By John Schmeelk
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What, you thought this was going to be easy? C’mon, it’s the Knicks!
Phil Jackson just learned what that means when his top (and only?) candidate for the Knicks coaching job, Steve Kerr, spurned him to sign with the Golden State Warriors. Now it’s time for Jackson to earn his $12 million salary and find someone good to coach New York for his tenure as president and general manager.
This could still turn out as a win for the Knicks if Jackson makes the right decision. Kerr isn’t the reincarnation of Red Holzman. He has never coached a single professional basketball game. The types of names with experience that have been linked to Jackson, however, aren’t going to cut it in New York. One advantage the Knicks have over other franchises is their resources, and the one place they can spend without limitation is at head coach.
Jackson cannot under any circumstances settle for just anyone. He still needs to shoot for the stars here.
Bill Cartwright is not going to get it done. Kurt Rambis isn’t the answer. Jim Cleamons can’t be the man for the job. Even Tim Floyd, mentioned by Peter Vecsey on Thursday, is not a good enough name. You can’t bring in a retread that has already failed once at the NBA level and make him the Knicks’ next head coach. They could do a decent job, but the chance of any of them being special or above average is slim to none. Their ceilings are becoming as good as Mike Woodson. The Knicks need someone with the chance to be a difference-maker. They need to find the person that can transform the team like Frank Vogel with the Indiana Pacers, or Steve Clifford with the Charlotte Bobcats.
There are two avenues to explore. The first would be a young college coach that wants to transition to the pros. The two top guys on that list should be, in this order, Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie. Both are college coaches but had long careers in the NBA, which should make their transition to the league easier. Both led their teams deep into the NCAA tournament, Ollie all the way to the title, without what most people would consider the most talented players. The third coach that could be included is Tony Bennett, who led a surprising Virginia team to an ACC title and runs a system offense.
Any of those three could provide a strong young voice to build a team the proper way. They would have a year to learn on the job, since the Knicks aren’t expected to compete next year. The Knicks would also have the money and resources to draw those coaches away from their Universities with a big-money offer. It’s arguable that all three of the above options, especially Hoiberg and Ollie, would be better than Kerr on Day 1. They’re also young enough that Jackson could help mold them into the type of sideline leader he wants them to be.
The drawback of the college coaches above is that none run the triangle offense, which seems to be a requirement under Jackson. That leads to the next group of candidates that have never been a head coach in the NBA before, but have played for Jackson and would be able to institute his system.
Derek Fisher is still a player in the league, but has expressed interest in coaching after he retires. Playing for the Thunder, his season might last a few more weeks and the Knicks might not want to wait. The risk factor here is extremely high since Fisher has never coached anyone before. His leadership of the National Basketball Players Association might quell some of those fears, but not enough.
Ron Harper was an assistant coach for the Pistons until 2007, but hasn’t coached in the league since. Making the case for him would be difficult. Tyrone Lue has been on the Clippers coaching staff for a year, after following Doc Rivers from Boston where he was their director of basketball development. His experience is minimal as well. Luke Walton is involved in management on the D-League level but nothing that would suggest he is head coaching material. Scottie Pippen’s name has also been brought up with the possibility of a role as an assistant coach or in the front office.
The only guy in this group that’s intriguing is Fisher, but only because he is an unknown variable and very highly thought of around the league. The risk is extremely high, but so is the reward. Jason Kidd adjusted to coaching pretty quickly and the hope would be that Fisher could do the same.
There’s been no mention of established NBA coaches for good reason. George Karl, Jeff Van Gundy, Lionel Hollins or any of the others out there aren’t a fit. There’s a far better chance of Jackson going completely outside the box, hiring someone no has even mentioned yet.
Jackson should also be motivated to move quickly. His inability to close the deal with Kerr on the quick gave the Warriors a chance to pounce. Jackson’s willingness to let Kerr explore the opportunity (according to Kerr himself) also speaks poorly to his negotiating skills. It’s great that he was willing to help out Kerr, but that doesn’t do much to help the Knicks.
The time for Zen patience is at an end. There needs to be urgency. Now he needs to find his target and move. He needs to use the weight of the Knicks’ financial advantage.
Phil Jackson already lost out on his man. He needs to get this one.
Follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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