Losing Steve Kerr Should Be Eye-Opening Experience for NY Knicks

John Dorn@JSDorn6Correspondent IIIMay 19, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: James Dolan, L, Executive Chairman of Madison Square Garden, and Phil Jackson answer questions together during the press conference to announce Jackson as the President of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 18, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It seemed to be set in stone. Steve Kerr would lead the New York Knicks, under his career-long mentor Phil Jackson, through a quick building process and into renewed heights.

His communication skills were polished as can be. The triangle offense, presumably what Kerr would rely on, was seemingly tailor-made for Carmelo Anthony. His beat on modern NBA trends, infused into Jackson's timeless principles, seemed to be a perfect strategic blend among leaders to usher the Knicks into a new, promising era.

The only question was not if, but when?

Now, with Kerr bolting from the New York negotiations to accept the Golden State Warriors' lead role, Jackson is left with more unanswered questions than he has coaching candidates.

As the Knicks' president moves into his head coaching search post-Kerr, he's surely picked up a few front-office tidbits to keep in the back of his mind moving forward. The first of which: The Zen Master's gravitas alone won't be enough to convince outsiders that the Knicks are an organization worth working for.

Moving past the Kerr drama and its fallout, it's clear there's a learning curve to the new position, even for an 11-time champion. But missing out on Kerr, the handpicked protege who was seemingly bound to fall into Jackson's lap, should help give Phil a better understanding of his new gig, and just how complex his new duties truly are.

After Kerr spurned 'Melo's Knicks for Curry's 'Dubs, the Knicks are forced to return to the drawing board.
After Kerr spurned 'Melo's Knicks for Curry's 'Dubs, the Knicks are forced to return to the drawing board.Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Since his March hiring, Kerr seemed to be the only name reported in Jackson's coaching search. Even while branching away from the former point guard, the only candidates previously mentioned for months were the names linked to Jackson for years: Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons, Brian Shaw, et al.

Since the Kerr debacle, Jackson has not only opened candidacy to more than one option, but even to coaches whom he has never worked with, according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley. He names Mark Jackson and Fred Hoiberg as potential names Phil would consider.

Begley explained Phil Jackson's thinking in potentially entertaining a Mark Jackson sit-down this summer:

Jackson hadn’t shown a proclivity to go after anyone he hasn’t had a prior relationship with. But after being spurned by Steve Kerr, it appears his thinking may have changed. 

As Stein and Shelburne reported on Sunday night: Jackson has limited options at his disposal after missing out on Kerr. And that could prompt the coach to start looking outside of his inner circle for the next Knicks’ coach. 

That’s where Mark Jackson comes in. Mark Jackson and Phil Jackson have no prior relationship, so the Zen Master would have to be comfortable hiring someone he doesn’t have a prior relationship with to bring Jackson into the fold. 

Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal reported that, though Jackson's preference is to hire a familiar face, Hoiberg is the name to watch if Phil decides to veer from familiarity. Hoiberg played under Tim Floyd and Bill Cartwright, who ran their own versions of Jackson's coaching principles, and has an adept knowledge of offensive efficiency in present-day basketball.

Regardless of whether Jackson eventually tabs a triangle disciple for the job or not, Kerr's denial has opened the door to something resembling a traditional interviewing process, which is (a) generally the best way to sort out candidates, and (b) a method that Jackson didn't consider while Kerr was available. 

Though the Knicks' failure to lock in Kerr could prove beneficial in the long term, it could have a vastly different effect on the short term, particularly as it pertains to Anthony.

In a now-notorious get-together, Jackson and Anthony met at a Manhattan steakhouse last month to discuss the team's direction. During the meeting, according to Chris Herring, Kerr wasn't only considered a lead coaching candidate, but, more or less, part of the future.

'Melo's trust in Jackson may have evaporated after his failure to hammer out a deal with Kerr.
'Melo's trust in Jackson may have evaporated after his failure to hammer out a deal with Kerr.USA TODAY Sports

Missing out on Kerr isn't a disaster in itself, and neither is losing Anthony in free agency, as it could net the team building blocks moving forward and/or create loads of cap room in 2015. But it's possible that Jackson's communicated confidence in a hire he eventually couldn't close may give Anthony pause while considering his options this summer. 

And missing out on his landslide top coaching option, plus losing his team's lone star in free agency—in the first few months of his front-office tenure—wouldn't be a good look for Jackson. Especially with a summer of wooing and convincing free agents in 2015 just one year away.

But the most influential change that Kerr's rebuff could bring about? Well, it comes from the most influential man in the Garden. No, not Phil Jackson—which is precisely the problem.

Though reports vary as to James Dolan's involvement in the Kerr talks, the main takeaway is that the Knicks' owner played a prime role in the outcome—directly or indirectly.

The New York Post's Marc Berman has reported that the negotiations—which primarily consisted of low-ball offers compared to Golden State's—were left solely to Phil:

A source said Kerr wasn’t moving across the country for less money than the Warriors were offering. The Knicks have insisted Jackson, not owner James Dolan, handled the negotiations. Kerr never spoke to Dolan during the process, meeting with general manager Steve Mills and basketball operations director Jamie Mathews.

The New York Daily News' Frank Isola, who rarely deflects the chance to call attention to management's shortcomings, raises a question worth asking:

If Jackson was truly in charge of numbers, why on earth would he play hardball with the candidate whom he wasn't at all prepared to be spurned by?

Regardless of how the actual negotiations were handled, Dolan's reputation may have been what swayed Kerr's heart away from Phil's startup project. Per The New York Times' Harvey Araton:

Kerr also worried about Dolan’s patience and his willingness to allow Jackson the freedom to potentially let Anthony — Dolan’s signature acquisition and the Knicks’ only brand-name star — leave as a free agent this summer should they fail to agree on how much of a hometown discount, if any, Anthony should accept to give Jackson salary-cap flexibility.

In doing his homework and speaking to many people about Dolan’s methodology, Kerr became concerned about an inevitable clash between ownership and the fiercely independent and occasionally iconoclastic Jackson.


The cautionary part of the story for future Jackson recruits, however, is that while Kerr did not believe Dolan obstructed Jackson in the pursuit, Dolan had an impact on the decision by merely being who he is.

Kerr's former TNT broadcast partner, and ex-Knicks play-by-play man, Marv Albert also played a role in this fiasco. Albert was fired by Dolan a decade ago, after the owner reportedly took exception to repeated criticism of the team.

According to the Daily News' Bob Raissman, Albert shared the following intel:

Well, I told him it never ends well there. Just look at recent history. It’s because of one man (Dolan). There is no happiness there. I say this with all kinds of friends I have there and (the ones) at the MSG Network. Everybody hates being there. For coaches it’s very difficult. Steve couldn’t accept anyone (from MSG’s PR staff) following him around with a tape recorder. Like Phil, Steve is a guy who wants to say what he wants to say. He’s very opinionated, which doesn’t always work when you are at the Garden.

Whether or not Dolan was the one who presented Kerr with an offer two years and $12 million shy of the one Golden State ultimately won with, the Garden chairman's mere reputation is enough to steer viable candidates away from the Knicks. 

If there's a single positive the franchise can take away from the botched Kerr situation, it's Dolan's (hopeful) realization of how he's perceived league-wide. It didn't factor into Anthony's decision to make New York his home, primarily because he was just as desperate for a power market as Dolan was for his celebrity. 

It's easy, though, to liken Kerr's instance to numerous dealings the Knicks have encountered during Dolan's ownership. He wasn't the first to be scared off by Dolan's management antics, and there will certainly be more like him. 

But if this is the deal-that-wasn't that finally proves to Dolan just how venomous his mere presence still is—even despite Jackson's aura in the front office—mark it down as the Knicks' first victory of 2014-15.

Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.


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