Steve Kerr, despite his complete lack of coaching experience, seems to be the hottest commodity in the search to fill sideline vacancies. The fantastic TNT analyst has made it quite clear that he desires a spot in the NBA's coaching ranks for the 2013-14 season, and there are already a number of teams making pitches to him.
Most prominent among those are the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors.
"Steve Kerr will listen to the Warriors if they approach him about their new head-coaching vacancy this week," reported Marc Berman of the New York Post, "But multiple NBA sources told The Post his heart still is in New York with Phil Jackson—not in San Francisco."
Even though he's from California (not including the portion of his life he spent living abroad). Even though the Dubs have a more promising roster that could contend immediately. Even though the Knicks spent the 2013-14 season in a constant state of turmoil.
Berman's report was built upon by Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, who revealed that the job in the Bay Area is Kerr's if he's interested:
According to a league source, Warriors owner Joe Lacob wants to hire Kerr to replace Mark Jackson, who was fired on Tuesday following three successful seasons as Golden State’s head coach. In fact, the Warriors wasted no time reaching out to Kerr, contacting him less than three hours after Jackson was dismissed. And a source maintains that the Warriors’ job is Kerr’s if he wants it.
The recent firing of Mark Jackson, as first reported by USA Today's Sam Amick, opens up the Golden State job for Kerr, but that doesn't mean he's going to take it. Doing so would involve spurning the Knicks, after all, and that's something that wouldn't exactly be advantageous for the rest of his coaching career.
The Jackson Connection
The impact of Phil Jackson cannot be overstated.
In fact, the Zen Master will have as much positive influence on the New York franchise as the existence of water does to human survival (See? I tried).
Still not an overstatement.
Before Jackson signed on with James Dolan and the rest of the Knicks, the franchise was absolutely reeling. The 2013-14 campaign went so miserably that even a late-season surge wasn't enough to push past the sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks in the "battle" for the No. 8 seed in a historically weak Eastern Conference.
More headlines were made for Andrea Bargnani's lack of defensive awareness, J.R. Smith's penchant for untying shoelaces and Raymond Felton's gun changes than for anything positive that the organization did.
The once-proud group devolved into a laughingstock.
Why would any free agent want to hop aboard a train leading to destruction? Why would Carmelo Anthony actually want to stay rather than opt out of his contract and seek greener pastures? How would the Knicks rebuild without draft picks and offseason appeal?
But when Jackson joined the club, the minuscule light at the end of the tunnel suddenly grew into a raging inferno, one whose light was so pervasive that it was easy to see the Knicks rebounding sooner rather than later.
Let's not forget that Jackson is a known hoarder of rings. Where he goes, success typically follows, which is the reason optimism reigns supreme in Madison Square Garden despite the atrocities of the campaign that just ended.
But then there's the matter of personal connections.
"Kerr has close ties to Golden State owner Joe Lacob and team executive Rick Welts, a former Suns president when Kerr was the Phoenix general manager," wrote Berman. Those ties are related to Lacob's son, Kirk, who was almost hired by Kerr when the TNT analyst was working in the front office of the Phoenix Suns.
However close those ties may be, they surely aren't as close as the ones Kerr and Jackson share.
The sharpshooter was coached by Jackson during his time with the Chicago Bulls, and their relationship is a huge part of what's drawing him toward Madison Square Garden. Isola elaborated:
The chance to work with Knicks president Phil Jackson, who has served as a mentor to Kerr, is what attracts Kerr to New York. Kerr, according to sources, is concerned about upper management at MSG and especially James Dolan’s history of being too hands-on. If not for Jackson’s presence, Kerr would not consider working for the club.
But if anonymous sources aren't your thing (and good for you if you recognize the misleading nature of them this time of year), take Kerr's word for it.
"Let’s be honest," Kerr noted in late April, once more courtesy of Berman. "If Phil wasn't there, nobody from the Knicks would have contacted me."
It's hard to see him spurning that relationship, but the nature of the teams should also play a large part in his decision-making process.
Starting From the Bottom
As Amick wrote for USA Today after Jackson was fired by the Warriors, "It's never this simple, but the first line of the job description should read: 'Able to win more than 51 games and reach the second round of the playoffs while pushing for a title.' Anything less makes this the wrong move."
That Golden State job comes rife with expectations, which shouldn't be surprising considering a coach was just fired after upping his team's win total from 23 to 47 to 51 in his three years on the job. It just wasn't good enough.
Still, Jackson won 51 games this season and, if not for Andrew Bogut's fractured rib or a few fouls calls here and there, might still be alive in the playoffs right now. Many places, that would be enough. But Lacob has made two things clear from the beginning: He wants a championship and he doesn't have a lot of patience. Sometimes this works out -- like trading Monta Ellis for Bogut. In this case, at least he acted quickly.
Now, whoever inherits the Dubs is going to be expected to improve upon those 51 wins and compete for the Larry O'Brien Trophy in Year 1. Anything less will inevitably be considered a failure, as the roster is largely going to be the same in 2014-15 with the exception of some of the backup pieces.
And patience? Forget about it.
And while it's strange to think that a job in New York, one that comes under the harsh scrutiny of The City That Never Sleeps, is more of a relaxing gig, such is the case in this situation.
The Knicks can only go up after the misery of 2014-15, and their new head coach—whether Kerr or someone else—will have the luxury of time. Rebounding is expected, but it's still widely recognized that the process will take a bit of time.
Which sounds like the better landing spot for a first-year coach with no experience in any coaching rank at any level of the sport: a pressure-packed job with immediate championship expectations or a rebuilding squad with no lofty goals until after the 2015 free-agency period comes to pass?
The answer isn't difficult. In fact, Lacob himself even admits that it's easier for a coach to start at the bottom, per The San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami:
It’s always easier to take a job when a franchise is downtrodden and out. You’re going to look good if you start from here (points to the floor). ...
The next coach that comes in, the expectations will probably—forget from us, but from everybody—probably will be high. That’s life. And it’s going to take someone who obviously is capable of handling that….assuming we put together the right roster or give him the right players, that person is able to succeed…
I think someone who comes in and is scared of that probably isn’t the right person for the job.
Maybe Kerr is the right person for the job. He certainly has the basketball acumen, and it's terrifying to think of the damage that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson could do under his tutelage.
But maybe he's not.
Fortunately for the soon-to-be first-year head coach, he doesn't have to find out. Other opportunities have presented themselves, and they just so happen to be more desirable ones.
It's worth noting that this is not a blanket statement. For an experienced head coach like George Karl, Lionel Hollins or one of the other prominent names that will litter the rumor mill this offseason, the Bay Area should be more appealing than New York City.
But for Kerr, the Knicks have to be the No. 1 option.