New York Knicks: The 5 Best and 5 Worst Coaches in Knicks History
Pat Riley ranks as one of the best NBA coaches of all time, with his five titles and 1,900-plus wins.
But he's not the best Knicks coach of all time. That title would go to the helmsman of the Knicks' two championships. Most Knicks fans know who that coach is, but for those just getting into the game or who have been around only a short while, maybe not.
Youngins and old-timers, I present to you the five best coaches in Knicks history.
But first, here are the five worst...
5. Don Chaney (2001-02 to 2003-04, 72-112, .391)
Before you start going off on Don Chaney, mind you he's only the fifth-worst coach. Oh, it gets way worse.
Not only that, Chaney won Coach of the Year in 1991, taking the Houston Rockets to a 52-30 record.
It was an anomaly, the only time in eight-plus coaching years a Chaney team would go over .500.
After Jeff Van Gundy resigned out of nowhere 19 games into the 2001-02 season, assistant coach Don Chaney stepped in to take over the 10-9 Knicks.
They went 20-43. In a way, you can't blame Chaney; the Knicks were "shocked" by Van Gundy's abrupt announcement.
The next season, Chaney fared little better, though: 37-45 and a 10th seed. He was rewarded with a two-year contract extension. If you're a Knicks fan, you know that makes sense.
But he didn't make it. The Knicks fired the lame "Duck" after a 15-24 start in 2003-04.
4. Carl Braun (1959-60 to 1960-61, 40-87, .315)
Carl Braun was a five-time All-Star and went with the Knicks to 10 postseasons, including three losing trips to the finals (in a row). He played more years at guard than any other Knick (1947-1950, 1952-1961), led the team in scoring seven times and is ranked the fourth-best guard in Knicks history.
In his final season, 1961-62, Braun was lucky enough to win a championship with the Boston Celtics.
His solid playing career did not translate to the sidelines, however.
Braun managed a year-and-a-half at the helm—while playing—going 19-29 first and then 21-58 to finish in 1959-60 and 1960-61.
His .315 percentage is third-worst for any Knicks coach that coached for at least one full season.
3. Larry Brown (2005-06, 23-59, .280)
Larry Brown has been coaching so long, he coached four years in the ABA.
He's the proud owner of a 30-year pro career calling the on-court shots, more than 2,000 wins, a ring with the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons...and the worst winning percentage of any Knicks coach ever.
After an ugly beginning that saw Brown and Stephon Marbury resume their 2004 Olympic media-enhanced public distaste for each other as early as March, there was an ugly end.
Larry Brown was run out of town faster than Stephon Marbury. Much faster.
James Dolan handed out pitchforks and torches to the Knicks fan mob.
What a relief; surely Brown's replacement couldn't be worse...
2. Isiah Thomas (2006-07 to 2007-08, 56-108, .341)
Just two years from the bench? Seemed like a decade, and in a sense it was, as that's nearly how long Isiah Thomas' stranglehold on the fate of the Knicks had been in effect.
From the get-go in 2003, he blew up the payroll as President of Basketball Operations, signing questionable talent for questionable amounts of money.
From The New York Times:
"He never made cap room a priority, or exhibited a long-term strategy, or showed much regard for team chemistry as he added one expensive player after another: Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis, Maurice Taylor, Zach Randolph, [Eddy] Curry and [Jamal] Crawford."
He brought Curry from the Chicago Bulls to the New York Injured and Out of Shape List in exchange for, amongst other pieces, four draft picks, including the one used to select center Joakim Noah.
No cap room and meek talent and fewer draft picks. Oh my. And we haven't gotten to the coaching yet.
After Lenny Wilkens didn't pan out in two half-seasons, Thomas brought in Larry Brown to coach.
Or at least we thought so.
But Thomas "blames the hiring of Brown on Dolan." And Larry Brown blames Thomas for everything that was bad about the Knicks:
"I didn't like working for him," Brown said yesterday [May 11, 2011]. "People beat him up. I don't want to beat him up. I just didn't enjoy working for him. He thought what he did was right. I'm going to leave it at that."
And so, here was the new Knicks coach, Isiah Thomas, with "the job of coaching the overpriced, underachieving roster he created."
Thomas coached two full seasons, winning 33 and then 23 games with no playoff appearances, all along preposterously predicting a title or "titles" actually.
In the end, he was booted from the hardwood (and sight) "thanks" to a sexual harassment suit.
Whew. That's exhausting. Any Isiah Thomas slide is taxing.
But he's not the worst coach in Knicks history.
1. Eddie Donovan (1961-62 to 1964-65, 84-194, .302)
In terms of pure basketball coaching, the anvil of "worst Knicks coach" falls on the head of Eddie Donovan.
You know that game when Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain scored 100 points?
Yes. It was against the Knicks. Guess who was coaching.
Donovan would have taken 23 wins and been happy about it.
He coached three-and-a-half postseason-less seasons, posting records of 29-51, 21-59, 22-58 and 12-26. He has the worst winning percentage of any Knicks coach other than one-season-blunder Larry Brown.
But he drafted Willis Reed, so all is forgiven.
And now, the five best coaches in New York Knicks history...
Photo: New York Knicks
5. Hubie Brown (1982-83 to 1986-87, 142-202, .413)
Hubie Brown wasn't so great. He wasn't so bad either. He's in the middle.
There isn't much to choose from at No. 5. Rick Pitino? Vince Boryla? Brown is the best of the bunch at this level.
Those who know, know he's a basketball genius. He won an ABA title, Coach of the Year twice (for the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies) and is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor to the game. He's a spot-on analyst.
As coach for the Knicks? Meh.
His under-.500 percentage is somewhat deceiving. Hubie went 44-38 and 47-35 his first two seasons as Knicks coach and went to the Eastern Conference semifinals both times, losing to the eventual champion Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.
When Bernard King tore his ACL in 1985, Hubie and the Knicks felt the pain.
Brown eked out 47 wins in his final two seasons as coach. He was canned in the next after going 4-12.
Still, Brown is on the record books with the fifth-most wins for a Knicks coach.
4. Joe Lapchick (1947-48 to 1955-56, 326-247, .569)
Now we're talking. Joe Lapchick coached more Knicks games than everyone but one and won more Knicks games than anyone but that same one, the No. 1. More on that guy later.
But now it's Lapchick, the first true coach of the NBA's New York Knickerbockers.
Neil Cohalan was the first coach of the Knicks back in the 1946-47 BAA. Lapchick took over in season No. 2 and manned the helm for the next eight-and-a-half years, through the creation of the NBA in 1949 (the Knicks' fourth year).
Lapchick took New York to the playoffs every year he coached, including the finals three times in a row (all losses: Rochester Royals in 1950-51 and Minneapolis Lakers in 1951-52 and 1952-53).
3. Jeff Van Gundy (1995-96 to 2001-02, 248-172, .590)
Jeff Van Gundy has the third-most wins of any Knicks coach and second-best winning percentage.
Fan favorite Van Gundy graduated from assistant coach under several Knicks mentors, including Pat Riley, to interim coach after Don Nelson's half-season, to "Jeff Van Gundy" Garden chants—chants that in effect forced James Dolan, team president Dave Checketts and the Knicks organization to keep the once relative unknown at the head of the team.
In his first full season as Knicks coach (1996-97), Van Gundy posted his best coaching season: 57-25.
Van Gundy went to the postseason in all five of his full seasons as Knicks coach, including a crushing four-game-to-one-loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 NBA Finals.
In the Chicago Bulls' championship years ('96, '97, '98), Van Gundy's Knicks fell to the Heat, Bulls and Indiana Pacers in the playoffs.
2. Pat Riley (1991-92 to 1994-95, 223-105, .680)
Pat Riley's .680 winning percentage as Knicks coach is the best in the team's history.
Riley never won less than 50 games in his four years at New York's helm: 51-31, 60-22, 57-25 and 55-27. That is incredible.
Riley and Patrick Ewing's Knicks lost to Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan's champion Bulls in the 1992 and 1993 postseasons. Damn timing.
In the 1994 finals, the Knicks fell to Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Rockets in seven games—the team's best chance at a title since 1973.
1. Red Holzman (1968-69 to 1976-77, 1978-79 to 1981-82, 613-465, .559)
The two championships: 1970, 1973.
Let's put it another way: Phil Jackson "credits Red Holzman as his coaching mentor."
Jackson was a member of the New York Knicks for both of those years, and in fact played his whole career in the New York metropolitan area: 11 years for the Knicks and two for the New Jersey Nets—nine-and-a-half years under Holzman total.
Red Holzman is the longest-tenured Knicks coach: more than 12 seasons. He coached the Knicks to 52, 54, 57 and 60 wins in separate seasons and the most wins in Knicks history: 613 (almost twice as many as second-place Lapchick).
Holzman is a Knicks legend, the greatest coach in the team's history.