Updated Rankings for NY Knicks Coaching Candidates

John Dorn@JSDorn6Correspondent IIIJune 4, 2014

Updated Rankings for NY Knicks Coaching Candidates

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    It's a search that many thought would be over weeks ago, but Phil Jackson is still scouring his inner circle and beyond to find the next New York Knicks head coach. 

    After Steve Kerr turned down the opportunity to grow under his mentor in favor of coaching closer to home, New York was forced back to the drawing board. And though not as handcuffed as before, Jackson is still majorly relying on his top candidate, Derek Fisher, to jump straight to the coaching ranks with New York next year. 

    If Phil is spurned twice by his two top choices, he'll have options but may need to get creative. Of course, after he enjoyed so much success in a system that no other coach has mastered to date, his candidates must fit specific criteria. But if he doesn't see a true fit with any triangle disciples, Jackson will need to look farther and wider than he'd ever imagined. 

    Ahead, we rank New York's rumored candidates to fill the team's void on the bench, in order of likelihood.

Rumored but Unlikely

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    Jim Cleamons

    Jim Cleamons has expressed interest in joining Phil Jackson's staff, according to the New York Post, but his more likely fate would be as an assistant instead of a head coach, if Jackson makes the 64-year-old an offer. 


    Bill Cartwright

    Bill Cartwright has interviewed with Jackson already, per the New York Daily News, but he too is more likely to end up an assistant. Over parts of three seasons coaching the Chicago Bulls, Cartwright's career record is 51-100. 


    Kurt Rambis

    ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne reported that triangle disciple Kurt Rambis would be a candidate for the Knicks' opening immediately after Steve Kerr opted for the Golden State Warriors' job. He'd be yet another fit as an assistant—a role he has served with the Los Angeles Lakers for a bulk of the last 20 years—to help guide a young coach preaching the triangle. 

    As Minnesota Timberwolves head coach from 2009-10 through 2010-11, he went just 32-132 and famously advised Kevin Love not to shoot three-pointers. 


    Mike Dunleavy

    Phil Jackson met with Mike Dunleavy Sr. near the draft combine, according to Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com. He also formally interviewed with the Los Angeles Lakers just days later, so speculation here is that Dunleavy's talk with the Zen Master may have consisted of equal parts Knicks questions and Lakers questions. 


    Brian Shaw

    Brian Shaw was Phil's trendiest assistant during Jackson's latter Lakers year, so it's only natural that he'd emerge as New York's top choice, according to the New York Post.

    The only hurdle is that Shaw is under contract with the Denver Nuggets, and team president Josh Kroenke told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "I don't foresee a scenario or circumstance where he's going to be anywhere but with the Nuggets next season."

    At the end of May, Jackson spoke to reporters about the team's coaching search and specifically ruled out Shaw. He noted that Denver would demand compensation for letting the second-year coach out of his contract—compensation the Knicks wouldn't be able to muster.

    "Brian is under contract with Denver, and Denver has everything that we owned for the last few years so there’s nothing else I want to give them," Jackson said, per the Miami Herald.


    Phil Jackson

    If he could, he probably would. But Jackson's health renders his coaching career essentially over at this point, although the Knicks have made sure to leave the door cracked ever so slightly open since Jackson was brought in.

    During an interview with ESPN Radio in New York, owner James Dolan said he didn't "think" Jackson would be coaching the Knicks. "We didn't bring him in to do that," he said, according to Basketball Insiders' Tommy Beer.

    Sure, the Knicks didn't bring him in with those intentions, but if the circumstances were extenuating...

    On May 30 during a session with beat reporters, Jackson said, via ESPN New York, "Unless the Lord heals in me in the next week or two, I wouldn't see myself being physically prepared to take on the grind of coaching a basketball team right now."

    Comments like that make you wonder. Phil wants to coach these Knicks, it seems. They'd be no walk in the park to coach, but he is a head coach, after all—maybe the best ever. If it were up to him, he might throw in the towel on this search and call on himself to carry out the coaching duties. 

    But Phil has admitted defeat. He can't do it due to his health, and now he'll need to trust someone else to do the job he knows best. 

4. Mark Jackson

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    Knicks fans who were unnerved when the team passed on Mark Jackson for the vacant 2008 head coaching position are surely voicing their opinions now. The job is open once again, and Jackson is fresh off his first coaching gig.

    Though he's not a descendant of Phil Jackson's coaching tree, Ian Begley of ESPN New York has reported that the Knicks are interested in chatting with their former player about the vacancy. The Warriors' impressive run this season and back-to-back playoff appearances under Jackson have helped build the 49-year-old's coaching reputation. 

    When you consider, though, the reason for his Golden State exit last month—reported clashes with management—and Phil's desire to hire a coach who will treat his word as gospel, this seems to be an ill-fated pairing.

    There is one area in which the combination of Jacksons could work in harmony, however. Through Jackson's Warriors tenure, his motivational tactics were never questioned, but he eventually became maligned for his unimaginative offense and propensity to keep the ball in the hands of one player. Paired with Phil Jackson and an assistant coach or two with triangle familiarity, a job with the Knicks could help to solve Mark Jackson's deficiencies in that area. 

    Still, all indications are that Phil will exhaust all inner-circle options before he moves on to more external candidates, which leaves Mark Jackson on the outside looking in for now.

3. Tyronn Lue

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Phil Jackson has mostly stuck to his former subjects when listing candidates this offseason, and Tyronn Lue is perhaps the most qualified of the bunch. 

    He was a Laker during Jackson's first two seasons coaching Los Angeles in a pair of title seasons. He got into just 46 games over two seasons under Phil, averaging 13 minutes per game as an end-of-the-bench point guard.

    He later went on to play a portion of a season under Doc Rivers with the Orlando Magic in 2003. Though their time together was brief, it apparently served as a fine relationship foundation, as Rivers invited Lue onto his Boston Celtics coaching staff upon the guard's retirement in 2009. He's been a member of Rivers' staffs ever since, even transferring over to the Los Angeles Clippers last offseason. 

    After five years serving under Rivers, Lue has firsthand knowledge of a top-level NBA coach's motivational skills, as well as Xs and Os. His knowledge of the triangle from his Lakers days only boosts his resume as it pertains to the Knicks' job. 

    Jackson is not only looking for triangle familiarity but also a young coach whom he can groom in his image, much like Pat Riley has done with Erik Spoelstra with the Miami Heat. At 37 and with no head coaching experience, Lue seems to fit Phil's model almost as well as Steve Kerr did.

2. Fred Hoiberg

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    Fred Hoiberg has no past relationship with Phil Jackson, but he does have a taste of the triangle deep in his roots. 

    As a member of the Chicago Bulls from 1999 through 2003, he played under Tim Floyd and Bill Cartwright, who ran their own variations of Jackson's triangle. Since retiring in 2005, Hoiberg has enjoyed success coaching the Iowa State Cyclones, whom he most recently led to a 28-8 record and a trip to the Sweet 16. His coaching record over four seasons is 90-47.

    With UConn recently extending Kevin Ollie, "The Mayor" may be college basketball's most attractive name to NBA front offices aside from John Calipari. In January, Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore explained why.

    "His approach is always the same. Always consistency. Always that calm person," assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih said of Hoiberg. "He expects our players to act that way on the court, and it shows."


    Hoiberg's teams do not panic. But those close to the coach know he has one of the best poker faces in college basketball because "if anyone opened the insides of him, they would see how tense he is," Abdelmassih says.

    That cool helped Hoiberg become one of the greatest shooters in the world. He led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage his final year in the league in 2004-05, but his playing career was cut short because of a heart condition. Nine years later, Hoiberg is one of the hottest coaching names in the game with much of the interest coming from the pros.

    Jackson would be one to respect Hoiberg's calm presence. It's how the Zen Master navigated a 20-year coaching career. Hoiberg's old-school poise mixed with a grasp of modern principles, such as avoiding the mid-range on offense, make him a compelling option for any NBA team.

    I've recently seen this question a lot lately: "why does everyone think Hoiberg would make a good NBA coach?". Answer pic.twitter.com/y18TZwjlK8

    — Patrick Fenelon (@Patrick_Fenelon) May 17, 2014

    B/R's Adam Fromal tweeted during the NCAA tournament, suggesting how Hoiberg's offense, packed with ball movement and a spaced floor, would benefit Carmelo Anthony's offensive game plan.

    According to The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring, if Jackson does deviate from his prior Lakers and Bulls connections, he'll consider dipping into the college ranks to whisk Hoiberg away from Iowa State and into the Big Apple. 

1. Derek Fisher

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Lo and behold, Phil Jackson finds himself in the very same position he was in only weeks ago—waiting on his top (and only legitimate) candidate to eventually sign up for the team president's guidance and coach his Knicks. And just like with Kerr, waiting on Derek Fisher is a risky proposition. 

    The same familial concerns that applied to Kerr are also relevant with Fisher, who is also based on the West Coast. To consider how that may factor in, remember Fisher famously missed playoff action in 2007 with the Utah Jazz to be with his family as his then-10-month-old daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

    Like Kerr once again, Fisher may have a Western Conference team interested in his services as head coach. 

    His former Los Angeles Lakers are without a coach after Mike D'Antoni's resignation. Thankfully for the Knicks, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers aren't as fond of "Coach Fisher" as he may be of them.

    As the Los Angeles Lakers remain cool on the pursuit of Derek Fisher as a coaching candidate, the New York Knicks continue to cement themselves as the strong frontrunner to hire him, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

    So far, the Lakers have expressed an exclusive desire to explore experienced head coaches in their search, and there isn't yet an indication that team officials plan to seriously consider Fisher for the job, league sources said.

    Fisher brings leadership experience dating back to his days as president of the players' union and of course is familiar with Jackson's triangle, since he played for a combined 10 seasons under Phil.

    There's still the small obstacle of Fisher not being officially retired yet, but he's previously stated that this past season would be his last at age 39. Another hurdle the Knicks will need to climb is obtaining permission from the Oklahoma City Thunder to speak with Fisher, who is technically still under contract. The Thunder may be reluctant after Jackson was fined $25,000 for tampering with Fisher. 

    In Fisher, the Knicks could also be looking to make the same sort of splash the Brooklyn Nets did last summer by hiring Jason Kidd fresh off the Knicks' roster at 40 years of age. After a rocky start, he led Brooklyn to one of the East's best records over the second half of the year. 

    Jackson has made his game plan fairly clear: He can't coach the Knicks himself, and he'll only leave them in the hands of somebody who will embrace his direction from above. For this particular scenario, Fisher may be the most qualified candidate. Now it's up to him to do what Kerr couldn't and commit to turning around Phil's new Knicks.


    Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.