Tom Thibodeau is the front-runner. Who else is getting considered as the next head coach of the New York Knicks?
The NBA is starting back up, with 22 teams resuming play at Walt Disney World on July 31st. The New York Knicks are not one of those teams, meaning they’ll be watching the playoffs from home for the seventh consecutive year.
One of Knicks President Leon Rose’s key decisions this offseason—if not the most key—is who to hire as head coach. New York’s turnover at that position in recent memory has only been matched by its turnover at point guard.
The Knicks’ head coaching carousel has spit out six different coaches since New York’s last postseason appearance in 2013. The last coach to last three full seasons in New York was Mike D’Antoni, whose time with the Knicks ended in the middle of the 2011–12 season, his fourth season with the team.
The Knicks are in desperate need of stability at the head coaching position. Here are the names rumored to have the former sports agent turned executive’s eye.
Mike Vorkunov and Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the 62-year-old Thibodeau tops the list of Rose’s candidates.
Thibodeau began his NBA coaching career as an assistant coach in the early 1990’s. He would later be an assistant on the championship-bound 1999 Knicks squad and the title-winning 2008 Boston Celtics. His first stint as a head coach came with the Derrick Rose–led Chicago Bulls in 2010. In five seasons, Thibs’ Bulls went 255-139 and won four playoff series.
Thibs’ most recent stint as a head coach came with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he went 97-107 in 2.5 seasons. Under his watch, Karl-Anthony Towns developed into one of the best centers in the league, but the Wolves never made any real noise. Thibodeau was also the president of basketball operations in Minnesota. His most notorious move was trading for—and later trading away—Jimmy Butler, whose dissatisfaction with the organization became the legacy of Thibs’ Wolves.
Teams coached by Thibs are assumed to be strong defensive units. The lowest ranking his Bulls posted in Defensive Rating league-wide was 11th; they claimed the top spot in 2010–11 and twice claimed the second spot.
It was a different story in Minnesota. The Wolves’ DRtg ranked 27th in both of Thibs’ full seasons but ranked 10th and fourth in Offensive Rating, a bump caused by the addition of Butler. Thibodeau is known just as well for his defense as he is his habit to play the top of his rotation a lot.
The Big Bad Timberwolves are out of breath. pic.twitter.com/lVSJuuuIuz
— StatMuse (@statmuse) December 14, 2017
Thibodeau has never been a part of a rebuild, but he’s also been around plenty of good teams. He would be treading in new waters with the Knicks, one of the sorriest squads of the NBA.
Atkinson, the former Brooklyn Nets head coach, is likely to receive an interview, per The Athletic. The 53-year-old native of Huntington, New York, started his NBA coaching career with the Knicks as an assistant from 2008–12. He spent three seasons as an assistant in Atlanta before landing the head coaching gig in Brooklyn in 2016.
Atkinson inherited a mess. In just three seasons, Atkinson helped turn a team comprised of spare parts into a playoff team. Under his watch, D’Angelo Russell blossomed into an All-Star, and Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, and Jarrett Allen developed into valuable supporting pieces. Dinwiddie and Harris were G League journeymen when they arrived in Brooklyn and LeVert and Allen were rookies.
Amidst a turbulent 2019–20 season in which Brooklyn only received 20 games from Kyrie Irving, Atkinson and the Nets agreed to separate.
Atkinson’s teams have followed the trend of pushing the pace and shooting many triples—a distinct contrast from the Knicks of the past few years. Atkinson isn’t a genius tactician, but he’s gotten the most out of several players, some of whom might not be in the league without him. That’s the area New York should be focusing on most heavily right now.
Bringing a coach whose strength is player development makes all the sense in the world for New York. His track record with the Knicks’ crosstown rival consisted of stark improvement from numerous players and the team. Ex-players and fellow coaches have raved about Atkinson’s ability to develop players.
UPDATE: p.m. ET, June 11th.
Atkinson received praise from Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer. The reigning Coach of the Year told Marc Berman of the New York Post that Atkinson is very adept at helping players improve and that he has a great feel for the game.
“He’s just interesting because he’s so unique in that he is so true to player development and can really help players improve,’’ Budenholzer said. “The league has gotten a lot better with [development], but he’s one of the first — his ability doing it at a super-high level.
“And that’s married with a guy who has a great feel for the entire sport — five-on-five, game concepts, defensively and offensively. He has a very rare high ability to execute being a good player-developmental coach. Some people are very good at that and they’re not interested in the team stuff, five-on-five. It doesn’t click as well. Kenny does everything.”
UPDATE: 12:28 p.m. ET, June 12th
Ian Begley of SNY reported that Atkinson has “legitimate internal support within the Knicks organization” to be New York’s next head coach, but that Thibodeau remains the front-runner for the job.
The Athletic’s report also stated that interim head coach Mike Miller impressed New York management and will receive an interview.
Interim coach Mike Miller has left a strong impression throughout the franchise, including in his time since Rose assumed control of the front office. Miller is expected to receive an interview when the Knicks do start formally talking to prospective head coaches, according to league sources, after stabilizing the team following a 4-18 start that led to David Fizdale’s firing.
Begley reported that some New York brass would like to retain Miller if he doesn’t become the full-time head coach. Begley said that some within the organization view Miller as “a strong player development coach.”
People within the Knicks organization have a strong desire to keep Mike Miller on their coaching staff even if he doesn't get the head coaching job.
— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) June 6, 2020
Under Miller, the Knicks went 17-27 and scored 8.3 points more per game than they did in the 22 games coached by David Fizdale during the same season. Several of Miller’s decisions benefited the Knicks, such as putting the kibosh on Julius Randle as a point forward and employing a defensive scheme of fighting over screens instead of switching everything.
Still, Miller left a lot to be desired in terms of rotations, sticking mostly with Fizdale’s nonsensical lineups. Older veterans were favored over young players too often for a team trying to rebuild. Perhaps with a more secure job, Miller will feel more comfortable playing younger players and experiment with lineups and gameplans as well.
Begley reported that the Knicks plan to interview the coach that last helmed a playoff team in the Garden.
Right before landing in the Big Apple, Woodson spent seven years with the Hawks, where he grew a playoff team led by Joe Johnson and Josh Smith.
Woodson took over as New York’s head coach in March of 2012, leading the 18-24 Knicks to an 18-6 record for the remainder of that regular season, earning the seventh seed in the playoffs and losing to the Miami Heat in five games.
The next season, Woodson engineered the winningest regular season the Knicks had since 1997, going 54-28. New York’s offense was outstanding that season; it had the third-highest ORtg, shot more three-pointers than any other team and was top five in three-point percentage.
After disappointment struck in the next season—with New York going 37-45 and missing the postseason —Woodson was let go. New York interviewed him when the head coach position was open in 2018 but opted for David Fizdale instead.
Jeff Van Gundy
Van Gundy coached the Knicks to their last Finals appearance in 1999. His collective record as head coach of the ‘Bockers is 248-172. After being fired from New York, Van Gundy coached the Houston Rockets from the 2003–07 season, clinching three playoff births and achieving a 182-146 record.
Although he hasn’t coached in over a decade, Van Gundy isn’t opposed to returning to the sideline. He told Charlie Ward—who played under him for his entire stint as New York’s head coach—that he’s “definitely open to coaching in the right spot at the right time,” on Instagram, via Empire Sports Media.
The perpetually dysfunctional Knicks likely aren’t going to convince Van Gundy to coach again, though.
Former Knick Mark Jackson has been brought up when in discussions of New York’s head coach vacancy, too.
Jackson spent the first five years of his playing career in New York, winning the 1987–88 Rookie of the Year and making the only All-Star appearance of his career the next season. He was traded away in the 1992 offseason and returned to the team in the early 2000’s via trade. His 2001–02 campaign with the Knicks was his last season being a full-time starter.
As a coach, Jackson only has three years of experience. The experience is quite good, though; Jackson helped lead the Golden State Warriors to the playoffs for the first time in the Stephen Curry era. When Jackson was fired, he left behind a team talented enough to win the championship the very next year.
Begley reported that Jackson is “held in high regard” by some members of the Knicks front office leftover from the Steve Mills regime.
Rumors linking the Knicks and Calipari, the Kentucky Wildcats head coach for the last 11 seasons, have been floated before. They re-circled when Leon Rose, a good friend of Calipari, was hired by the Knicks in February. Though Calipari offered to give advice about college players, he does not want to be the Knicks’ next head coach.
Here's the full transcript of what John Calipari said about Leon Rose and the New York Knicks. The last sentence is the one that matters. pic.twitter.com/SGW2fABefI
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) February 7, 2020
UPDATE: 1:58 p.m. ET, June 10th.
Former head coach Larry Brown said that he doesn’t think Calipari will leave Kentucky for New York, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. Brown cited Calipari’s lavish situation with the Wildcats—which contrasts greatly with the Knicks’ meager situation—and his strong desire to win.
“He has a chance to win the national championship every year because of the type of players he’s allowed to recruit. I can’t imagine him leaving. I really can’t. You read his name because of his relationship to Leon and relationship to Wes but we’ve never once talked about him going to the Knicks. But I do know how competitive he is. He didn’t like not succeeding in New Jersey.”
Calipari coached the New Jersey Nets in the late 1990’s and was fired during his third season on the job, posting an overall record of 72-112. He joined Brown in Philadelphia as an assistant coach in the 1999–00 season and has been out of the NBA ever since.
The Knicks will interview former San Antonio Spurs assistant and current Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Ime Udoka, per Charania.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Orlando Magic assistant Pat Delany will interview with the Knicks as well.
Begley reported that the Knicks will talk to 8-10 candidates over June and July. Among those is Chicago Bulls assistant coach Chris Fleming.
Fleming played professionally for six years in Germany in the mid-to-late 1990’s. He has coached the German national team and won four championships as a coach in the German league. He has been an assistant for the Denver Nuggets under Mike Malone, the Brooklyn Nets under Kenny Atkinson, and with the Bulls since 2019.
San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon is one of the most frequently discussed candidates for coaching vacancies. The former six-time WNBA All-Star has coached alongside Gregg Popovich for the past six seasons. Newsday’s Steve Popper reported that Hammon is a name for which to watch out.
UPDATE: 3:06 p.m. EDT, June 18th.
According to Berman, Hammon’s attention is on the Spurs’ return to play and she is not expected to interview for the position.
Begley reported that Mike Brown has generated interest and could be interviewed. Brown began his NBA coaching career with a few assistant coach gigs, starting in the 1997–98 season. He was an assistant in San Antonio under Popovich and with the Indiana Pacers under Larry Bird.
His head coaching experience includes six years with the Cleveland Cavaliers—including their 2007 Eastern Conference Finals–winning squad—and two years with the Los Angeles Lakers. He has spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.
Charania reports the Knicks will interview Brown.
Brown coached a CAA-backed (Rose’s former employer) LeBron James in Cleveland, per the New York Daily News‘ Stefan Bondy.
The Knicks will interview Spurs assistant coach Will Hardy, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The 32-year-old Hardy has been with the Spurs since he was 21 years old, and serving as an assistant coach for the past four seasons.
Wojnarowski reported that New York will interview Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Jamahl Mosley. Mosley has been an assistant coach for three teams in the last 14 years, most recently with the Mavs for the past six seasons.
According to Berman, Mosley coached Dallas’ defense for the past two years, is adept with analytics and “is a key ear for Carlisle as far as in-game decisions.”
With plenty of candidates and an unusual NBA calendar ahead, it’ll be interesting to see how New York’s pursuit of a head coach shapes up.
This article will be updated in the future with the latest information on the coaching search.