Currently, the New York Knicks are being attached to just about every available coach there is. After Phil Jackson and the Knicks were spurned by Steve Kerr, every big-name free agent coach has been discussed with the team — Mark Jackson, Brian Shaw, the Van Gundy brothers (before Stan was scooped up).
Phil Jackson has said he’s not in a rush to find a coach now, nor should he be. The big-name coaches are exciting to hear because we have a history to look at, a deeper resume. That doesn’t mean any of them are the right choices.
The New York Knicks are in a very delicate situation. Their franchise player, Carmelo Anthony, is headed towards free agency with no guarantee that he’ll return to the Knicks. Jackson has reportedly asked him to consider taking a paycut to help build the team more thoroughly. If Anthony stays with the Knicks, they can probably manage more of a “retool,” signing a supporting cast to surround Anthony with when they have cap space in 2015.
However, if Anthony decides to go elsewhere this summer, the Knicks will more likely enter a full rebuild, trying to build with young players, draft picks, and cap space. It’s certainly feasible for the Knicks to sign some big-name players in 2015 without Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, or Andrea Bargnani on the books, but they won’t be as desperate as they would be trying to find big names to please Anthony.
So, really, the direction of the franchise depends on Anthony’s decision, and the Knicks should approach their coaching decision accordingly.
One of the biggest qualms with the pursuit of Steve Kerr was his lack of coaching experience. There was a fear that established veterans might not respect Kerr, and that he wouldn’t be able to lead a team to title contention. However, if the Knicks were in rebuild mode with young players, they and Kerr could’ve grown together and become better. To an extent, I still believe the same thing.
If Anthony is re-signing with the Knicks with the expectation that they’ll be contenders in two or three years, then an established coach might be the best option. A guy who understands the NBA game, has head coaching experience, knows what it’s like to manage big personalities and compete deep into the playoffs (the latter is a big hypothetical leap of faith when talking about the Knicks).
But if the Knicks are going to go into rebuilding mode, menos la Carmelo Anthony, then there’s no need to try and wave money at the big-name, established head coaches. There are plenty of good college and assistant NBA coaches to scour, former players to interview. (Though I think we can all agree it’d be nice if the Knicks stayed away from Derek Fisher or Tyronne Lue).
The Atlanta Hawks serve as a good example. They began deconstructing their roster in recent years, they fired Larry Drew, and then made one of the smartest moves a team could make: they hired Mike Budenholzer, a long-time assistant of Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. I won’t pretend to know much about Budenholzer, but he was one of Popovich’s top guys and he was with San Antonio for their four championships in the last two decades. He had been around the top coach in the NBA for a long time, he’s been through the grit and grind of the NBA season and playoffs — he was head-coach ready.
Budenholzer and the Hawks only managed a 38-44 record through an injury-plagued season, but they made it to the playoffs where they went seven games with the Indiana Pacers, out-executing and out-crafting them for a better part of the series. Now, as the Hawks continue to rebuild their roster, they have an established coach with experience and a respectable reputation amongst players.
Phil Jackson and the Knicks should approach their coaching search in a similar way. It’s helpful to poach top assistants from top coaches, but do the search thoroughly. And if the Knicks plan to look for a big-name coach, find a guy who’s the right fit going forward.
Jackson has said he would like a coach by the time the Summer League begins, but the Knicks don’t play actual games until October. Take the time to find the right guy for the job.