Knicks' Latest Coaching Staff Decision Yet Another Red Flag for Team's Future

Yaron WeitzmanFeatured ColumnistMay 23, 2017

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 12:  Phil Jackson of the New York Knicks looks on during the NBA Draft Combine Day 2 at the Quest Multisport Center on May 12, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

NEW YORK — Offseason, you say? Not in Knicksland, where drama never takes time off.

The latest example? The New York Knicks' decision not to renew the contract of assistant coach Joshua Longstaff, which was first reported by the Daily News over the weekend and has since been confirmed by Bleacher Report.

Longstaff, who was tasked with running the team's player development program, had been with the Knicks for three seasons. He had previously worked for the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he met Derek Fisher, who brought Longstaff with him to New York when he was hired as Knicks head coach in 2014.

The decision was met with typical Knicks-gonna-Knick cynicism.

"[Longstaff] was a good coach; the Knicks aren't into that sort of thing," quipped the SB Nation Knicks fan blog Posting and Toasting.

Who knew so many people care so deeply about the NBA's anonymous middle managers?

Of course, there's more behind the angst, and reason for fans to be concerned.

Aaron Gash/Associated Press

The principle grounds: Longstaff and Kristaps Porzingis grew close over the past two seasons. Porzingis even invited Longstaff to help him train in his native Latvia last offseason. Porzingis wanted the Knicks to bring Longstaff back. The Knicks didn't listen to their young superstar, ostensibly the man tasked with leading the team into the future.

No commodity in today's NBA is more valuable, or harder to obtain, than a star player. If a general manger happens to stumble into possession of one, it's probably a good idea for them to do everything in their power to keep that man happy. Ending ties with a coach beloved by a star isn't exactly a strategy you'd find in a Management for Dummies guide (or, for that matter, a white "Preparation" binder).

Neither would be letting go of an assistant coach who's been at the helm of your team's lone bright spot over the past few seasons: its player development program. Longstaff's active, hands-on approach helped transform one-time benchwarmers like Langston Galloway and Lance Thomas into rotation players and no-names like Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Ron Baker into reliable end-of-the-bench options.

But there's more to it. There's a reason Longstaff was so popular among Knicks players, and it wasn't just because he helped many of them develop skills that got them paid.

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

All of which, per usual, leads us back to the man in charge: Phil Jackson. By now, we're all familiar with the issues that have plagued Jackson since he took the reins. Jackson has made it clear he has no interest in hearing views that may challenge his long-held beliefs.

On the court, such views take the form of more pick-and-rolls and jumpers from behind the three-point line. Off the court, they take the form of understanding that the days of management talking down to players and running the show without input from stars are long gone.

At the beginning of last season, it seemed Jackson might finally be ready to evolve. He hired Jeff Hornacek, a head coach who possessed little familiarity with Jackson's beloved triangle. The two spoke often about building a new, more modern offense around "triangle aspects." It's here where Longstaff played a major role. Had you shown up to Madison Square Garden three hours before a Knicks game this season, you'd have seen him on the floor, working with the team's young players on all the sorts of skills and not just triangle-type actions: pick-and-rolls, spacing, drive-and-kicks—the basics that the modern NBA game is built around.

Then the All-Star break came. Jackson started getting more involved, and suddenly the "aspects" part of "triangle aspects" was dropped. Jackson has since said he plans on being more involved next season, that he expects to be an even more frequent presence at practice.

All of which is to stay that Longstaff's firing further crystallized the principles Jackson plans on rebuilding around—and how misguided they are. Longstaff was one of the few voices around the team trying to nudge New York into the 21st century.

More importantly, his departure makes it even less likely the Knicks under Jackson ever get there.


Yaron Weitzman covers the Knicks, and other things, for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman and listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here.