Steve Kerr’s assuming the head coaching job of the New York Knicks was a forgone conclusion. All that was missing was Kerr’s signature on the dotted line and a formal announcement. This was the perfect opportunity for Kerr, a member of five championship teams as a player. It would be his first coaching job but he could learn about coaching from a man he already considered a mentor, Phil Jackson one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game and the current Knicks president. Then the unthinkable happened Kerr accepted the head coaching job of The Golden State Warriors leaving New Yorkers and his mentor Jackson shaking their heads. What went wrong after all the talk why would Kerr go to California and not New York? Kerr’s claims that it was due to a desire to remain close to his family who are on the west coast are most likely only part of the story so what is the rest? Let’s face it New York is no prize, it’s a team with a weak roster and difficult meddlesome owner James Dolan. Any coach who takes the job will have the chance to work with Phil but will have to put up with all the detractors as well. With other coaching vacancies out there who wants that hassle?
Now that Kerr is out of the picture sources close to the coaching search tell ESPN that the most likely scenario remains hiring a young coach that Jackson can work with and mentor. Phil plans to work with the new coach closely in training camp, meaning Phil’s triangle offense will play a major role in the Knicks going forward. For this reason Luke Walton, Tyronn Lue, and Derek Fisher all former players under Phil are the leading candidates for the job. Another former player of Phil’s Bill Cartwright is being considered for an assistant coaching position. Luke Walton has done some coaching in college and the NBA’s D-league but has not worked in the NBA in any coaching capacity. Tyronn Lue is currently an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers. Derek Fisher hasn’t even ended his playing career; he remains a backup point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He appears to be the leading candidate for the job, with Phil reluctant to hire anyone else until he has had a chance to speak with Fisher. This is bizarre since Fisher has never stated he has a real interest in coaching instead saying, “I would tell people to allow me to finish my career as a player before they give me another job after that… Hopefully there’s a lot of basketball left to be played this season for sure. Once that’s done we’ll go from there.” There is a good chance that Fisher may not even retire after this season and that will once again leave Phil without his favorite candidate.
Jackson’s biggest problem in his search for a new coach is the team itself; New York is a team plagued with problems. The anchors of it’s roster are Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Amar’e Stoudemire is a player on the downside of his career and with frequent injuries is either unable to play altogether or not able to contribute many minutes. Carmelo Anthony is the top scorer for the team and the player most people associate with New York; he’s remaining with the team is a condition for many coaching prospects accepting the job. However, Anthony is a free agent and his future in New York is uncertain. Phil Jackson is making no guarantees when it comes Anthony saying instead Anthony must live up to his assertion that he will take a lower salary contract if he likes the direction of the team. The rest of the roster is made up of second rate players at the end of their careers, whom do not play well together and cannot win. With this roster who wants to coach? New York has a bigger problem than its roster, owner James Dolan. Dolan is known for being a meddlesome owner promising executives autonomy in basketball decisions then reneging. Donnie Walsh left the team because of this; Phil Jackson has been promised autonomy but Dolan has already blocked him from firing people. A report in Sports Illustrated stated Kerr was ready to take the New York job in spite of all of this to work with Jackson but changed his mind after talking to sources within the organization about the uncertainty of Anthony’s future and Dolan. If Phil Jackson can’t even get a man who was excited to work with him to do the job how does he expect to get anyone else interested?
Phil Jackson is going to have a hard time filling the Knicks coaching position. The opportunity to work with him does not compensate for all the problems of the Knicks. Not many of the veteran’s coaches out there seem interested. Mark Jackson, a fan favorite for the job, quickly resumed his position as a commentator at TNT after his dismissal from the Golden State Warriors without even seriously considering seeking the Knicks job, and no else is breaking down Phil’s door asking for the job. Jackson says he is no hurry to fill the position which really means he is having trouble finding a suitable, willing candidate. Optimistic fans believe that if Jackson cannot find a suitable coach for the team he will coach it himself. As a fan I see it another way, Jackson does not really want to coach and if he cannot find a willing coach he will be the next one to abandon the sinking ship that is the Knicks.