Dark-Horse Coaching Candidates New York Knicks Should Consider
The New York Knicks' head coaching search has consisted of largely predictable names to this point, and it's easy to see why when considering who's conducting the search. Team president Phil Jackson has achieved arguably the most success of any man to ever coach in the NBA, and he has done so by utilizing a strategy that no coach has been able to replicate.
With this in mind, it's no wonder that the majority of Jackson's rumored candidates have been his own disciples, already familiarized with the principles of the triangle offense.
But after swinging and missing on Steve Kerr, the team may be headed down the same path with Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Derek Fisher. Jackson is reportedly postponing the naming of a head man until he gets the chance to speak with Fisher, who will likely retire after the Thunder's playoff run.
But as a safety net, Jackson would be wise to open his mind to candidates outside the Steve Kerrs, Derek Fishers, Tyronn Lues and Luke Waltons of the NBA world. Familiarity and synergy between the front office and coaching staff are valuable, but a narrow-minded approach surely isn't.
Ahead are potential names that Jackson could look toward to round out his interviewing process—ones who aren't necessarily associated with the Zen Master.
Honorable Mentions: Knicks Fans' Favorites
Of course, these are the names that have Knicks fans clamoring.
Mark Jackson became a rumored candidate for the Knicks the moment he was fired by the Golden State Warriors earlier in May. And though he has no past relationship with Phil Jackson, ESPN New York has reported that the conversation between Jacksons may indeed take place.
Jackson was fired following the Warriors' playoff ouster, reportedly due to various clashes with ownership. In three seasons as the Dubs' head coach, he accumulated a record of 121-109.
Jackson played in 500 games for the Knicks over the course of seven campaigns, and he is their franchise leader in assists per game. He was mentioned for the team's open position in 2008, when he had no prior coaching experience, but the team instead opted to tab Mike D'Antoni as coach.
With Golden State, Jackson displayed pristine motivational skills and proved to be a capable leader of men. Various players opined following the season, prior to his firing, that Jackson deserved to keep his job. However, those who witnessed Golden State's unimaginative offense flounder at various points throughout the year would disagree.
Even though it's not what several fans want to hear, there are surely candidates more viable than Mark Jackson, and it's hardly because he's lacking a Phil-infused past.
The same can be said about Patrick Ewing, who is Steve Clifford's lead assistant with the Charlotte Hornets.
The franchise's all-time leader in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocks and several other categories has been yearning for a head coaching position for years. Certainly, his name will come up before this search is concluded.
Ewing's most notable accomplishment on the bench came this past season, when he helped Charlotte big man Al Jefferson shake his reputation as a defensive liability, as noted by Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling. Big Al described those interactions last month:
There are always times that me and him are just sitting down and just talking. There's nothing that I run by him that he doesn't know. I just pick his brain because at the end of the day, that's something I can tell my grandkids—that I had conversations with Patrick Ewing.
With a lead assistant role, Ewing seems to be destined for a head coaching chance some time soon, but that chance doesn't seem to be coming this summer—at least not in New York. He has held positions with the Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and Charlotte, but he has never sniffed a lead NBA role.
His closest call was in the summer of 2012 when he interviewed with Charlotte, but he wasn't a finalist for the position. He has served as a part-time analyst for the Knicks with MSG Network, where he displayed a good grasp on ideologies, but he was noticeably jittery and a bit uncomfortable while speaking—which may explain his various flunked interviews.
Ewing's turn might be coming, but this isn't it.
Sticking with the Phil Jackson family for now, the first dark horse comes directly from the Zen Master's own inner circle.
After playing under Jackson for five seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, retired forward and current NBA TV analyst Rick Fox has essentially declared himself a candidate—at least in his mind—for the Knicks job. According to Newsday, the analyst wants to see Jackson coach the team himself. But if the 68-year-old is unable to give it a go, Fox has an idea:
I'm hoping -- I keep saying to Phil Jackson -- he needs to coach the team. He's the best guy for it. He's the holy grail of coaches. If he needed my support in some way, it'd be hard to turn him down. Or if he needed me to step in and do the job myself, I'd definitely welcome that.
Rick Fox: slyly sneaking himself into the Knicks' coaching conversation.
Fox has never coached at any level, but certainly has a working knowledge of the triangle, which Jackson will likely push for his appointed leader to use. Under Jackson, Fox averaged 25 minutes per game, scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and shot 35 percent from three-point range.
We have yet to hear Fox's name come up in any rumors besides the one he created himself, so this seems a bit far-fetched, even for a Jackson disciple. But that credential alone is apparently enough to warrant consideration under this new Knicks regime.
Brent Barry's name hasn't come up in many coaching searches, which doesn't seem right when you hear his takes as an analyst. Following Steve Kerr's hire—and Mark Jackson's before him—former players jumping from behind the cameras to the sidelines with no prior experience is far from unprecedented.
With NBA TV, Barry has shown a sound knowledge of the game's core principles, not only of his playing days, but also in the modern age as well. In the video above, for example, he details the importance of NBA analytics.
Fire Jon Barry, a blog dedicated to Brent Barry's brother's shortcomings as a broadcaster, recently detailed Brent's appearance as a TNT color analyst. In many ways, it was a joy to listen to. Here's one bit that outlined Bones' take on defending:
Next we have Bones talking about the bad angle that Brandan Wright takes, which results in a foul on Vince Carter. "Now on double teams you want to come on an angle. You want to come on at least where the offensive player doesn’t have great vision of where you are coming from. Brandan Wright was looking at Blake and Blake was looking at him like are you coming for real, because I’m just going to throw this to DeAndre." Harlan then prods Bones for more info on the angles. "The angles are created by player movement, the more you play with guys the more you understand where it is they like the ball. Sometimes if you are the ballhandler you can create that angle, and if you have a guy like Redick who moves around a lot, he’ll create it with his motion." The angle is what Redick created in that previous play for the Barnes three. Love this stuff.
The post goes on to highlight several areas where Barry impressed behind the mic.
It's impossible to gauge Bones' potential on an NBA team's sideline, but the same could be said for several other candidates Phil is looking at. Judging by his performance while analyzing the game from afar, Barry seems as good a candidate as any to dive into the coaching ranks.
Sam Cassell never played under Phil Jackson, which is astonishing considering he suited up for eight different NBA squads over his 15-year career.
Cassell has served as an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards since 2009, playing an instrumental role in John Wall's development at point guard.
The 44-year-old has been out of the league since 2009, and he has shifted his focus to the coaching ranks. He has previously interviewed for the Houston Rockets job in 2011, before Kevin McHale was ultimately hired.
WUSA-9 in Washington posted an article in 2012 regarding Cassell's coaching makeup, which remains pertinent today after the Wizards' recent playoff success under Randy Wittman:
And the Wizards will absolutely improve next year with Wittman calling the shots. Depending on which free agent scorer the team can lure, Washington may even find itself playing meaningful April basketball in 2013.
Here's my gripe with hiring Randy Wittman: John Wall will continue to improve and another NBA team is going to snatch up Sam Cassell. The rumors I've heard from around the building are that Cassell and Wall will be inseparable this summer.
Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer laid Cassell out as a potential fit for the Cavaliers' opening this summer. He has previously coached on the Wizards' summer league teams in Las Vegas.
During Isiah Thomas' tenure as Knicks head coach, Cassell was asked about the prospects of playing for the Knicks. According to Newsday (via InsideHoops):
Damn, what more you want? You’re playing in New York City. Damn, I wish was like eight years younger and had the opportunity to come to New York to play. Shoot, every night to play in the Garden? Damn, there’s no place like it.
Cassell's chances of suiting up for the Knicks are long since expired, but the option to coach them remains open if Jackson sees a fit.
He has served on the Knicks' coaching staff before under Mike D'Antoni, but as one of the league's most rapidly rising assistants, it may be time for Kenny Atkinson to run a staff of his own.
The 46-year-old assisted the Knicks from 2008 to 2012 and is currently a member of the Atlanta Hawks' sideline under Mike Budenholzer.
A Long Island native, Atkinson played professionally from 1990 to 2004 overseas. His area of expertise lies in player development, which could prove useful during a short-term rebuild if Carmelo Anthony leaves New York this summer.
Following D'Antoni's Knicks departure in 2012, Atkinson was the only assistant retained under interim coach Mike Woodson. After Atkinson left for the Hawks, center Tyson Chandler gave a firsthand account of the coach's work behind the scenes, via the New York Daily News' Frank Isola:
Kenny was great for us. He did an excellent job with the guards, getting them ready for the games. He's a hard worker. We're going to miss him and we're going to have to find someone to bring that type of energy to our team.
His most popular student was Jeremy Lin, who quickly rose to stardom after working with the Knicks mostly as a practice player through the first two months of his sophomore NBA season.
During his Knicks' tenure, Lin spoke about Atkinson's role during his uprising:
I mean this guy wakes up at 6 a.m. every morning. I’ll text after a game at midnight, 1 o’clock when I go home and I’ll say, "Hey can I look at those turnovers. Can I look at the upcoming team? How they run pick and rolls?" And he ’ll have the film ready when I walk into the facility the next morning.
When I wasn’t playing much, we were working out before practice, and after practice he was picking apart my game, teaching me what it’s like to play in Coach D’Antoni’s system.
Atkinson's coaching credentials are surely gaining steam, and Jackson would certainly be wise to give him a look this summer. Chances are he wouldn't be the only one.