As New York president Donnie Walsh prepares to push Isiah Thomas out of Madison Square Garden for good – possibly as soon as Friday – Mark Jackson has emerged as the new Knick boss's choice to replace Thomas as coach, an NBA executive familiar with Walsh's plans said late Thursday night.
Jackson has been considered the favorite for the job, but in the last few days, Walsh has made it clear to confidants that his old Indiana Pacers point guard is the right man to guide the dysfunctional Knicks back toward respectability.
As unpopular as Thomas has become in New York, the hiring of Jackson would promise to be met by Knicks fans with enthusiasm. Jackson, who played 17 NBA seasons, has never coached on any level, but has a strong New York basketball pedigree that delivers his candidacy credibility.
Walsh seems determined to win back disillusioned New York fan base and beyond winning, believes part of that process will be bringing back players that honor the Knicks' glory days. Jackson was the rookie of the year for the Knicks in 1988, a flashy young point guard who made a dramatic entry into the pros by delivering the ball to the franchise savior, Patrick Ewing.
Jackson's hiring, the NBA source said, would be followed with Walsh reaching out to Ewing to be a part of the coaching staff. Ewing is currently an assistant with the Orlando Magic, and has long expressed a desire to work with the Knicks.
Walsh and Jackson have a strong history together and that's played a major part in why Walsh believes so strongly in him. As Pacers president, he traded for Jackson twice in his career. Walsh also has a history of hiring coaches in Indiana (Thomas and Larry Bird) with no past coaching experience. In fact last year, it's believed that Walsh suggested to Bird, the Pacers GM, that he consider Jackson for the team's coaching opening, but Bird declined and hired Jim O'Brien.
Since retiring from the NBA in 2004, Jackson has been a broadcaster for ESPN and the New Jersey Nets broadcasts on the YES Network. At the end of the Nets' final regular-season game on Wednesday, Jackson apparently surprised his bosses by telling viewers he wouldn't return next season to the Nets' broadcasts.
Ex-Bulls coach Scott Skiles has been considered a contender for the Knicks job with Jackson, but multiple league sources believe that Skiles will eventually be hired as the Milwaukee Bucks' new coach.
"It's inevitable," one GM said.
New Bucks GM John Hammond, who fired Larry Krystkowiak on Thursday, has also expressed an interest with New Orleans assistant Darrell Walker and Mike Fratello, a league source said. If Skiles goes to the Bucks, deposed Indiana University coach Kelvin Sampson is expected to be offered a job on his coaching staff.