Despite the world events that have stopped the NBA season to a grinding halt, the Knicks still find themselves in familiar territory. Once again, the team isn’t playing meaningful playoff games, and once again, another coaching search is on the horizon. After the disappointment of last offseason where they failed to bring in a star free agent, the Knicks are back to doing the annual dance in limbo. So who will get the job in the latest coaching search? Here are the contenders, dark horses, and even fan fiction candidates that could be roaming the sidelines of Madison Square Garden…eventually.
Thibs is the most well-known and successful coach on the contenders list. He was a former assistant coach for Jeff Van Gundy when the Knicks made their remarkable run to the finals as the eighth seed in 1999, ironically the last time the Knicks were considered a contender. He has a tough minded, defense first approach that has been at the forefront of his success. As a head coach, he lead the Chicago Bulls of the 2010’s to the first seed in the Eastern Conference in back to back seasons, making an Eastern Conference finals appearance in 2011. Additionally, he does have the ability to develop young talent. Under Thibs, Derrick Rose became the youngest player to ever win the MVP award, Joakim Noah became a defensive player of the year, and Jimmy Butler went from the last pick in the first round of the NBA draft to a perennial all-star.
Thibs rotations have notoriously been small, at times only playing seven to eight players during an entire game. His Bulls teams broke down quickly by the time he was fired in 2015. The younger players that were on those Bulls teams, who are now at ages where they would be at their prime, are not even close to the players that they were, becoming much more injury prone after being worn down by heavy minutes. The Knicks young core would definitely benefit from an increase of minutes, but under Thibs, they may be at risk of breaking down too fast, so if the Knicks want to achieve and maintain long term success, Thibs might not be the coach for them until they have more experience under their belt.
If hired, Woodson would begin his second tenure with the Knicks. He previously led the team to its lone playoff series victory since 2000, overcoming the Celtics in 6 games in 2013. Woody is a fan favorite to the MSG faithful to this day. He gave the team an identity, surrounding Carmelo Anthony with three point shooters off the ball, and devising a pick and roll game between Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, which gave the Knicks a lethal offensive approach. The team was also defensively disciplined, and offensively responsible, having the lowest amount of turnovers in the league during the 2012-13 season. The Knicks core of RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson could fill similar rolls that Chandler and Anthony had to spearhead the offense. And with Barrett’s passing ability, raw athletic talent, and sky rocketing growth, Woodson’s offensive tactics may be the perfect system for the young star to grow and thrive.
In the last years of his time as head coach with the Knicks, Woodson and Anthony had a falling out, and the team lost its identity. Their relationship and some off court issues from other players eventually lead to his demise, as he lost the team’s faith in the locker room. Given the Knicks are always in the rumor mill to acquire a star player (and should they do so one day), Woodson would have to convince that player that they can maintain a good relationship, and that they wouldn’t have the same fallout he had with Anthony.
Atkinson is the most intriguing of the four contenders. Like Thibs, he also had an assistant role with the Knicks. His specialty fits the team’s current roster, as he is a master at developing young players. It was Atkinson who was behind the development of Jeremey Lin, so had he not been an assistant at that time, the Knicks might not have those special Linsanity moments in 2012. An Atkinson hire would be beneficial to players like Frank Ntlikina and Kevin Knox, who have shown flashes of their potential, but need help getting to the next level in their development. Given his track record with young teams, most recently the Brooklyn Nets, he could eventually push this young roster into its first playoff appearance since 2013.
Atkinson was let go by Brooklyn this past season, despite him doing his best to keep the Nets in playoff contention with an injury-riddled roster. Most assume that he couldn’t convince new superstar signings, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, that he was the coach that would bring them consistent championship level basketball. It is rumored that they saw him as a developmental head coach, rather than one that can garner immediate championship success. If more stars have the same mentality about Atkinson, he would likely have rapidly develop the Knicks into a playoff contender, in order to attract them to the team.
Miller seems to be the fan favorite out of the four candidates. He also has the backing of many people within the organization to stay on the coaching staff, whether it be as the head coach or as a top assistant. He drastically improved the team’s record after he replaced David Fizdale this past season. In fact if the Knicks started the season on the same winning pace they were on with Miller at the helm, they would’ve finished 8th in the Eastern Conference, qualifying them for their first playoff berth since 2013. If the Knicks want to be consistent for once and stop the rotating door of coaches, they should heavily consider Miller to resume the role.
In the thirty years that Miller has been a professional basketball coach, this past season was his only stint as a head coach in the NBA. And not to sound like a broken record, but because star players may not know him well enough, that would likely lead to his demise if the Knicks were to acquire one. If Miller were to be hired permanently, he would likely have to have a meteoric rise to success with the current roster to continue as head coach for the long term.
Kidd has quite the reputation as a mastermind of the game from just his playing days alone. He often thinks outside the box, and on his toes when in a pinch. He’s carried that trait over to his coaching career, most notably having a player knock a drink out of his hands to gain a free timeout late in a game, when his team didn’t have any. Kidd’s hiring would mean two things: the Knicks would continue to develop their young talent under a well-liked future hall of famer, and the organizational would be looking to the NBA free agency class of 2021, more specifically attempting to lure superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo to the team. Giannis and Kidd maintain a great relationship during and after Kidd’s coaching stint with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Kidd was heavily criticized for his coaching tactics in his time at Milwaukee, which lead to his firing. His teams were second to last in defensive efficiency, and he often clashed with the organization on the direction of the team, which lead to his eventual firing. Additionally, the Knicks have tried hiring staff members to lure free agents before, most recently attempting to lure Kevin Durant last without success. Will this tactic yield a different result with the hiring of Kidd? Only time will tell, but if the Knicks history is any indication, that outlook looks bleak.
Udoka is well respected in the league by players and coaches alike. He has seven years of assistant coaching experience and has already interviewed for head coaching opportunities. One major positive is that he is another potential diamond on the very lengthy and successful Greg Popovich coaching tree. Giving Udoka the reigns would most certainly mean the Knicks are looking for a new and innovative identity that would mirror their most recent organizational changes, which would be pleasantly welcome.
Udoka’s only negative is his lack of experience as a head coach, and there are more experienced coaches available for the position. Additionally, New York can be a hostile environment for a new, first time head coach. With this in mind, he might be a bit of a gamble at this early stage in his coaching career, but any coach on the Popovich tree is a gamble worth taking.
THE FAN FICTIONS
For the sake of time, these two men will not be broken down into positives and negatives, because whenever the words Knicks and head coaching search are in the same sentence, you will inevitably hear their names. Both of these men have had major roles in Knicks history, and would surely revitalize the franchise by their presence alone:
Jeff Van Gundy
Van Gundy is responsible for the second half of the great 90’s Knicks teams that were championship contenders, that just didn’t have enough talent (not unlike other franchises) to overcome Michael Jordan’s Bulls. He gave the Knicks faithful countless memories, from hanging for dear life on the leg of Alonzo Mourning, to taking a punch from Marcus Camby trying to break up a fight, to leading a team of misfits all the way to the NBA finals as an 8th seed in 1999. Van Gundy is, and will always be revered, as the last successful Knicks coach, which holds a special place in fans hearts. Maybe one day he will return to the Garden to restore that hope, but at this current moment in time, the team has not scheduled an interview with him.
Jackson is the one person who never seems to get a fair shot at head coaching, despite receiving a large amount of respect around the league. In his only head coaching position, Jackson played a huge part in the building of the eventual Golden State Warriors dynasty, leading them to an unlikely second round appearance against the San Antonio Spurs in 2013, pushing the eventual western conference champions to six games. Even more of a reason to hire Jackson as head coach then just his resume, is that he is a native New Yorker. Jackson was born in Brooklyn, played at St. Johns in college, and was drafted by the Knicks, earning rookie of the year honors. Jackson did interview to for the job back in the 2018 offseason, and was a lead contender for the position before the Knicks decided to go with David Fizdale. If the Knicks are truly doing their due diligence, they would be wise to look into hiring him again.