The New York Knicks cannot stand prosperity.
Well on their way to a seventh straight season missing the NBA playoffs, team owner James Dolan made a promising move last week in luring well-connected player agent Leon Rose to become team president and run basketball operations.
With Mike Miller in charge of the bench after the previous regime fired coach David Fizdale in December, it seems logical that Rose will look to hire a coach from the sport’s A-list. Though only a dysfunctional team would create unnecessary drama by announcing that it will make a coaching change before the start of next season, a Knicks spokesman with no authority to do so went ahead and spilled the beans.
All that’s left is to figure out who will get the job.
The Knicks are backtracking after a blunder
Former music industry executive Steve Stoute, hired by the New York Knicks as their brand consultant, went on ESPN’s First Take and said the decision to fire team president Steve Mills two days before the NBA trade deadline meant the Knicks would also be making a coaching change.
His words forced the club to issue a statement saying Stoute, “does not speak on behalf of the New York Knicks personnel and basketball operations.”
That’s as far as the statement went. There was no denial that a decision had been made on Miller. There was no form of an acknowledgment that his 13-19 record in the interim role is commendable for a team lacking playoff-quality talent.
By the time Stoute spoke to ESPN, the New York Post was already reporting that ex-Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy and former Knicks assistant Tom Thibodeau are expected to make president Leon Rose’s list of candidates.
Rose won’t officially start with the Knicks until he finishes tying up loose ends as Creative Artists Agency, where Thibodeau is a client. Though the two have a relationship, Van Gundy has a bigger name in New York and national basketball circles. And the name of University of Kentucky coach John Calipari will continue to pop up throughout the process.
Jeff Van Gundy can coach, but will he?
If Leon Rose wants him, Jeff Van Gundy’s return to the New York Knicks would still hinge on actual interest by Van Gundy and approval by owner James Dolan. Neither is a slam dunk.
Van Gundy, a Pat Riley protégé, took over as Knicks coach from Don Nelson in March 1996 and had some success in the four full seasons the followed. He resigned unexpectedly a quarter of the way into the 2001-02 season, then resurfaced two seasons later for a four-year run with the Houston Rockets.
Van Gundy’s coaching experience since has consisted primarily of dabbling with USA Basketball in recent years. If Knicks owner Jim Dolan has ill feelings toward him because of the surprise resignation two decades ago, then Van Gundy’s 248-172 record with the Knicks won’t matter.
Even if Dolan approves hiring Van Gundy, who led the Knicks to their last NBA Finals appearance in 1999, the question becomes whether the return to an 82-game grind appeals to one of the most popular TV analysts in pro sports. His banter with fellow announcers Mike Breen and Mark Johnson, often on topics totally unrelated to basketball, turns even blowout games into interesting viewing.
The TV job is a lighter workload for Van Gundy, 58, though the pay from the Knicks would be much better.
Who else can the New York Knicks hire as their coach?
Assuming that Mike Miller really will be let go, the Knicks will not be hurting for candidates to replace him for the 2020-21 season.
Tom Thibodeau, a Knicks assistant under Jeff Van Gundy, was 352-246 during stints with the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves. Like Van Gundy, he does his best work shaping the defense.
Mark Jackson had two stints as a Knicks player and coached the Golden State Warriors for three seasons.
And then there’s John Calipari. No matter how many times the Kentucky Wildcats coach says he is happy in college basketball and is not interested in the Knicks, his name will continue to be linked to the Knicks.