and turn them into a cohesive high-octane attack, even without top-level point guard play (in the event Raymond Felton is still the Knicks' best bet, that's huge).
Hoiberg also mustered a passable defense with the 6'7" Georges Niang at center, so playing Carmelo Anthony as a small-ball 4 shouldn't faze him.
As soon as Jackson joined the Knicks front office, Steve Kerr was the first name mentioned as a potential head coach. Now Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today reports that Kerr is Jackson's first choice for the job:
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. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
If Jackson, a Hall of Famer for his work on the sideline who has no formal front office experience, hires Kerr, who had a successful stint as GM of the Phoenix Suns but has never coached, it would give the Knicks a sort of bizzaro organizational structure.
Then again, compared to the bizzaro organizational structures Knicks fans are used to, this would be an enormous step up.
Once a heady player, including for three years under Jackson, Kerr has proven himself as an elite basketball mind during his time with his Suns and with TNT. In fact, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com tapped Kerr as a sexy coaching prospect back in March of 2013:
Personality management is more vocation than vacation in the NBA, but Kerr has a shadowbox full of rings. It’s probably not in his nature to plunk them down on a table a la Pat Riley, but a championship pedigree commands respect. Combine that with Kerr’s even disposition and silver tongue, and a convincing profile of an NBA head coach emerges.
Put Kerr alongside Jackson, and that's a ton of basketball intelligence on one team. Again, Knicks fans can get behind a relative novelty like that.
Winning a national championship just two years into your college coaching career is going to put you on the fast track for advancement.
Unlike Hoiberg, Kevin Ollie has not yet parlayed his 2014 success into a new contract. Surely he has very strong ties to UConn—where he also played for four years, becoming an assistant to Jim Calhoun after retiring from his NBA playing career and then replacing Calhoun as head coach. But his stock has never been higher, and the draw of the pros could lure him away.
If he landed with the Knicks, Ollie would bring a heavy emphasis on fundamentals and professionalism to the team. Both as a player and as a coach, he and his Huskies made their way with a cerebral, mistake-free style of play, emphasizing awareness and execution over talent.
New York has plenty of talent already, but has struggled to use it properly. Under the tutelage of a seasoned, charismatic vet like Ollie, the Knicks can change that going forward.
Stan Van Gundy
Beyond the hot options (and Jim Cleamons), Jackson would be well served talking to someone with a boatload of head coaching experience.
After building a successful offense around Howard as the lone inside weapon, strategizing around Carmelo would be a much simpler task. Van Gundy certainly has the tactical know-how to game-plan with the pieces New York has in place already, which would help the cash-strapped Knicks return to respectability sooner rather than later.
He can create in New York something not unlike what he had in Orlando. The star is in place, and Melo would give Van Gundy even more options as a centerpiece than Howard did.
Van Gundy would be able to factor in some pick-and-roll play to vary Melo's workload and keep Tyson Chandler involved, but as long as the coach can still manufacture spacing with three shooters when Melo posts up, the inside-out attack can reach the potency of the 2008-09 Magic team that made the finals.
There are plenty of good men for the job, and that won't be everything; the next coach will have to be Phil's man, someone with whom he feels comfortable working on both strategy and personnel decisions. But in terms of who the best man is in a vacuum, Van Gundy's it.