Building Phil Jackson's Dream New York Knicks Coaching Staff
Some New York Knicks fans smarting from the loss of the Steve Kerr dream latched onto the dream of Phil Jackson snatching up fired Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson, only to have that dream immediately dashed as Mark quickly settled back into his old seat at ESPN.
However, Mark was probably never Phil's type to begin with. Jackson seems to be looking for a coaching staff replete with people who he's worked with before, who know how to run a triangle offense and who drink the same green tea that the Zen Master drinks.
With those requirements in mind, here is one possible coaching unit Jackson might assemble to lead the Knicks to enlightenment in 2014-15.
Assistant: Scottie Pippen
Thursday, the New York Post's Marc Berman reported:
Knicks GM Steve Mills huddled with Scottie Pippen for about 15 minutes Thursday at the draft combine to gauge the legendary Bull’s interest in potentially working for the organization in some capacity, possibly as an assistant coach, according to an NBA source.
Perhaps Phil Jackson himself was not the one whispering in Pippen's ear, but Pippen's resume fulfills all the advertised job requirements of this new Jackson-era Knicks staff. Although Pippen has no coaching experience, he and Jackson won six championships during their nine seasons together in Chicago. He was one of the stars of possibly the most successful Triangle Offense incarnation ever.
Yet it isn't his rings, his relationship with Jackson or his offensive prowess that should make Knicks fans eager to bring Pippen onto the staff; it's his defensive skills. The current Knicks roster needs to recommit themselves to defense, and although they had some quarrels with the coaching staff's defensive strategies this past season, surely they would find the wisdom of a 10-time NBA All-Defensive Team member worth listening to.
As a defensive small forward who averaged 2.0 steals and 16.1 points per game over the course of his career, Pippen could be a particularly good mentor for Iman Shumpert, who seemed rather lost throughout the 2013-14 season.
Assistant: Tyronn Lue
Tyronn Lue won two championships with Jackson, coming off the bench for the Lakers from 1999 to 2001. Although Lue wasn't a starter, he was an important role player in the 2001 NBA Finals versus the Philadelphia 76ers because he was quick enough to have a ghost of a chance guarding Allen Iverson. (He had, um, mixed success in that endeavor.)
Whether or not Lue can be considered a disciple of Jackson, however, is hard to say. He's spent more time working under another legendary coach: Doc Rivers. Lue joined the Celtics as director of player development in 2009, was on the bench with Rivers for a few years in Boston and followed him to the LA Clippers. Lue was also head coach of the Clippers' Summer League team.
Heaven and all five boroughs know that the Knicks' point guards need some help. As a former point guard who was part of a Jackson triangle offense, Lue could be a great resource for the New York guards.
However, if Jackson brings Lue aboard it should be because he has experience coaching great teams and not because he is a Zen Master devotee.
Assistant: Jim Cleamons
The longest, most meaningful partnership of Jackson's career (and maybe his life) is with Jim Cleamons, currently an assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks. Cleamons and Jackson played on the Knicks together in the late '70s and Cleamons was at Jackson's side as an assistant coach for 17 non-consecutive seasons in both Chicago and Los Angeles, including nine of the championship seasons.
It is rumored that Cleamons is interested in reuniting with Jackson in New York, and it's hard to imagine anyone more qualified to teach the triangle short of Jackson himself or Tex Winter, the 92-year-old inventor of the triangle.
However, Jackson doesn't seem to have reached out to anyone quite so seasoned, at least not for the head coach position. He seems to be looking for a young head coach with little to no coaching experience—somebody he can build up (or coach through).
Yet being that Cleamons spent so many years working under Jackson already, he would be a logical candidate for Jackson's coaching staff—someone who could be a calming veteran presence for a green staff and could ferry the team through the transition.
Besides, Jackson does not have a history of ageism. On the sidelines in Chicago and Los Angeles with Cleamons and Jackson was Tex Winter himself, who didn't retire until he was 87.
Head Coach: Derek Fisher
Sunday night sources told ESPN that Jackson isn't going to talk to anyone else about the head coaching position until he has a tete-a-tete with Derek Fisher.
Of course Fisher can't take a coaching job until he decides to stop playing, and he has said he won't discuss his plans for next season until he's finished playing this season. He suits up with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs, Monday night 9 p.m. ET.
Although there is all manner of rumor and speculation about why Steve Kerr turned down the Knicks job and how hurt the Zen Master's feelings are, if the Knicks could land Fisher he might be a better fit than Kerr would have been.
Fisher was with Jackson for all five Lakers' championship seasons, playing the point and leading the triangle offense—but he has had success with other great teams, coaches and offenses as well, so he could bring a broader perspective.
Further, Fisher may have an easy time communicating with and earning the trust of the Knicks players, because he knows the players and the game of today. He is the very definition of a "wily veteran" on the court, who has helped soothe the nerves of many rattled players throughout his 15 trips to the playoffs.
The frayed nerves and lack of focus that the Knicks displayed this season showed that they sorely missed the influence of a veteran point guard. Jason Kidd performed that role for the Knicks as a player in the 2012-13 season.
Kidd crossed the river, became head coach for the Nets, had the respect of both young and old players and led his team into the second round of the playoffs. There is every reason to expect the same of Fisher.
Plus—and this is vitally important—Fisher is one of the few players to wear a Lakers jersey during the Jackson era who doesn't reek of L.A. so badly that he sickens fans of every team that got trounced by them.
For a team with a point guard problem and a state of emotional crisis, Fisher is a great fit, and his experience with Jackson and the Triangle Offense makes him the best candidate of all...if he stops playing.
The Second Team: Walton, Madsen, Rambis & Shaw
If the coaching staff doesn't fill out quite that way, here's another configuration.
Assistant: Luke Walton
Luke Walton played for Phil Jackson for eight seasons and, like Lue, he won two championships (in 2009 and 2010) with Jackson while coming off the bench for the Lakers. Walton has one season under his belt as an assistant coach for the Lakers' D-League team, the Los Angeles D-Fenders. (One drawback: Luke Walton coming to New York might mean that Bill Walton visits New York more often. Which is fine, as long as he doesn't talk.)
Assistant: Mark Madsen
Mark Madsen came off the bench for the Lakers from 2000 to 2003 during two of their championship seasons with Jackson. He is currently an assistant coach for the Lakers.
Assistant: Kurt Rambis
Kurt Rambis was (like Cleamons) one of Jackson's assistant coaches for the Lakers from 2001 to 2009. He left the Lakers to take the helm of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he attempted to bring the triangle with him. Unfortunately the strategy didn't take, Minnesota decided to end the experiment, and Rambis returned to L.A., where he is currently an assistant coach. The Lakers front office has said that Rambis is on their list of interviewees for the vacant head coach position, but there are rumors that Kevin Love would prefer if that does not happen.
Head Coach: Brian Shaw
Sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne that the Knicks were trying to pick the Denver Nuggets' pocket and make off with their head coach Brian Shaw. As Bleacher Report's Dan Favale discussed Saturday, it is unlikely that the Knicks could pull off a deal, even if Shaw is interested (which is unclear), because they would have to compensate the Nuggets in some way to release Shaw from his contract.
If he weren't already hitched to another team, Shaw might be Jackson's first choice. He spent 11 seasons with Jackson—four as a Lakers player from 1999 to 2003 and seven as a Lakers assistant coach, covering all five of those championship seasons.
If none of the aforementioned gentlemen pan out, there are two other possibilities to consider: Jackson going back to coaching or Jackson hiring another former player of his who has gone onto a successful career in the national media...Shaquille O'Neal. It's hard to say which of those possibilities is more unlikely than the other.
What do you think? Who will be loosening their ties, screaming at refs from the sidelines at The Garden next season? Let us know in the comments below.