The revamped front office has demonstrated patience during an apparent exhaustive head-coaching search. Will they invest in a talented coach who’ll develop the roster or go for big name and little to show?
The New York Knicks’ head coach search is on. It’s the biggest story going around the team at the moment, and while teams dig in for games 4, 5, and 6 of the playoffs, the Knicks have to exhaust all methods to find a suitable coach for the team’s future.
The Knicks’ recent coaching history isn’t stellar; before Jeff Hornacek’s brief, two-season stint, they had mileage from Derek Fisher for 136 games, Mike Woodson for two seasons and change, and Mike D’Antoni for three plus years. Over that span, it’s tough to criticize too much on the sheer talent of their coaches, but the Knicks haven’t had a sideline director elevate the talent on the roster since a reluctant Woodson in 2012–13 (and before that D’Antoni, who was run out of town by a variety of forces). While Hornacek never maximized the space-bending skill set of Kristaps Porzingis, he was mostly fine otherwise with X’s and O’s—despite the team shooting a second-to-last number of three-pointers this season. Hornacek, however, lost the locker room; thus, the Knicks decided it was time to cut their losses and look for a new coach to reinvigorate the team.
Steve Mills and Scott Perry, New York’s team president and general manager, respectively, have been tasked with interviewing the newest batch of head coaching candidates. The front-office leaders already spoke to Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Kenny Smith, and Mike Budenholzer. Mills and Perry will embark on a Euro-trip to speak to David Blatt, and among things, scout players. The decision New York’s top brass makes will be important in the short- and long-term for the Knicks—the team isn’t well-rounded enough to compete in the immediate aftermath of Porzingis’ injury, so the next 100 games will most likely be dedicated to developing the rest of the roster. So, can that head coach commit to bona fide development and grind out a whole lotta L’s?
This might be known as the Brett Brown Test—except Brown’s exposure to multiple losing seasons was endured via quite intentional tank. While the Knicks plain stink for the next season or two, they’ll be responsible to develop last year’s lottery pick, Frank Ntilikina, this year’s lottery pick (to be determined), and a few other castaways that the Knicks will have to take a flyer on, like Trey Burke and Troy Williams. Who can take the stress of losing, and can that head coach mold respectable talent on the Knicks’ roster during KP’s absence?
Perry and Mills have preached accountability since ascending to the Garden’s hoops leadership last July. While yanking the plug on Hornacek and associate head coach Kurt Rambis was surely not a courageous act, in some ways holding the coaching staff accountable for a lackluster season (even in the performance with Porzingis) was keeping true with their credo. Next up, though, they will need to hold themselves accountable during this coaching search. Although we may never know what words are exchanged behind closed doors between front office and candidate, there are some theories that should be listened to that will indicate a move in the right direction. Chief among those keywords is open-mindedness. The Knicks have a torrid history of consolidating power for leaders with narrow-minded agendas and only one method of getting things done (see: Phil Jackson). Hopefully, while speaking candidly to head coaching prospects, New York’s brass will see through charm and identify whether a candidate can adapt to today’s game and push a positive force forward that will unite a team rather than divide a locker room.
The Knicks will speak to David Blatt this week in Europe. Blatt is well-credentialed in professional basketball. Despite his flare up with King James in Cleveland, Blatt’s reputation among pros is sterling. The only question mark for Blatt is the unwieldy connection to Mills and vice president of player development Craig Robinson (you know, Barack Obama’s brother-in-law) as all three attended Princeton together. Now the connection puts the Knicks in an awkward place. In the past, the Knicks have hired or brought in recognizable names and faces. This would be a departure from the accountability and “fresh ideas” pageant the new front office has put on in recent months.
Personally, I don’t think Blatt would be a terrible hire whatsoever, but the foundations of a previous relationship between a new coach and the front office is a bit of a contradiction to re-examining the state of the team—what does Blatt have to prove as a head coach if he’s already cozy with two of the top five or so officials in the front office?
This is the concern I keep circling in my mind. A coach like Fizdale—who many feel was let go at the wrong moment by a tangled Memphis ownership at the moment—would be a fine hire, considering that he has bright ideas and has paid his dues as a long-time assistant prior to his season-plus Grizzlies coaching stint. Budenholzer, too, is a respected coach who probably got the most out of Tim Hardaway Jr. in Atlanta, so maybe he can similarly re-energize the 26-year-old swingman in New York.
Hopefully this doesn’t come off as a Blatt slander piece, because what the Knicks need more than ever is accountability—which can be somewhat antithetical to the relationships already forged (like Blatt or former Knicks point guard Mark Jackson). Again, we don’t know what words are thrown around in the interview room (“Proficient at Microsoft Excel? No I’m not just boosting my résumé!”), but New York’s front office has to overcome the obstacle of self-serving and grandiose personalities and instead reach for the candidate who’ll favor open-mindedness and humility. Which person will present themselves as such—will it be Fizdale, Blatt, Budenholzer, or someone from the periphery?—I don’t know, but we shouldn’t take a historically shaky franchise’s word for it during their perpetual series of “new head coach” press conferences.