What's Next in Phil Jackson's Knicks Housecleaning, and Who Might New Coach Be?

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What's Next in Phil Jackson's Knicks Housecleaning, and Who Might New Coach Be?
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The headline was euphemistically worded, as these things usually are. "Coaching Staff Relieved of Duties," the New York Knicks declared in a statement released Monday morning.

The Mike Woodson era—brief, and briefly promising—was over. It will be remembered for a 54-win season and for the Knicks' first playoff series victory in 13 years; for iso-Melo, bizarro lineups and J.R. Smith's shenanigans.

Like most recent Knicks mini-eras, it will be remembered mostly for unfulfilled hope and crushing disappointment. Woodson couldn't build on those 54 wins, or even produce another playoff appearance in a weak Eastern Conference. His firing was inevitable, probably overdue.

The more meaningful verbiage in the Knicks' release came further down, in the first clause of the third sentence from Phil Jackson, the new team president.

Jackson expressed respect for Woodson. He said Woodson was not solely to blame for the Knicks' failure. And then he declared, "But the time has come for change throughout the franchise as we start the journey to assess and build this team for next season and beyond."

Change throughout the franchise.

Translation: This is just the beginning.

The Knicks did not hire Jackson for photo opps and image-buffing (though they certainly are exploiting both to the hilt), nor did Jackson take the job simply to pad his bank account. This is a franchise in need of a top-to-bottom scrubbing, and Jackson just unpacked the industrial-strength cleanser.

Woodson and his staff were the first to go. Others will certainly follow, as Jackson begins remaking the Knicks in his own image—and begins dissolving the unholy marriage between the Garden and Creative Artists Agency.

CAA represents two key members of the front office, Allan Houston and Mark Warkentien, and has close ties to general manager Steve Mills. All three are likely to be cut loose or pushed into new roles.

Jackson, inexperienced as an executive, needs a seasoned general manager who shares his vision. That probably means a reassignment for Mills, who did little in his one season as the Knicks' president and GM.

The same goes for Houston, a favorite of owner James L. Dolan who has been serving a front-office apprenticeship for six years but has gained little traction in NBA circles as a viable executive.

It would be easy enough to move Mills back to the business side, where he began his Garden career, and to leave Houston in charge of the Knicks' D-League affiliate, a role he already has.

Warkentien is the Knicks' most experienced (and most networked) basketball official. But with Jackson pursuing a thorough housecleaning, Warkentien is surely on his way out, too.

Kathy Kmonicek
Herb Williams (right) with Mike Woodson.

Jackson made a clear break with the Garden establishment Monday, when he fired assistant coach Herb Williams, along with the rest of Woodson's staff. Williams had been a bench fixture since December 2001, when he was hired by Don Chaney, working under six consecutive head coaches. He is a favorite of upper management.

Firing Williams sent a clear signal: Jackson is in charge now, and he will not be bound by sentiment or old alliances.

Beyond that? Expect Jackson to hire his own scouts, his own strength coaches and his own support staff. Clarence Gaines Jr., a former Chicago Bulls scout and longtime friend of Jackson's, has been quietly working in the Knicks' offices for weeks, compiling personnel reports. The team made no announcement yet, but Gaines is expected to assume a major front-office role, possibly as vice president of basketball operations.

Who Will Be Head Coach?

We'll learn a lot more about Jackson's vision when he hires his head coach.

Steve Kerr is the early favorite, and understandably so. The TNT commentator is smart, savvy, a longtime Jackson protege and has coaching aspirations. But a Kerr hiring is far from certain.

Kerr is eying several potential openings around the league, according to sources, and he would prefer to stay on (or near) the West Coast. Kerr lives in San Diego, and he has a daughter attending college at Cal, in Berkeley. Contrary to a New York Post report, Kerr has not asked TNT for schedule flexibility in order to take the Knicks job, according to two sources with Turner Sports. (Disclosure: Turner also owns Bleacher Report.)

David Zalubowski

Would Jackson hire Kerr? Certainly. But Kerr could have more attractive options, if the Golden State Warriors fire Mark Jackson or if the Los Angeles Lakers dump Mike D'Antoni. He could also wait another year to make the leap.

The obvious names keep surfacing—Brian Shaw, Kurt Rambis, Derek Fisher, Scottie Pippen, Jim Cleamons—because of their ties to Jackson. It's all educated guesswork.

While we're educatedly guessing, here are two more names to consider: Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie, who have both made quick impressions in the college ranks.

Hoiberg never played for Jackson, but did play in the triangle offense for the Bulls, under Tim Floyd. Hoiberg has made a name for himself at Iowa State and Jackson "thinks highly of him," according to one source. Jackson also likes Ollie, who guided Connecticut to the 2014 national championship.

"He's going to talk to a lot of people," a league source said of Jackson.

He might also ignore the entire list of well-worn names. Jackson is famously unconventional, and it's entirely possible his choice will be a name no one has considered yet. It almost certainly will not be any of the old stand-bys on the market—not the Van Gundys, George Karl or Lionel Hollins.

We do know that Jackson will insist, as he put it, on "system basketball," whether it's the triangle or something else. He will want a cerebral, like-minded coach, with an offense that empowers players to make decisions.

Whoever Jackson chooses, it will provide the first meaningful insight into his plans—whether he envisions a quick return to the playoffs (with a veteran coach) or a long-term rebuild (with a rookie coach). His choice will not necessarily be made with Carmelo Anthony in mind, but it will certainly impact Anthony's decision in free agency.

In his statement Monday, Jackson alluded to building "for next season and beyond," which is at least a marked improvement over the Knicks' previous mantra: "live for today."

 

Howard Beck covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @HowardBeck.

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