When Steve Kerr spurned the New York Knicks' coaching offer to join the Golden State Warriors, it put team president Phil Jackson in a difficult position. Jackson had appeared to make Kerr the sole candidate for the franchise's opening on the bench, and the failure to agree to terms left the team with no real backup plan. It was unclear where Jackson would turn.
If the latest rumors are any indication, then Jackson has opted to go for the familiar. Reports suggest that he will look at his former players, a couple players-turned-assistants, and one high-profile name with lots of New York ties. On the other hand, the list is light on experience and accomplishments, to the point of potential consternation.
Oklahoma City guard Derek Fisher, who played under Phil Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers, is emerging as a leading candidate to join Jackson in New York now that Jackson's first choice, Steve Kerr, has agreed to terms with the Golden State Warriors. Fisher, of course, has zero head coaching experience, but Jackson believes that Fisher has the intelligence and work ethic to become successful if he happened to make the move from player to coach. Most recently, Jason Kidd went right from playing to being hired as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. [...]
Jackson’s plan, according to a source, would be to assemble an experienced staff around Fisher that could potentially include Kurt Rambis and Bill Cartwright, two former NBA head coaches. Jackson thinks highly of Rambis, the longtime Lakers assistant, and there is a possibility that Rambis could be hired as a head coach.
Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com mention Fisher, as well, along with a few other former Lakers who played for Jackson:
Sources close to the process told ESPN.com that the most likely scenario, even after Jackson was snubbed by the only candidate he has considered for the position since taking the Knicks' job in March, remains hiring a younger coach Jackson has worked with previously and can mentor.
Three candidates who will thus receive consideration from Jackson, sources said, are Luke Walton and Tyronn Lue -- former players under Jackson who have already begun their coaching careers -- as well as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Derek Fisher -- if Fisher elects to stop playing after this season as he has hinted.
If that's not enough former Jackson players for your liking, then consider that the franchise might be interested in bringing Hall of Famer and longtime Knicks antagonist Scottie Pippen into the fold. From Marc Berman of the New York Post:
Knicks GM Steve Mills huddled with Scottie Pippen for about 15 minutes Thursday at the draft combine to gauge the legendary Bull’s interest in potentially working for the organization in some capacity, possibly as an assistant coach, according to an NBA source.
Knicks president Phil Jackson, stung by the Steve Kerr rejection, would have interest in Pippen in some capacity, depending on who is hired as head coach. Pippen, a student of the triangle offense, has the title of adviser with the Bulls.
There is one name being thrown around without direct ties to Jackson, although he's a former Knick and Brooklyn native. From Berman again:
The Knicks coaching search is expanding beyond geometry. Phil Jackson, according to an NBA source, is OK hiring a head coach who doesn’t specialize in the triangle.
According to the source, that means Mark Jackson is on Jackson’s tentative list that once included just one name. But now Steve Kerr is headed to Golden State and Jackson is headed on a more expansive search.
The Knicks believe Jackson’s “credibility’’ around the league will enable him to have the “flexibility” to hire an experienced coach willing to adapt to the principles of his triangle offense — or at least a facsimile.
As always, it's worth taking these names with a grain of salt. Preliminary discussions don't mean that interviews are on their way, and "interest" is such a vague term that several of those mentioned may not be serious candidates. Regardless, this list does give us some sense of the kinds of people the Knicks will pursue.
The first impressions are not stellar. Jackson would likely be the most popular pick among Knicks fans, but he's coming off a controversial exit from the Warriors in which he appeared to have conflicts with management. A recurrence of that issue could be a problem for a team with a history of organizational messes. The Jackson players who now ply their trade as assistants are building quality reputations, but they're also underwhelming candidates for a job as prestigious as Knicks head coach. Against all odds, Fisher could be the least problematic candidate on this list. He's well known around the league, has the respect of many players and executives, and doesn't appear to have any baggage.
For all the misgivings Knicks fan could have about these rumored candidates, it's possible that focusing on the proven quality of these names is the wrong approach. After all, Kerr has never coached at any level, and his hiring would have been seen as a success for the franchise and Jackson. What was attractive about Kerr, really, was that he represented a unity of purpose for the Knicks — Jackson wanted him badly, to the exclusion of all other candidates, and so everyone could be reasonably sure that there was some kind of plan in place.
That sense of organization no longer seems certain, and observers could be forgiven for wondering if Jackson's inability to land Kerr portends bad things for the future of the franchise. On the other hand, Jackson's strengths have never been in the identification of the best personnel — he earned his sterling reputation as a leader and manager of personalities. In an era of rampant player movement and high-profile dealmaking, the ability to make the pieces a team already has more cohesive might not seem like the most important talent for a team president or general manager. But these jobs also require an attention to interpersonal dynamics and the function of the organization as a whole. In other words, it often takes more than a great analyst or acquisition specialist to make a top executive.
Ideally, the person in charge would have all these qualities. But being able to get everyone in an organization on the same page is an underrated skill, especially given all the egos at play at Madison Square Garden from the players on the court up to the owner's box. Success often starts at the top — organizational cohesion is part of why the San Antonio Spurs often appear to be more than the sum of their already impressive individual pieces. We can and should judge Jackson on the immediately available quality of his first coaching hire, but it might be more useful to reserve full opinions until we see how the Knicks function on a day-to-day basis.
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