By John Schmeelk
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When Mike D’Antoni stepped down as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the number of coaches rumored to be in line for their top job was mind-boggling. There was George Karl, the Van Gundy brothers, Kevin Ollie, Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis, Lionel Hollins, Derek Fisher, Steve Kerr, Ettore Messina and three coaches that still have jobs in John Calipari, Tom Thibodeau and Frank Vogel.
From the outside looking in, it is hard to like the Knicks’ approach. Unlike most of the names on the Lakers’ list, Kerr has no head-coaching experience to speak of. His only experience in the league since retiring has been as a broadcaster and a general manager. There’s little to no evidence to indicate that he would be better — or even as good — as some of the more successful coaches on the Lakers’ radar.
It seems downright foolish that the Knicks wouldn’t wait until the end of the first round of the playoffs to see if talented coaches like Frank Vogel, or even Mark Jackson (who I am not a fan of, but others are) and Scott Brooks become available. Surely they would be worth interviews considering their success in the league. If Donnie Walsh was the general manager — or or anybody else, for that matter — all these names would be in the mix for the Knicks’ head-coaching position.
But Phil Jackson is a different type of guy. He is still, at heart, a coach. If his body would allow it, he would still be on the sidelines running practice and shouting at players and referees during games. He knows in his heart that if he hires a coach that works a different way, which everyone on that list does, he would not be able to work with them for long.
Listening to Jackson’s philosophy, he values having everyone in an organization on the same page and working together. He would loath clashing with a head coach over simple things like how to run a practice, interact with players and strategy. With any of the established coaches the Lakers are looking at, there would be constant conflict that they wouldn’t run things the way Kerr would. Coaches, especially successful ones, are stubborn and want things done their way. Jackson wants things his way with the Knicks, from the top of the organization to the bottom.
That’s why he wants Kerr.
Jackson might not be the man on the sideline, but it is his voice that the players are going to be hearing through the mouth of Kerr. Obviously Kerr will have to handle things like in-game X’s and O’s, strategy, substitutions and the nitty-gritty day-to-day, but his philosophy will be Jackson’s. He will interact with the players and run practices the way Jackson wants, because that’s what Kerr experienced as a player and that’s what Kerr believes.
These are two men on the same page, which is exactly what Jackson wants as his extension on the floor.
Whether the Knicks get their man remains to be seen. Kerr is rightly wary of working for James Dolan, and would want no part of the Knicks if his mentor, Jackson, wasn’t there. But he is there, and the opportunity to work with a general manager who you trust — something Kerr would appreciate from his time in Phoenix — will win out in the end. The Knicks will also likely give Kerr a fatter contract than any other team out there.
Will Jackson’s strategy pay off? There’s no way to tell, but he is going to do things his way. That’s what you want when you pay someone of that caliber that kind of money. This is going to be Jackson’s team and coaching staff, and everything is going to be done according to his philosophy. The Knicks hope that pays off for them as much as it did for Jackson’s teams at his prior stops.
– One more interesting note on Donald Sterling. The ruling to ban him for life for racist comments (a ruling I agree with) sets a precedent not only for owners and front-office personnel, but also for players who say something stupid. I hope the players who were so fast to demand Sterling’s ouster will be equally adamant about a harsh penalty when someone in their camp says something despicable and reprehensible. Shaquille O’Neal’s comments about Yao Ming a long time ago don’t rank up there with Sterling’s comments, but now they would probably garner a much heavier penalty than they did then.
– These playoffs have been a ton of fun. The Pacers and Thunder saved their seasons on the road on Thursday night in huge performances. I expect the Thunder to roll over the Grizzlies again in Game 7, especially since Mike Conley won’t be 100 percent with his hamstring. I still don’t know about Indiana. If the Hawks can go on a run early in Game 7, the Pacers are so mentally fragile that they might just quit. But if they manage to stay in the game from the start, I think Indiana holds on to advance as well.
– I think the Raptors close out the Nets in Game 6 in Brooklyn. Toronto is the more active team, and I just don’t trust this Nets group to come out and play great ball for two straight games. Even if they win Game 6, Toronto will take Game 7 at home.
– I’ll take the Clippers in Game 7 against the Warriors. In this spot, I think Doc Rivers outcoaches Mark Jackson, and a constantly improving Blake Griffin is too much. A hot Stephen Curry can change everything, of course.
– I also can’t see the Rockets winning two straight to close out the series against Portland. Eventually their poor fourth-quarter execution and the lack of defense by James Harden will catch up with them.
Follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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