How the Knicks should find their next Head Coach

The Knicks have fired Jeff Hornacek as you might’ve heard, and are currently searching for their fifth head coach in six years.  I was happy to hear that the Knicks front office has already reached out to other organizations like the Warriors to see how they conducted their process as a lot can truly be learnt from them. The most important thing, in my opinion, is that whichever coach the Knicks pick, has to be on the same page as the front office at all times. This means they should be a part of a team effort to better the ball club and serve as an extension of Scott Perry and Steve Mills in front of the players. This person needs to be committed not only in the X’s and O’s but in their long term vision as this is how the best franchises are built in any sport.
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Jeff Hornacek did a decent job considering the circumstances, however, his relationship building could have been better starting from his best player. He was a hard worker commanding respect and handled adversity well but was tuned out at times in his couple seasons here for a reason. Anyhow, the Knicks should not just try to get the opposite of what’s been the case in the past and instead someone who is a consummate professional that can grow with us at every age. Their mindset should be to get a generational voice who can be here for eons and help with important joint decisions that they’re not going to be left out of as none of this should be concerning who gets most credit, a Pat Riley
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I want to start by ruling out a couple candidates right off the bat that I don’t think have the temperament desired. Of course I hate doing this, but I feel it can save a lot of trouble and needless debate. Nostalgia is often an enemy for many which is why I don’t see Mark Jackson or David Blatt as ideal fits. Jackson was a great Knick and coach with the Warriors but doesn’t come without his faults. I have not talked to him or met him, still it is clear he’s made more than a couple mistakes in his career both personally and professionally. He deservedly gets a lot of credit for being a father like figure for Steph and Klay but he also excluded many others like Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and countless others which absolutely cannot happen.
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Steve Kerr is in a lot of the opposite character wise and it’s been an amazing match for them. People like him and Brad Stevens should be who is targeted: a CEO and not one who butts heads with management over paranoia. Blatt is not the exact way but lets his pride get in the way of him too because of his great success in Europe that he felt wasn’t being recognized enough which caused conflict. Jason Kidd is another example of this in Brooklyn and Milwaukee where he reached for even more power. All three wouldn’t be suited for the New York market even if they played here because the responsibility of being a coach in front of the biggest crowd of media after each win and loss is hard especially when you’re not the most personable. It is a tough balance of being tough and understanding, and the best ones are those who get this right. Even flashy names like Doc Rivers and Kevin Ollie are better since I see them as safer bets.
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The two men who are no-brain hires are the criminally underpaid Jay Wright and Jeff Van Gundy for exactly this reason. They will always selflessly stick up for their teams and don’t lack in the confidence department either. These are the kind of individuals that are worth putting a lot of money on the table as program changers, and they’ve been rightfully selective of where they want to be a part of. Thankfully, I think they have soft spots in their hearts for this city because of them being in the region having been in MSG and would listen very closely to whatever is said. These are future Naismith Hall of Famers obviously so not much has to be said about them that already hasn’t. They had talent as well collegiately and in the league with Kyle Lowry, Mikal Bridges, Patrick Ewing and Yao Ming among others but made the most of it with all of their squads making deep runs in respective tournaments.
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Most of all, they can handle the fire and criticism without sweat with their ability to laugh it off or make light of it which is why people like and naturally are attracted to them. The others I mention will be a result of an exhaustive search that most expect and possess the most important trait of player development. In my mind, that is paramount in this situation with talented athletes who have yet to put it together and there are four places I would go for this: TorontoUtahSan Antonio and Portland. The reason for this is that I’ve studied how they’ve done business and how selective they are with who can suit up for them. You’ll notice them consistently churn out productive players outside lottery in the end of first rounds and seconds. Their G-League’s are home to a style of basketball that promote team and individual when necessary as the breakouts of Demar DeRozan, Donovan Mitchell, Kawhi Leonard and Damian Lillard show. GM’s and presidents like Masai Ujiri, Dennis Lindsey, RC Buford and Neil Olshey are among the best at valuing this.
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The opening coach on my list is Jerry Stackhouse. He is driven to be as great in his new capacity as he was as a player, a tough task for someone who averaged 30 PPG for Perry’s Pistons. You can tell a part of him realizes that his prime was cut short and this was his calling afterwards. When folks hear him, they think why would somebody who’s made as much as he has want to do this for the 405. I don’t know the answer to that but it separates him from other former players who’ve tried but failed because their heart wasn’t truly in it like Derek Fisher for instance. He’s as no nonsense as you can get and has a .700 winning percentage with undrafted free agents and two straight finals appearances in his debut seasons. You can mold him early on as you probably can’t with some older folks and he holds everyone in the lockerroom accountable through grades after performances, not to mention his great style and player-like charisma that allows him to relate to them.
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Another person like this is David Fizdale. He’s at the top of every team that’s searching board and he was really done wrong in Memphis. What I like about him is his sense of pride and responsibility as an African American minority coach as he wants to pave the way for others. The duo have great connections throughout their peers and almost any free agent I’m sure would want to take the court for them, moreso the highest profile stars, making them incredible assets to have and be associated with. At their core, I feel they are “work out with you” type of coaches anytime and anywhere, at 2 am in the morning etc. An underrated selling point for Fiz is his potentially bringing Nick Van Exel with him. Van Exel is the best coach a point guard can have and one Frank Ntilikina would be lucky as he would be pushed to his absolute ceiling with this hiring. Mike Conley can vouch for this himself in unleashing his inner Kobe with Exel.
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The Jazz and Quinn Synder have a tremendous staff and play a beautiful brand of basketball. The most overlooked person on it is undoubtedly Igor Kokoskov. This may be because the National Basketball League has yet to hire a European born head coach but he is just the person to change it. He won EuroBasket with Slovenia, speaking exclusively English and is just an outstanding teacher. I watched him run practices with a group of young players this way and compare their actions as well as play calls to those he ran with Detroit, simply fun to watch and listen to. He knows the in and outs, is more than deserving of an opportunity because of his extensive Division 1 experience and I would love to see the partnership he almost certainly have with Kristaps Porzingis. If he could bring youthful big man coach Alex Jensen, who learned from legendary Rick Majerus, with him as a lead assistant it’d be gravy. He’s this cycle’s Ettore Messina, and brings me to the Spurs. With the pending retirement of the amazing Gregg Popovich to expected soon, they will be presumably promoting from within and I hope it is him.
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Regardless, San Antonio is rich in their options and this may the final year we can take someone from them before they pounce themselves. James Borrego, again becoming a Pop assistant, sits right next to him and is from the area. Ime Udoka is yet another Spur who warrants consideration for his intensity and intelligence as a former player who made a living as a very serviceable backup. He’s talked highly of the duo, saying their preparation brought him to the next level and were secrets of his. They might not seem like the most personable I’ve mentioned but can hold their own as cerebral thinkers, in SA fashion.
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David Vanterpool is going to get his shot and is being groomed for it. He’s done wonders for CJ McCollum as well as all the other guards in Portland like Allen Crabbe and helps out their defense a whole lot so he wouldn’t be bad at all for Tim Hardaway. Nate Tibbetts is his coworker and has worked tiredlessly on the opposite side of the ball, interviewing for the coveted position in Golden State of offensive assistant that went to Mike Brown I believe. These two do a lot of the heavy lifting and would make a great pair in NY even if they don’t get as much publicity as some of the others, having a past coaching summer league. Tibbetts also has a great relationship with Kyrie Irving, for whatever it’s worth from their time in Cleveland and his helping turn him into the elite guard that he is. Another excellent associate head coach is Chris Finch in New Orleans. I prefer him to a Nick Nurse or another hot name around coaching circles because he’s as good with offense. He doesn’t prohibit mid range shots and let’s it just flow on the fly which players love. I’d say he’s a big reason for the Pelicans fortune without Demarcus Cousins and he was a big life saver for Mike Malone for a long time in Denver for his assistance with Nikola Jokic. The Rockets at one point were grooming him to take charge but he has origins as a real gritty player in England.
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I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention two broadcasters, Brent Barry and Tim Legler as viable options either. Barry, I heard, wants to be more involved hands on in basketball and is very sharp from playing under some excellent coaches. I extremely like Legler and have for a while despite not knowing why he isn’t mentioned much. His analysis is superb and I enjoy watching him covering the game he clearly wants to do with as a lights out AAU coach like he was a shooter when he’s not at Wharton. He’d be special at this being from Philadelphia and is an outside the box possibility.
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The last few that I’ll bring up would be home runs as well, in different ways. I’ll start with the first batch: Rex Kalamian and Kaleb Canales. Most have probably never heard of them but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t know about them as they’re remarkable individuals, and some of the best character people I’ve seen. Kalamian is best known for being with the Thunder and getting close with their superteam that didn’t last long in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. He played a part in making them all top five players and I don’t think it’s possible to not like him. He’s been coaching for teams almost the last thirty years and is as energetic as ever. He coached the Rising Stars Game in his native Los Angeles during the All Star Game and remind me of Frank Vogel for his defensive potential as a coach. Canales was an interim coach of the Blazers after writing hundreds of letters to teams to just get into the door and I can relate. He’s a true hustler starting out as a video coordinator where he slept in those rooms and was the first Mexican American to be a head coach in just his early thirties. Terry Stotts replaced him and he stayed on to aid him in his transition. Stotts then put in a word to Coach Carlisle of the Mavs and he’s been there ever since learning under him. Not even forty yet, he just screams to me as a future Erik Spoelstra type. They might not be expecting head coaching calls but that says nothing about them as many have come on the scene with little-no fanfare like Spo.
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The last pair have been in the news lately, with one fired and the other potentially headed elsewhere. Steve Clifford should get looks solely for his defensive expertise and ability to take a league worst defending into one of the best when he got there in Charlotte. He does a great job communicating with players and letting them know what they have to work on as a JVG disciple, not to mention he’s a solid, likable guy who is beloved by Kemba Walker and coached Adelphi. Mike Budenholzer along with his four rings are near the top if he OKs other teams not named the Phoenix Suns to talk to him as a former Coach of the Year and Arizona native. The fact that he got that many wins from a frankly terrible Hawks team is an achievement in itself. I have slight concerns with them due to Clifford’s health and Bud’s DUI but both have seemingly cleared themselves up recently, making them outstanding choices as well.
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As much as I relished doing this write up like I did in 2016 when I suggested names like Tony Bennett, Tom Thibedou, Monty Williams, Luke Walton and Shaka Smart among others, I would like to not do so again as I want to knock it out of the park this time. The positive this time around is there are less constraints on who can be picked and that any one of the multiple names I have put in bold are more than qualified to assume the role. As stated earlier, he (or she) must form a trifecta with the front office and be the last part of winning Knicks basketball. Having a field like this goes a long way in ensuring the right decision is made as you can’t go wrong with any of, or combination of, these.

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