What's Phil Jackson's Plan B for New York Knicks Head Coaching Search?

Jim Cavan@@JPCavanContributor IMay 15, 2014

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After days of reports pointing to the imminent hiring of Steve Kerr as the new head coach of the New York Knicks, Wednesday night arrived with a last-second stunner: The TNT analyst and former Phoenix Suns general manager was headed to the Golden State Warriors.

While Golden State had emerged over the past few weeks as a potential dark horse to secure Kerr’s services, New York—with Phil Jackson at the helm—was believed to be the front-runner, even as the Warriors gained steam. 

For Kerr, the decision came down to two main factors: the five-year length of the purported deal and a much closer location to his California-based family.

Per David Aldridge of TNT, Kerr explained:

It just felt like the right move on many levels. (The Warriors) have a good young team. The location is ideal. My daughter goes to Cal and plays volleyball. My oldest son is in college in San Diego and our youngest is a junior in high school. It's just a short flight for them.

A little more than a week after dismissing Mark Jackson, the Warriors reeled in one of the league’s hottest coaching prospects—an even-keeled presence with a sharp mind and a demeanor to match.

But now the Knicks need a Plan B—and fast. 

"But why?" you may ask. Shouldn’t they take their time in parsing through potential candidates, lest they make a hasty decision?

Patience and prudence might suffice for any other team. But with Carmelo Anthony’s looming free agency, New York faces the prospect of losing not only its best player, but its biggest cash cow as well.

Anthony will doubtless be monitoring the situation closely and may even be consulted as the coaching search presses forward.

Even with Kerr off the table, Jackson, New York’s new President of Basketball Operations, has plenty of 1B options from which to choose, starting with—you guessed it—the other Jackson.

Here’s why:

If the Zen Master’s recent remarks are to be believed, retaining Anthony is crucial to New York’s near-future plans. Albeit with a rather large caveat: Carmelo being willing to take less money. From ESPN New York’s Ian Begley:

I think [there is] a precedent that's been set. Because the way things have been structured now financially for teams is that it's really hard to have one or two top stars or max players, and to put together a team with enough talent, you've got to have people making sacrifices financially.

So we hope that Carmelo is true to his word and we understand what it's going to take, and we will present that to him at that time.

To take the kind of pay cut the Knicks are hoping for, Anthony would have to be convinced that New York's game plan—from coach to roster cachet—has at least a reasonable chance of succeeding where it matters most: the banners in the rafters.

As we've seen throughout Anthony's career, giving him a skipper he gets along with is of the utmost importance.

If nothing else, Mark Jackson was seen as being uncommonly beloved by his players, particularly Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala, with whom Jackson bonded over their mutually shared Christian faith.

Unfortunately, it was Jackson’s faith that also purportedly put him at odds with Warriors management.

Here’s SFGate.com’s Ann Killion speaking on the topic:

After Jackson was hired, the embarrassing story came out that he had been extorted by a stripper a few years back, who allegedly had nude pictures of Jackson.  In another embarrassment, an associate of his church who had  attended his hiring press conference was arrested on drug trafficking charges.  Those issues led to charges of hypocrisy by a man who thumped the bible as often as possible.

Manhattan isn’t New Jerusalem, to be sure. But Jackson brings much more to the table than simple player-friendliness and improved win percentages each of his three years at Golden State.

Jackson, a New Yorker by birth, was drafted by the Knicks with the No. 18 pick in the 1987 NBA draft after a standout-four year career at St. John’s. After five solid seasons as the Knicks’ chief floor general, Jackson was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers ahead of the 1992-93 season. (He would suit up once more for the Knicks, in 2001-02.)

As this 2012 article by SheridanHoops.com’s Chris Sheridan highlights, there has been something of a longstanding animosity by Jackson for his onetime employer.

Jackson has never openly admitted as much, of course. But it’s hard to believe his ire would be so caustic that a chance to coach his hometown team—a story of redemption if ever there was one—wouldn’t at least pique his curiosity.

That both Jackson and the Knicks wound up being jilted by the same team would only seem to enhance the two parties’ interest.

As for Phil Jackson’s decidedly Eastern spiritual perspective, there’s no reason to believe he and his fellow Jackson couldn’t come to consensus where it matters most: on the basketball court.

That is, unless rumors that Mark Jackson couldn't jive with Golden State's culture rear their ugly ahead anew.

Whether Mark Jackson is willing and able to install the triangle offense—something Phil, per Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News, has hinted might well become part and parcel with his position as president—is another question entirely.

Which is why the Knicks could look to  broaden their search to include both triangle denizens and other, less proven candidates open to the possibility of instituting Phil’s famed system.

That’s not to say there isn’t a middle way to be had. With Phil expected to round out his coaching staff with triangle disciples, he could have the cover necessary to plant a figurehead like Jackson in the hopes that time and trial wind up yielding a new convert.

Whatever his end game, Phil has certainly learned a valuable first lesson: Don’t hop on the coaching carousel without knowing which horse to eye when the first one bucks you off.


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