When something goes wrong for the New York Knicks, blame is immediately attributed to owner James Dolan, the meddlesome tyrant with a knack for destructively overstepping his bounds.
Blame him for footing the bill on Amar'e Stoudemire's uninsured five-year, near-$100 million contract. Blame him for the Knicks outbidding themselves on Carmelo Anthony in 2011. Blame him for the team's continuous disregard for first-round draft selections.
But should you blame him for Steve Kerr's decision, per NBA.com's David Aldridge and Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, to spurn the Knicks and agree to coach the Golden State Warriors on a lucrative five-year contract?
Some of you will. Holding Dolan responsible for all that goes wrong in New York is reflexive. It's a pastime. He is associated with failure. The Knicks failed here.
Kerr wasn't just their top coaching candidate, he was their only coaching candidate. Different names were tossed around for fun, but it's always been Kerr. Before Mike Woodson was fired, it was Kerr.
Familiar with Jackson's famed triangle offense and system basketball in general, he was the guy. Now he's Golden State's guy, just like that. Someone is at fault here; someone must be held accountable for turning a formality into a gainless, dignity-smearing venture.
Early indications have Dolan, once again, being the totally reasonable scapegoat. Talks between the Knicks and Kerr hit snags and, in hindsight, the fact that an agreement wasn't ironed out quickly should have been interpreted as a bigger problem.
Complications of any kind have Dolan written all over them. According to Wojnarowski, the Knicks were steadfast in their refusal to offer Kerr more than three guaranteed years. They eventually relented and gave him a fourth, but their restraint was out of character.
The Warriors new coach was also reportedly concerned about the culture in New York, per the New York Daily News' Frank Isola:
Moreover, Kerr had done extensive research on the inner workings of the Garden and was prepared, with Jackson’s blessing, to make major staff changes. Jackson, however, has already clashed with Dolan over personnel changes to the medical staff, which was first reported by the Daily News.
It no doubt upset Garden management that Marv Albert, the ex-Knicks announcer and Kerr’s broadcasting partner on TNT, was recently critical of Dolan. Dolan and Albert had a bitter falling-out. As The News reported last month, Kerr told close associates that he was concerned about Dolan’s history of firing coaches and general managers and going back on his word of granting full autonomy.
“The Knicks’ roster is not the problem,” said a person close to Kerr. “The organization is the problem. It’s chaos. The culture there is hard to change because so many don’t want it to change. They all protect their turf.”
Let's call all this what it is: a colossal cop-out.
Dolan has been a horrible owner—one of the worst. He most definitely played a minor role in in Kerr's decision. There's always the possibility things go south in New York. There's always the chance Dolan's petty, ego-driven carnage becomes a staple of the franchise once again.
But do we actually believe that Dolan played a major role in this, that he actually prevented Jackson from hiring Kerr? Dolan has never been one to skimp on coaches. He allowed Isiah Thomas to fire Larry Brown when he had four years and $40 million left on his contract. Cost and length would never be the primary issue here—unless Jackson willed it to be.
Jackson, I am prepared to say, boasts more control over the Knicks than anyone not named James Dolan has had in decades. I mean it. Not because I or you should trust Dolan, but because everyone should trust Jackson.
When Dolan was accused of interfering with Jackson's attempt to make changes to the medical staff, the Zen Master came out and said Dolan has remained true to his word, per ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley:
Other executives may have sugarcoated their responses, burying the truth beneath layers upon layers of bull. Not Jackson. He's smart enough not to associate with Dolan unless he has the upper hand. If the notoriously despotic owner was up to his old tricks again, we would know.
This isn't to say Dolan is innocent. Kerr had his reasons for snubbing New York, chief among them being he didn't have enough reasons not to.
"When Phil Jackson asks you to coach the Knicks, how do you say no?" he told Aldridge. "I think they're going to turn it around, but going to be a big undertaking and it's going to take time. The idea of doing that 3,000 miles from home, it just didn't feel right."
The Knicks were an option for Kerr because of Jackson, and that's pretty much it. The Warriors have the better roster. They ensure he'll be working closer to his family. They're ready to contend now. They offer him the opportunity to coach Stephen Curry, the historically good shooter Kerr tried to draft in 2009 while he was general manager of the Phoenix Suns.
They are, unequivocally, the more attractive team, as Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes points out:
But the Dubs have fancied themselves as an elite organization from the moment Lacob and Co. took over three seasons ago. The team is moving to a new arena in San Francisco in the near future, and ownership has talked of building a championship contender and running a first-class operation forever.
Getting Kerr—against all odds—proves the Dubs have arrived.
These Knicks? They have Jackson.
And the uncertain future of Carmelo Anthony.
And the maddening J.R. Smith.
And a point guard in Raymond Felton who pales in comparison to Curry's shoelaces.
And yes, they have Dolan, too, a ubiquitous threat to the Knicks' well being if there ever were one. But unless the always candid Jackson says otherwise, this isn't on him. Not entirely. He was complicit in building these spectacularly flawed Knicks, the ones who lack aesthetic appeal because of a deficient roster.
Beyond that, blame the Warriors. Blame their superior sales pitch. Blame their top-drawer roster. They had more to do with Kerr scorning the Knicks than the infamously overbearing, still-contemned Dolan ever could.