When Phil Jackson took over as New York Knicks president in March it was clear his first big move would be to bring in a new coach. Jackson was no fan of Mike Woodson who served as head coach for two and half seasons, getting the team to the playoffs twice. However, Woodson was not an expert on Jackson’s favored triangle offense and Jackson wanted someone who knew that offense to coach. The only name that was ever discussed as a candidate for the job was Steve Kerr. Immediately after Woodson was formally fired at the end of April negotiations began between Kerr and the Knicks. The negotiations carried on for weeks but no deal was reached in spite of media reports that a formal announcement of Kerr as coach would come any day. In the meantime the Golden State Warriors became interested in Steve Kerr and offered him a five year deal, the Knicks only offered him four. On Wednesday Kerr shocked everyone by accepting the Warriors offer. As a Knicks fan I spent weeks asking myself if Kerr was the right choice for the Knicks now I can’t help but wonder if Steve Kerr made the right choice passing up the Knicks? I don’t think he did.
When Jackson named Kerr as a candidate people were shocked; Steve had no coaching experience and his three year tenure as president of the Phoenix Suns was not successful. However according to sources, Jackson wanted a coach who can run his triangle offense, and whom he could work closely with and mentor. With this criteria Kerr made an ideal candidate he already regards Jackson as a mentor and played in Phil’s offensive system for five years as a guard for the Chicago Bulls. Being a head coach is tough which is why most coaches start out as assistants; as a freshman coach it would have been to Kerr’s benefit to work with Jackson. Jackson is one of the best coaches in the history of basketball and learning from him could have helped Kerr became a very successful coach.
However Kerr accepted the Golden State job electing to try coaching on his own without his mentor to guide him. Kerr asserted he choose California over New York to remain close to his family whom are based on the West Coast, but there has to be more involved. New York has two big problems a weak roster & owner James Dolan who doesn’t allow his coaches or executives much freedom. The New York roster is anchored by Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Anthony is set to become a free agent and may not remain in New York, and Stoudemire’s frequent injuries cause him to miss games or not play many minutes. Further complicating matters according to reports in Sports Illustrated Kerr did not want to be Dolan’s coach unless Anthony remained on the team. It is clear that Kerr felt without a strong team he did not want to be under Dolan’s thumb in spite of the presence of his mentor Jackson. On the other hand Golden State’s roster is strong with David Lee and Stephen Curry a young point guard with strong scoring ability. They have made the playoffs the past two years and are continuing to improve. If Kerr based his decision on which team has more potential there is no question he picked the right in Golden State.
The problem for Kerr is going to be the expectations of Golden State. Their last coach, Mark Jackson, was a freshman coach when he took over three years ago. Jackson proved successful getting the Warriors to the playoffs the past two years, this year as the sixth seed in a very competitive Western Conference. This was not enough for Warriors management who fired Jackson after the Warriors lost a seven games series in the first round to the Los Angeles Clippers; for Jackson to have remained the coach they needed to win the championship. Kerr assumes he can come in and pick up where Jackson left off and the team will continue to improve. How does Kerr expect to do this when he has no coaching experience? He has a good roster but it does not contain a lot of veterans so it needs a strong coach to guide them. With no previous coaching experience it’s going to be hard for Kerr to be this. With Golden State’s standards what’s going to happen if the team fails to make the playoffs next year will they fire Kerr after one season?
The New York job would not have been easy. With a weak roster and James Dolan as an owner it would be hard for Kerr to orchestrate a deep playoff run. However the New York job came with one major plus, Phil Jackson. Had Kerr taken the job learned from Jackson and put up with the craziness of the Knicks for a couple of years he could have left a strong coach and a strong prospect for another team. As it is he will join Golden State with no experience and high expectations, I wish him luck. In the meantime New York is without a true coaching prospect. With Mark Jackson returning to broadcasting I am with all the other New York fans who think Phil Jackson should give him a call.