Best Potential Remaining Candidates for New York Knicks Head Coaching Job
One day, the New York Knicks are going to get this whole "finding a head coach thing" down.
Steve Kerr was considered the favorite to land with the Knicks after they canned Mike Woodson. Kerr's arrival seemed like a formality. He wasn't just the top candidate, he was the only candidate.
Syncing up with the Warriors made sense for Kerr. They have the better roster and allow him to be closer to his family. But few saw it coming.
Working under Phil Jackson was supposed to be enough. It was enough.
It wasn't enough.
After placing so much stake in Kerr, it feels like the Knicks are now searching for their third head coach in the last month. In a way, that's exactly what they're doing.
So it's on to Plan B.
What is Plan B? That remains unknown.
The Knicks have a wide range of candidates to choose from, but Jackson is going to look for someone with whom he can coexist. That could mean he's looking for someone who can coach the triangle offense, a completely blank slate that will absorb his wisdom, a veteran sideline-meanderer who can cope with the hustle and bustle that comes with working in New York or someone completely off the radar.
More than anything, he just needs someone who can help him with the job at hand: saving the Knicks from a repeat of this past season while shedding light on a future that is swathed in mystery.
Honorable Mention: Phil Jackson
You knew this was coming.
Jackson has repeatedly indicated he doesn't want to coach anymore. Fiancee Jeanie Buss suggested that he coach the Knicks, but he resisted.
"If there's anyone that can convince me to do anything, it's Jeanie Buss," he said, per BasketballInsiders.com's Alex Kennedy. "But I was able to withstand her arguments."
To wit: Jackson showed restraint when Kerr's arrival was considered a formality. Now it's not going to happen, which leaves the Knicks to regroup.
If he wants to coach, the job is his. Fans would love to see it. Carmelo Anthony would be a lock to re-sign. J.R. Smith would grow a social conscience. Clouds would part. Birds would sing. The world would never have to see another Justin Bieber selfie again.
Life would be that good.
It's just unlikely that Jackson is prepared to make life that good.
As Bleacher Report's Howard Beck points out in the video above, the Knicks' coaching search is going to be weird.
Big names—most of them anyway—are unlikely to receive consideration. Some of the smaller names are bound to be exempt too. Here's a look at some available coaches whom you shouldn't expect to hear much about.
One year removed from coaching the Memphis Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals, Hollins is an intriguing option for any team that is looking for a head coach—except the Knicks.
He isn't one for coaching offense, and Jackson is unlikely to put up with his stubbornness.
George Karl coached Anthony in Denver, so his familiarity with the Knicks superstar might be something to note. But he was there when Anthony forced his way out. A reunion isn't in the cards.
The 2012-13 Coach of the Year is also looking for the kind of organizational control that Jackson has in New York. This just isn't a good fit.
See? I've got jokes.
Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that current Los Angeles Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue will enter New York's coaching fray. Though he won a ring with Jackson and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001, his familiarity with the triangle doesn't stretch deep enough to warrant serious consideration.
Kurt Rambis is another Jackson disciple whom Shelburne suspects will become a candidate. He spent last season as an assistant with the Lakers and is often lauded for his defensive acumen.
In two-plus seasons as a head coach—split between the Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves—Rambis compiled a 27.9 winning percentage. Jackson is more likely to hire a first-time head coach than he is one with such a questionable track record.
According to the New York Post's Marc Berman, Bill Cartwright already held discussions with the Knicks about joining Kerr's coaching staff and could enter the mix now that New York is going in a different direction.
While Cartwright won three titles with Jackson and the Chicago Bulls, he's more likely to follow Kerr to the Warriors or be someone the Knicks hire as a triangle-centric assistant.
Poaching Tom Thibodeau from the Bulls would be quite the power move.
Related: It's not going to happen.
5. Derek Fisher
Anything Jason Kidd can do, Derek Fisher can do better.
The Oklahoma City point guard will be up for the Knicks' job, according to Shelburne. He won five titles under Jackson in Los Angeles, and as far as triangle-schooled candidates go, the Knicks aren't going to find anyone better.
In a league that suddenly devalues coaching experience—see: Golden State's and New York's pursuits of Kerr—Fisher's name cannot be readily dismissed. If Jackson wants someone he can mold into an extension of himself, Fisher is a blank slate he can work on.
But Fisher reportedly wants to take a year off after he retires, per Berman. There's always the possibility he reconsiders for his good ol' pal Phil Jackson, but (1) Oklahoma City's season isn't even over yet, and (2) he hasn't generated the same buzz that Kidd and Kerr did.
Consider Fisher a fringe long shot with the potential to vault into serious contention if the Knicks get desperate and he displays a willingness to jump right into coaching.
4. Jim Cleamons
Dipping into the Milwaukee Bucks' pool of talent is rarely smart practice, but we're going to make an exception for Jim Cleamons.
Although he didn't fare well during his brief coaching stint with the Dallas Mavericks—28-70 record—he was an assistant under Jackson with the Lakers and Bulls. Cleamons has also declared that he's familiar with the famed triangle offense.
"I know the offense, but I don’t know what his plans are," he told Berman in March. "I’m worried about the Milwaukee Bucks. You have to ask Phil that question."
Who are we kidding? The Zen Master has to ask himself that question.
Jackson's next direction is, admittedly, unclear. Yet we know he's interested in someone familiar with system-based basketball, hence his end-all, be-all pursuit of Kerr. Cleamons is part of his inner circle and someone Jackson can trust.
Ideally, Cleamons would be a lead assistant who helps another coach implement the triangle. But if Jackson wants to stray off the beaten path without hiring a complete stranger, Cleamons could be his guy.
3. Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson is just the big name Jackson isn't expected to chase, but he's been thrown into the conversation for reasons other than his ability to ride an invisible motorcycle (pictured above).
A source told ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley that Anthony would "embrace" playing for Jackson, so he should instantly command some attention.
But while anyone Anthony deems fit for duty is worth looking at, there are a few hang-ups—most notably Jackson's ego.
"League sources say Jackson is very insecure about his assistants getting credit," Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in March. "He doesn't allow them to speak on the record to print media, and Scalabrine did not respond to requests from The Chronicle for a comment."
Hardheadedness isn't something the Zen Master will tolerate. If he were to hire Jackson, Phil would need assurances that he'll make nice with others.
Marky Mark turned the Warriors into a defensive juggernaut last season, but his offensive system is antiquated and predictable. Despite possessing a bevy of weapons, the Dubs ranked just 12th in offensive efficiency last year.
Offensive-minded assistants would need to be brought in along with him, preferably someone instructed in the art of triangle-ing. But if Jackson is truly as intractable and insecure as we're led to believe, that could prove problematic.
Then again, maybe he's prepared to change for a fellow Jackson in ways he wasn't for Warriors owner Joe Lacob.
2. Jeff Van Gundy
Sorry, I'm not sorry.
Board this train with me, won't you?
Jeff Van Gundy is a blend of unlikely and perfect. Though he's another big name that Beck cautioned us against looking toward, he's too promising not to mention.
Part of what makes him a long shot is his connection with people who are closely involved with the Knicks today. The previous Knicks coach—who coached the 1999 eighth-place team to the NBA Finals—resigned in 2001 in a haze of James Dolan. He also criticized Jackson once before, stemming from his belief that the Zen Master wouldn't dare touch an imperfect roster.
Nothing an amicable conversation over drinks—plenty of drinks—can't cure, right?
The ESPN analyst has already expressed regret over quitting, per Begley, and Jackson has sort of proved Van Gundy wrong by assuming control of a spectacularly imperfect roster. This could work.
Say it with me now: This could work.
Van Gundy coaches defense, can handle superstar egos and is the kind of pacesetter who won't attempt to shirk hiring an offense-oriented, triangle-educated assistant.
Aversion to big names be damned. Pencil this man in.
1. Fred Hoiberg
Let this happen.
Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg is the ideal combination of well-known and unusual. He's garnered lots of NBA attention since coaching the Cyclones to a Big 12 tournament title and Sweet 16 berth this past season.
Smuggling Hoiberg out of Iowa State, however, isn't going to be easy. He was given a raise after the Cyclones' 28-win season, which the team clearly hopes will prevent him from leaving.
But the Knicks have deep pockets. And Jackson. And deep pockets. Market appeal, too. Also, deep pockets.
Hoiberg, meanwhile, has the systematic credentials necessary to lead these Knicks, as Salt City Hoops' Denim Millward details:
His up-tempo, three-point heavy offense meshes well with the prevailing offensive sentiment in the NBA. Though the Jazz probably don’t possess the three-point shooting prowess at this point to run a Hoiberg-style offense at maximum efficiency, the thought of a world-class finisher like Alec Burks and freakish athlete like Jeremy Evans operating in a fast-paced offense is certainly a tantalizing one. In addition to the general overall offensive philosophy, Hoiberg’s thick playbook he liberally dips into throughout the season indicates an advanced offensive mind. He runs as close to a pro-style offense as can reasonably run in the NCAA, exactly why Hoiberg’s name has been bandied about with such frequency.
Uptempo style is key here. Anyone who tries to implement the triangle offense must be able to adapt. Today's league is faster and heavy on floor spacing. You need to account for the NBA's evolution if you're going to run the triangle, which emphasizes movement yet outdated shot selections.
Give Hoiberg an assistant who knows how to coach the triangle—or trust him to learn from Jackson—and this will work. He has the coaching experience to succeed and the room to grow and be sculpted into something of a Zen Master protege.
Backup plans don't get better or more sensible than this.
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