By John Schmeelk
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Who will the Knicks’ head coach be next season? Any number of names have been thrown out there, all of them speculative. The question people are still trying to figure out is simple: What are Phil Jackson’s requirements for his next coach?
Here’s what we know:
1. He wants to have some kind of personal relationship with the next coach. This would lead you to believe it would either be a friend, former player or assistant coach. Or it might simply means he intends to develop a relationship with that person in the next four months.
2. The coach must encourage a team style of play. I don’t know any coach that says he focuses on the individuals but not the team, so this doesn’t narrow the field at all.
3. The coach must employ an offensive “system.” The triangle is an example of such a system. The Princeton offense is another that Jackson has talked about in the past. But there’s still a little mystery as to what else Jackson considers an offensive “system.” Is what the Spurs and Warriors do an offensive system? Is Mike D’Antoni’s offense a “system”? Most would answer yes to these questions, but I’m not sure Jackson would.
4. The triangle seems to be quite important to Jackson. In his words, it is “important, but not paramount.” The consensus seems to be that he wants to prove his system can work without Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
5. The person must “match the style of the way we do things.” This again, points to someone who wants to operate Jackson’s system, the triangle.
So, who is it going to be? Here’s how I break it down with odds based on availability and chance of landing them.
1. Brian Shaw (5-to-1): Shaw has head coaching experience in which he tried to implement the triangle, was a former player of Jackson’s and is eminently available. He was widely respected as the associate head coach under Frank Vogel in Indiana before the teams he coached in Denver were a disaster, finishing with a 56-85 record before he was fired in his second year. Shaw would take the job and not demand a lot of money, and Jackson spoke well of him when the Knicks job opened up in 2014. This is a very risky hire given his failure in Denver, and would not be received well by Knicks fans.
2. Kurt Rambis (6-to-1): Knicks fans won’t want to hear it, but if Jackson could operate in a vacuum, I believe Kurt Rambis, a former Lakers and Timbewolves head coach, would be his head coach moving forward. He is a triangle devotee and a true friend of Jackson. The two have the type of relationship Jackson wants with a head coach. The only way he keeps the job, however, is if the Knicks finish the season strong and make a decent playoff run. I don’t see that happening, mostly because of Carmelo Anthony’s health, making Shaw a more likely option.
3. Luke Walton (8-to-1): Walton is probably on top of the Knicks’ list, given his success as Golden State’s interim coach while Steve Kerr missed half the season following back surgery. Walton also played for Jackson with the Lakers. It’s difficult to know if he will be a good head coach, given the presence of Kerr and the overwhelming talent on the Warriors roster. But he is young and has shown promise. The problem here is that a lot of other teams will want Walton, who is a West Coast guy. That’s why I put him at 8-to-1. He would be on top of my “Phil Jackson’s guys” list, especially since he might bring some of the Spurs’ offense with him from Golden State.
4. David Blatt (12-to-1): He is not a triangle coach, but in his time overseas Blatt did employ the type of “offensive systems” Jackson likes. The presence of LeBron James made that type of system difficult to implement in Cleveland. Blatt is an experienced winner from Europe, got the Cavs to the Finals last year and had the best record in the Eastern Conference this year before getting fired. This makes sense, even if fans might not like the name. If Jackson goes outside his direct circle, there’s a good chance he goes here.
5. Tom Thibodeau (20-1): These odds should be higher, but I’m afraid they’re not. The former Bulls head coach is not a Jackson type of guy. They don’t have a prior relationship and weren’t exactly best buddies during the Knicks-Bulls rivalries of the ’90s, when Thibodeau was a Knicks assistant. Jackson should get past his bias to make this hire, but I don’t think he will.
6. Scott Brooks (30-to-1): A good NBA coach, too often criticized for his work in Oklahoma City. He is not from the Jackson fraternity and was often cited for too much one-on-one play with the Thunder. Much like Thibodeau, he doesn’t seem to fit in New York.
7. Mark Jackson (30-to-1): A former Knicks player not from Jackson’s tree, he did fine in Golden State from 2011-14, but doesn’t fit what Jackson is looking for.
8. Jeff Van Gundy (50-to-1): Phil Jackson and Van Gundy really hated each other in the ’90s when they were coaching the Bulls and Knicks, respecitvely. That isn’t going to change. This is not happening.
9. John Calipari (100-to-1): The Kentucky coach would require full control and a salary close to Phil Jackson’s. Non-starter.
10. Phil Jackson (1000-to-1): Now 70, he’s too old and not physically capable to handle the rigors of the job.
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