Is Steve Kerr Using the New York Knicks for Leverage?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMay 6, 2014

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04:  Broadcaster Steve Kerr smiles on the court before the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament between the Butler Bulldogs and Connecticut Huskies at Reliant Stadium on April 4, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Even during an offseason that promises to feature Stan Van Gundy, Lionel Hollins, George Karl and plenty of other big names in the coaching business, Steve Kerr has taken center stage. 

The former NBA champion and sharpshooting legend has spent the post-Phoenix Suns portion of his basketball career working as an analyst for TNT—and doing a fantastic job, I might add—but now he's looking to move into the coaching ranks. 

Kerr is one of the primary candidates to be hired as the head coach of the New York Knicks, but that isn't necessarily where he'll end up. Now that other rumors are emerging, is it possible the 48-year-old could be using the Knicks' interest as leverage while trying to land another gig? 

Most recently, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that Kerr was a candidate of interest for the Golden State Warriors. Even though Mark Jackson hasn't been fired and may yet hold onto his job given the support he receives from his players, this already feels like a feasible rumor. 

But how exactly is Kerr going to convince anyone he deserves the job? 

Just read that list of names again—Van Gundy, Hollins, Karl. You can throw in plenty of others as well. Kevin Ollie, John Calipari and Shaka Smart are hot commodities within the college ranks, and Scott Brooks and Frank Vogel could soon become available as well if their teams don't turn things around in the playoffs. 

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Every one of those men has something that Kerr doesn't. 

Coaching experience. 

No wonder leverage might be necessary. 

Appeal of the Knicks Job

Mar 30, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) smiles on the court against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Knicks haven't been able to do much winning in the past and are coming off a season filled with turmoil, there are two aspects of the job that give it a high degree of desirability. 

First, coaching the team that calls Madison Square Garden home allows you to coach within the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. 

Tautological as that argument may be, it's important nonetheless. The Knicks, despite the lack of elite-level success, remain one of the most prestigious organizations within in the NBA, up there in the upper tier of franchises along with the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics

At least in terms of popularity.

When the average fan thinks about the NBA, he or she is going to think about New York before most other franchises, a statement that's reflected in the values of the organizations. According to Forbes.com in January, the Knicks checked in as the franchise worth more than any other in the Association. 

Kurt Badenhausen has the breakdown, and it's even more dramatic than you might initially think: 

No team has benefited more than the New York Knicks. The NBA’s most valuable team for a second straight year, the Knicks are now worth $1.4 billion, up 27% from a year ago. A three-year, $1 billion renovation of Madison Square Garden pushed the Knicks’ revenue to $287 million, net of revenue sharing, last season. The Knicks’ average TV rating on the MSG Network was 3.1, up 71% from the previous season, as the team made the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000 (both the Knicks and MSG are owned by publicly traded Madison Square Garden Company). The playoff run and arena renovation helped the Knicks generate operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $96 million–a record for an NBA franchise.

That's...a lot of money. 

Working for such a prominent organization is certainly appealing, and it also helps that things can only get better going forward. 

The 2013-14 campaign was a complete and utter disaster, with players getting into legal trouble, untying shoelaces instead of contributing, generally struggling to hit shots and forgetting that defense even existed. Not even a late surge could get the Knicks into the playoffs ahead of a sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks squad. To top things off, the lottery pick they "earned" is just going to be handed over to the Denver Nuggets

Once more, it was a disaster. 

But now Phil Jackson is in charge, lending a whole new level of credibility to the MSG residents. All of a sudden, free agents might want to flock to the team—when it has money to spend in 2015—and there's a much more positive vibe throughout The City That Never Sleeps. 

Without Jackson, the struggles of 2013-14 seemed a sure indicator that Carmelo Anthony would flee this summer as soon as he could. But with him, the future is much brighter, and it's important that the coach gets in on the ground level. 

Or in this case, maybe on a subterranean level. 

Appeal of the Warriors Job

Apr 27, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates after blocking the shot of Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4, not pictured) during the fourth quarter in game four of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoff

If Kerr's name pops up in the running for any other jobs, chances are a similar argument will apply. But for now, I'm going to focus on the Warriors. After all, they're the most-prominent Kerr-related rumor at the moment that doesn't have to do with NYC. 

If the former sniper is indeed using the Knicks job as leverage, he'd be doing so because he places a priority on immediate success. New York is likely going to struggle throughout the 2014-15 season, as the team has very limited resources when trying to upgrade the roster and could even lose Melo without recompense. 

But Golden State isn't going to experience similar difficulties. 

Although losing some of the team's bench players will hurt, the Dubs are primed to be extremely competitive in the near future. All the starters and a few key reserves are under contract going forward, and the youth of the team indicates that more improvements are coming. 

Stephen Curry is already an All-Star and submitting his name in the race to be the league's best point guard, and he'll likely continue getting better on defense and working on his turnover problems as he continues to gain more experience. Klay Thompson is developing into more of a well-rounded player, and Harrison Barnes should only improve during his third season. 

On top of that, injuries have plagued this team like few others. 

Between Andre Iguodala's hamstring maladies at the start of the year and Andrew Bogut's rib problem at the end, the full squad wasn't able to spend as much time together as it hoped. After they took the Los Angeles Clippers to seven games without the defensive center in the lineup, it's easy to imagine that the Warriors would still be playing had they been at peak strength and health. 

Kerr wouldn't be tasked with building a team from the bottom up, but rather inheriting one that's already successful. 

For a first-year coach with no prior experience at any level, that has to be appealing, as is remaining close to home. 

The Phil Jackson Connection

Mar 18, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks new president of basketball of operations Phil Jackson is introduced at a press conference at Madison Square Garden.  Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

It's tough to see how the scales balance without hooking Kerr up to a lie detector. 

On one hand, it's quite appealing to coach a historically important franchise with a large following and plenty of financial resources. On the other hand, the appeal of winning immediately can sway a lot of arguments. 

But Jackson tips the scales in favor of the Knicks. Not Mark Jackson, but Phil Jackson. 

Whereas Kerr would be going into a new situation without any guarantee of internal support—look how quickly Joe Lacob and the rest of the management in Golden State turned on the current head coach—should he sign on with the Warriors, he'd be confident that Jackson has his back in New York. 

As Grant Hughes wrote for Bleacher Report, there's no surety in the Bay Area: 

The potential exists for the Warriors' underachieving offense to look even worse if it has to go through the pains of learning a new and complicated system. And with a team trying to win right now, there might simply not be time to suffer through a long learning curve. Perhaps it makes more sense to stick with [Mark] Jackson and hope he makes adjustments to the system already in place.

Overall, it seems dangerous to toss out a guy who has won almost 100 games over the past two seasons. That's a decision you make only if you're firmly convinced the next man can do better.

Thinking that's true of Kerr involves a pretty significant leap of faith.

But the narrative runs in the opposite direction on the other side of the country. 

Phil Jackson was Kerr's coach back when he played for the Chicago Bulls, and a reunion would be a huge benefit of the Knicks job. Not only would he be working for a man he trusts, but he'd be fully capable of putting the triangle offense into play.

Here's Frank Isola of the New York Daily News

The appeal of the Knicks job is that it would reunite Kerr with Phil Jackson, his former coach in Chicago. Despite what reservations Kerr may have regarding upper management at Madison Square Garden, the source said he is confident Jackson is the right person to turn around a franchise that has won just one playoff series since 2000.

That confidence cannot be overstated, especially because it's found on a two-way street. 

11 Jun 1997:  Guards Jud Buechler and Steve Kerr and coach Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls celebrate after a playoff game against the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The Bulls won the game 90-88. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr  /Al
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Just as Kerr believes in Jackson, so too does Jackson believe in Kerr. The soon-to-be head coach believes in one more player as well, or so we learned when the Rookie of the Year vote was revealed.

"[Tim] Hardaway finished in fifth place in the Rookie of the Year voting—even behind Nets big man Mason Plumlee—but his lone first-place vote came from Kerr, the TNT broadcaster who is the heavy favorite to accept the Knicks head-coaching job this week," wrote Marc Berman of the New York Post

Anyone else thinking of this as a bit of positioning? 

As is the case with that inexplicable vote—no offense to Hardaway, but he shouldn't have made many top-three ballots, much less earned a first-place vote—it's crucial to think about context when evaluating Kerr's relationship with the Knicks.

And that context indicates that this is the Zen Master's first major decision at the helm of his new franchise. He hasn't made any huge personnel decisions—other than firing Mike Woodson, which wasn't exactly much of a "decision"—and the hiring of a head coach sets the tone for his tenure in charge of the Knicks. 

"Let’s be honest,’’ Kerr recently explained, courtesy of Berman. "If Phil wasn't there, nobody from the Knicks would have contacted me."

Jackson isn't even waiting to see who becomes available. He isn't testing the waters and seeing whether he'll have a chance to hire someone like Scott Brooks or Frank Vogel if their playoff runs come to a premature end. 

Even with the second round of the postseason in progress, Jackson is ready to sign Kerr to a contract. 

That should say a lot. 

Whether Kerr takes the job is still up in the air, but it seems likely he'll formally decline that gig before taking another if he chooses to spurn his former coach and the organization he now runs. As Isola reports, "It is believed that Kerr will make a decision either Thursday or Friday."

If that's true, he'd be making that decision before even knowing if Mark Jackson will be fired by the Warriors. 

Does that sound like leverage? 

It shouldn't. 

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