The Phil Jackson era with the New York Knicks has officially begun now that he's made his first dramatic move.
The Zen Master announced that, as of April 21, Mike Woodson and the entire coaching staff had been relieved of its duties, which will undoubtedly be the first of many changes now that the NBA legend is running James Dolan’s circus act.
Woodson’s wonky lineups and 1,000-yard stare are now a thing of the past. Granted, the coaching veteran did have plenty of success with the Knicks. After taking over for Mike D’Antoni in 2011-12, Woody helped New York cruise to an 18-6 mark. It finished the 2012-13 regular season with a 54-28 record—good for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
However, a 37-45 campaign marred with negatives—which included missing the playoffs—didn’t do Woodson any favors. As many expected would be the case, he’s officially been let go by the new president of basketball operations.
So what’s next for the hapless Knicks?
They don’t have a single draft pick in 2014 nor the cap space needed to revamp the roster, but regardless, plenty of factors will need to be addressed this summer.
Now that Woodson and his majestic goatee will no longer be patrolling the sidelines, one of the top priorities in NY is the coaching search.
Before the Knicks faithful start clamoring at the prospect of Jackson stepping in and doing the job that has seen him win 1,155 regular-season games (fifth all time), fans need to pump the brakes.
“I don’t think that will ever happen,” Dolan told ESPN 98.7 FM, per Basketball Insiders’ Tommy Beer. “We didn’t bring him in to do that.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jackson won’t reprise his role in his thronelike chair. He signed on to call the shots as president of basketball operations, which is precisely what he plans to do.
It would certainly be fun to see Jackson back on the sidelines, but he’ll handpick a new leading man regardless, so we can expect his personality and style to be well represented.
One option that seems to make the most sense at this juncture is TNT analyst Steve Kerr.
The former NBA point guard out of the University of Arizona won five championships as a player—three with the Chicago Bulls under Jackson—and is said to be interested in the job opening.
Per the New York Post’s George Willis: “According to a source close to the situation, Kerr ‘absolutely expects’ to be offered the job. ‘And if he’s offered the job, he’s definitely going to do it.’”
If that report is any indication, it appears as if Kerr will be the man who replaces Woodson.
Willis also wrote, “Kerr’s name emerged as a top candidate based on his ties with Jackson. He was part of the Bulls’ three straight championship teams from 1996 to 1998 and the two have remained close. His knowledge of the triangle offense is said to be an asset.”
Although fans might be apprehensive at the thought of hiring someone with no previous head coaching experience, remember that first-year head coaches like Jason Kidd (Brooklyn Nets), Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta Hawks), Steve Clifford (Charlotte Bobcats) and Dave Joerger (Memphis Grizzlies) all made the 2014 playoffs. Even Jeff Hornacek put himself in the Coach of the Year conversation for his work with the upstart Phoenix Suns.
If for some reason the 48-year-old former executive doesn’t get offered the job, an under-the-radar name to look out for is Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Jim Cleamons.
While reading “Milwaukee Bucks assistant” likely made many readers furrow their brow, Cleamons is actually an intriguing candidate due to his own personal connection to Jackson.
As B/R’s Dan Favale wrote in an article pegging potential candidates, “Cleamons won nine championships as an assistant under Jackson in Los Angeles and Chicago, and he knows the Triangle, which may be a prerequisite for any coaching candidate the Knicks consider.”
He wouldn’t be seen as a splashy hire in the Big Apple, but his track record speaks for itself.
The ‘Melo Drama
Before the Knicks can accomplish anything this offseason, they must first figure out Carmelo Anthony’s future.
‘Melo is expected to exercise the early termination option in his contract and become an unrestricted free agent. The Knicks can offer him more money than any other team by re-signing him, but their appeal from a basketball/winning perspective is waning.
Anthony missed the postseason for the first time in his entire pro career by failing to earn a playoff berth with his Knicks teammates during 2013-14. The sour taste of a sub-.500 record is still fresh in his mind, so he may opt for greener basketball pastures prior to 2014-15—like Dwight Howard, who took less money to leave the injury-riddled Los Angeles Lakers for the Houston Rockets last year.
If the 29-year-old veteran decides to leave the Knicks high and dry, then the franchise will be absolutely decimated from a talent standpoint.
Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton are all clogging more than $44.5 million of the team’s available cap. Considering that the Knicks floundered and missed the playoffs with Anthony, they’d surely be an Eastern Conference bottom-dweller without him.
Jackson’s resume as a 13-time champion—two as a player, 11 as a coach—will certainly carry significant weight. Whether he can convince Anthony that he’ll be able to build a contender in the next few years is another matter entirely.
Assuming that the Knicks re-sign Carmelo, they’ll be in dire straights as far as the salary cap is concerned. Heck, they’ll be in poor financial position even if Anthony isn’t brought back.
As a result, the Knicks will have to fill out next season’s 12-man roster by sifting through the bargain bin—looking for diamonds in the rough.
One such signing has already occurred, as New York decided to add veteran forward Lamar Odom on a nonguaranteed deal, per CBS Sports’ Matt Moore. Jackson and Co. will have to evaluate the troubled southpaw this summer, but his connection to the Zen Master from his time in LA can’t hurt. As long as Odom shows genuine interest in revitalizing his NBA career, he could still contribute as a role player off the bench next season.
Aside from Odom, the Knicks will be forced to evaluate undrafted free agents (since they don’t have a first-rounder or second-rounder in the draft) and cheap veterans.
The Knicks are treading water right now, but Jackson’s presence provides a glimmer of hope. He'll explore every avenue possible to improve the roster in the short term, but his hands are admittedly tied by limited assets and poor decision-making from past general managers.
If Anthony buys in to a long-term plan under the right coaching fit, though, there’s reason to believe NY could compete in the lackluster Eastern Conference as early as 2014-15.
The true test will come next summer, when the contracts of STAT and Bargs come off the books. At that point, Jackson will truly have free reign to surround Anthony with viable talents—that is, if 'Melo opts to stay.
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