Phil Jackson thought he had his most viable coaching option in the bag until Steve Kerr, essentially his protege, ditched Jackson for the Golden State Warriors. The New York Knicks’ coaching search has been a tremendous dust cloud ever since.
For Phil and the consensus of Knick fans, Kerr was the perfect option, because of his bountiful experience playing under Jackson and his close-knit relationship with Phil, as well as for the game; you could sense it in his commentating. I would’ve welcomed Kerr with open arms. In some sense, maybe his analytical mindset could have fueled the Knicks’ weak analytics department, because of his previous front office work out in Phoenix. But maybe it’s a good thing that Kerr drifted away from Phil to Golden State. What Knick fans should be hoping for is Phil going after a defensive-oriented coach.
I understand why everybody is so fixated on the triangle offense. Yes, Phil, the almighty triangle disciple (besides Tex Winter), is basically leading the front office and it makes a lot of sense for him to go out and hire somebody familiar with the system. Somebody like Brian Shaw (although, he’s probably not going anywhere away from Denver), or Tyronn Lue, best remembered for getting maniacally abused by Allen Iverson in the 2001 Finals. Or Derek Fisher (this seems unlikely as well) or even Rick “Hollywood” Fox; the options come in an abundance. But after watching so many games this year, in which the defense allowed 100+ points (including a 51 point quarter to the tanking Lakers), it’s pretty hard to oppose against getting a coach that actually preaches defense.
At this point, we know that the Knicks are a surefire offensive team. Despite the crap shoot of a season 2013-14 was, they still posted a 108.3 ORtg, ranked 11th in the league, and were .5 points short of cracking the top ten (the Raptors ranked 10th). And, of course, the year before that, they put up unprecedented numbers— a third-ranked 111.1 ORtg— by shooting threes relentlessly and without warning, hence leading the league in three pointers made and attempted and their 5th ranked 3P%. However, on the defensive side of things, things were eh, as they posted a 106.3 DRtg, which ranked 18th league wide.
In 2013-14 the New York Knicks posted a 109.1 DRtg, which ranked 24th in the league. It was really demoralizing to watch such lackadaisical defense, fueled by the team defensive antithesis, Raymond Felton, in which several point guards buried him into the ground when driving to the tin. Without Tyson Chandler as the anchor in the beginning of the season, suffering a fibula fracture that shelved him for quite awhile, you knew that the Knicks on the defensive end were going to be dead meat. Andrea Bargnani at center helped just a little bit, but was more than a million miles away from besting Chandler. Kenyon Martin, who was essentially the secondary bench enforcer, pretty much blended in with the crap ton of assistant coaches on the bench, because he donned a suit for the bulk of this season. The defense was hopeless.
What people need to understand is that personnel is needed to run the triangle. Assuming Carmelo Anthony gets his max deal, then maybe we’ll see it in full swing come next season, of course, depending on who’ll be hired. But if ‘Melo leaves, then who knows if it’ll work without a superstar player in the mix. That’s yet to have been proven, because the triangle has rarely, or hasn’t at all, worked outside of MJ, Kobe and Shaq. There are exceptions, but the “defense wins championships” (games rather) adage does have some validity here.
Somebody like Dave Joerger or Lionel Hollins or a Jeff Van Gundy reunion would be perfect, except, reports are indicating that Joerger might be on his way out, due to front office firings as well as Rick Adelman’s retirement, to Minnesota. Hollins, meanwhile, hasn’t been interviewed by the Knicks yet and Van Gundy stuff has surfaced, but none of it seemed to be legitimate.
Even if Joerger does ends up taking the Wolves’ coaching vacancy, going after Hollins would be the right idea. The two are familiar with each other, as Joerger was the mastermind behind Hollins’ “grit and grind” defensive protocol that got the Grizzlies to their franchise-best 56 wins, along with a Western Conference Finals appearance, in which they were later swept by the omnipotent Spurs. Hollins can attempt to take his grit-and-grind ethic to New York and try to implement it (who knows how he’ll implement it).
Again, if Carmelo Anthony doesn’t return to New York, then next season will probably be a write-off anyways. Even if he returns, it’ll still probably be a wasted season. The Knicks probably won’t have anything to lose next year, because the cap-rich 2015 offseason will be upon them and they’ll have the ability to go after relatively whoever they want.
Preferably, Lionel Hollins would be fit for the Knicks’ head coaching role. The defense that was once a staple in the 90s should return if Phil makes an inquiry about Hollins. Go for it, Phil.