NY Knicks Need a Veteran Coach to Succeed Next Season and Beyond

Thomas Duffy@@TJDhoopsFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2014

New York Knicks new team president Phil Jackson responds to a question during a news conference where he was introduced, at New York's Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Jackson signed a five-year contract that will reportedly pay him at least $12 million annually and said he will spend significant time in New York.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Richard Drew

The Phil Jackson era with the New York Knicks truly began with the firing of Mike Woodson on April 21.

It will now be up to Jackson, team president and head of basketball operations, to fill the head coaching vacancy. And I’m sorry, Knicks fans, it doesn’t appear as though the Zen Master has any interest in returning to the bench.

According to ESPN New York’s Ian Begley, Steve Kerr is the front-runner for the position, though Jackson’s search for a new coach will extend beyond the current TNT analyst and former Phoenix Suns general manager.

Before calling Game 4 of the Brooklyn Nets-Toronto Raptors playoff series, Kerr told Peter Botte of the New York Daily News that he and Jackson met on April 25 to officially discuss the job:

We talked about the coaching position and we’ll keep talking. I’ve made it pretty clear the past couple of years that I’d like to get into coaching, and now it’s sort of out there. It’s like anything else, you have to explore it and that’s what we’re doing.

Per Begley, Jackson acknowledged that he shares a “strong philosophical connection” with Kerr, a former three-time champion as a player under PJax.

But there are other viable options.

And the Knicks, a team void of cap space and draft stock that won 17 games fewer this season than in 2012-13, would be better suited with a veteran coach.

Ideal options: playoff coaches

Apr 24, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson on the sideline during the second quarter of game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L

The Knicks need to have a coach in place by July, which is when Carmelo Anthony will presumably opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent.

But there’s no need to make a change anytime soon—some of Jackson’s best possible options are currently coaching playoff teams.

Mark Jackson’s Golden State Warriors are pitted in a tough first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, and the former Knick could be without a job if the Dubs get bounced by Chris Paul and co.

Per Sam Amico of Fox Sports, the third-year coach could find his way back in New York:

But for whatever reason, Mark Jackson appears to be at odds with the Warriors' front office. So much, in fact, that many league executives feel if the Warriors fail to get out of the first round of the playoffs, Jackson is a goner. He's a New York native who spent some of his best seasons as a player with the Knicks -- and Phil Jackson is a fan. So if Mark Jackson doesn't last in California, it wouldn't necessarily be a big surprise if he got the opportunity to return home. 

Rookie sensation Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith would be sure to blossom under Mark Jackson, who has helped transform sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson into one of the best backcourts in the NBA.

After the first four games of the series, Golden State is locked in a 2-2 stalemate. So are the Indiana Pacers against the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks—as of the beginning of play on Monday.

And according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, Pacers coach Frank Vogel is reportedly coaching for his job.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Vogel, despite a 56-win season that secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, is "coaching for his job" in the wake of a prolonged slide that has stretched into its third month.

After Indiana's 101-85 triumph over Atlanta in Game 2 of the teams' first-round playoff series, sources told ESPN.com that coming back to win the series against the Hawks would not automatically ensure Vogel's safety. After a 40-11 start, the Pacers went just 16-15 the rest of the way before a humbling loss in the series opener to the eighth-seeded Hawks.

If Vogel were to be inexplicably dropped by Larry Bird and Indiana’s front office, he’d instantly shoot to the top of Jackson’s list. The Knicks might be Vogel’s best option, too—the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves are currently the only other teams with coaching vacancies.

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 24:  Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers reacts to a call in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on April 24, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: Use
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As relayed by Stein, ESPN’s Chris Broussard reports that the absence of former Pacers assistant and current Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw has contributed to some of Indiana’s locker room issues.

Shaw, one of Jackson’s former assistants with the Los Angeles Lakers, would be another prime candidate for the Knicks job.

While it would likely require some compensation on the part of New York to spring Shaw from his contract, he’d be able to institute the triangle offense that Jackson won 11 championships with and reportedly wants to bring to New York.

Best free-agent option

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 19:  Patrick Ewing and Jeff Van Gundy share a laugh prior to the game between the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat on February 19, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

While Jackson, Vogel and Shaw are all tremendous options, there’s no guarantee that the Knicks would be able to get any of them.

Jeff Van Gundy is available, and that shouldn’t be ignored.

Before adding Jackson to New York’s front office, owner James Dolan would've had a difficult time convincing Van Gundy, an 11-year sideline veteran, to take the coaching job.

But in Jackson, the Knicks have someone with prestige, someone who has the legacy to pull the famous Pat Riley move and lay all of his championship rings on the table.

Following Woodson’s firing, ESPN’s Ian O’Connor wrote that JVG is New York’s best option to take over as coach. One of Van Gundy’s former colleagues told O’Connor why the former Houston Rockets coach would thrive in a second term with New York:

But Jeff is the best-equipped to succeed in New York because he's been through it, and there's no question about that. The thing is, he's making a great living now with no pressure on him, and I just can't see him coming into this regime with all of its ridiculous policies

If Jackson can convince Van Gundy that the days of Dolan’s meddling are over, he may be interested in getting back into coaching.

Bringing in a veteran coach who knows the game like JVG would do wonders in turning the Knicks into a winner for years to come.

Why not Kerr?

PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 16: Phoenix Suns President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Steve Kerr name Alvin Gentry Interim Head Coach of the Phoenix Suns on February 16, 2009, at U.S. Airway Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ac
Barry Gossage/Getty Images

Don’t get me wrong—Kerr could turn out to be a great coach.

Listen to him call a game on TNT, and your basketball knowledge will swell to new heights. The guy flat-out knows the game.

His knowledge is through the roof, but the former Chicago Bulls player has no coaching experience. Counterarguments will point to the success of Jason Kidd with the Nets, but it’s important to take the roster and organization into account.

Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov stood by Kidd even when the team jumped out to that terrible start. Plus, the Nets roster—stocked with veterans like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams—puts the Knicks' to shame, especially with Anthony potentially on the way out.

Again, I’m not knocking Kerr—far from it. He’s got a good gig with TNT, so it’d be hard to entice him to take an assistant position. But bringing aboard a guy with no prior experience to lead a team just doesn’t resonate as the best option for the Knicks.

Maybe Kerr will be the next Phil Jackson, who knows? But the bottom line is that the whole project will be a huge question mark; it’s impossible to say whether it’d be destined for greatness, mediocrity or despair.

The Knicks have enough questions. It’s time they started finding answers.


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