Getty Images

Breaking down Knicks coaching candidates such as Mark Jackson, David Blatt, Jerry Stackhouse

7 Comments

Jeff Hornacek getting fired as Knicks coach was as predictable as the plot of the movie “Taken” (come on, like Liam Neeson was going to be killed and his daughter sold off as a sex slave). Two 50-loss seasons, terrible defense, and being hired by the despised former GM will do that (even if it wasn’t all Hornacek’s fault, and it certainly was not, Hornacek didn’t sign Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose or want to run the triangle). The Knicks were so eager to can Hornacek team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry went with the team to Cleveland so they could ax him as soon as the plane landed when they got back.

So who’s next?

A series of names have been rumored around the league and quickly came up in multiple reports about the opening. Here is a breakdown of those who have been rumored.

• Mark Jackson. The former Knicks player and Warriors coach would be an easy sell to fans and any cantankerous owners who may have interest in the matter. On the positive side, Jackson won 51 games his last season with the Warriors and built the defensive foundation on which that team has won multiple titles (and the Knicks could use a more defensive focus). Jackson was beloved by his players but pushed out in Golden State for legit reasons — he was hard to work with for management, and played an old-school style of offensive ball — all of which must be considered.

• David Blatt. While hiring him would not exactly help any recruitment of LeBron James, that’s a moot point anyway (despite the billboards he’s not coming). Blatt wants another shot in the NBA. He won 53 games his first season in Cleveland and the team went to the Finals, and they were on pace for 60 wins his second season when he was fired around the All-Star break. LeBron and the other players were not fans of Blatt’s arrogance and need to be the smartest man in the room, and in the NBA (unlike Europe, where Blatt has returned to coach) the players have the power. Has that lesson sunk in with Blatt, can he put his ego aside? Can he get the players to buy into his system now, something he could not do in Cleveland? On the positive side, the man knows the game and wants to run a modern, up-tempo, ball-and-player-movement style of offense.

• David Fizdale. The highly respected coach let go by the Memphis Grizzlies mid-season is going to land a high-profile job this summer and he could be an excellent fit for the Knicks. His problems in Memphis stemmed from wanting to run a faster, more modern NBA offense that didn’t sit well with Marc Gasol — and as happens in the NBA the player won that battle. Fizdale would need to win over the Knicks’ locker room, but to hear LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and other former Heat players tell it (Fizdale was an assistant under Erik Spoelstra) that will not be a problem. Fizdale is smart, engaging and knows how to coach. He’d be a great hire, but he’s not as big a household name and therefore not as easy a sell to ownership and fans as other names on this list.

• Jerry Stackhouse. The 18-year NBA player and former All-Star is one of the hot names among assistant coaches looking to move up to the big chair after his success with the Raptors’ G-League team, Toronto 905. Is the Knicks job — with all the media pressure and office politics inside Madison Square Garden — the right place for a first-time NBA head coach? Stackhouse was a former teammate of LeBron in Miami  (if you still think New York has a shot to recruit him) and Stackhouse and GM Scott Perry have a two-decade relationship going back to the Pistons. Stackhouse may well get a shot somewhere — Orlando is a rumor that comes up a lot — but if the Knicks want young, fresh blood this would be the call.

• Jason Kidd. He was let go mid-season in Milwaukee, but the Hall of Fame player would be a name the marketing team could sell. He’s considered an incredibly bright basketball mind, but as a coach with the Bucks he pushed an aggressive, gambling defensive system that didn’t work (and wore guys down), plus the team’s offense was a little old-school for today’s NBA. He had a habit of falling in and out of love with players, so they bounced around the rotation a lot. What lessons has he learned with the Bucks (and Nets) that would change how he deals with player relationships and coaching now? Kidd’s name often is tied to the Phoenix job, but he likely would jump at the chance to coach the Knicks. Is his strong-willed style a good fit with Porzingis?

• Jay Wright. His name is going to come up in every coaching search this summer, but they all may be long shots. The Knicks in particular. Wright is the man who has turned Villanova into an NCAA dynasty, and every NBA team is looking for the next Brad Stevens, so they have turned their eyes to him. The first thing is nobody is convinced he wants to leave a job he loves at Villanova to try the NBA (a number of sources I talked to used the Coach K comparison). Even if he does want the challenge (and the increased pay), he can be picky and choose a good landing spot with stable smart ownership and management, as Stevens did with Boston. Are the Knicks really that franchise?

One more name to watch: Doc Rivers. He is still currently the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, but the buzz around the league is after he was stripped of his GM responsibilities last summer, this summer will come a parting of the ways. If and when that happens, New York will make a call to gauge his interest and start the process — a former Knicks player with a track record of success as a coach deserves a look.

This Knicks job is a glamour one — one of the biggest franchise names in the league in the nation’s biggest media market. There is a massive and smart fan base. Also, the Knicks have the hardest thing to get in building a contending team, a franchise cornerstone piece in Kristaps Porzingis.

However, there are going to be challenges, big ones. At the top of the list, there is the ownership of James Dolan — this is not the rock-steady ship of San Antonio here. Dolan is notoriously impatient and there is no deep-seeded direction for the franchise from the top. Next, Porzingis is potentially elite but also out for about half of next season following an ACL injury, and history has shown us that a return from that injury once back on the court takes time. Meaning the Knicks very well may struggle and miss the playoffs again next year… did we mention the fan base and ownership are impatient? This turnaround requires some patience. New York needs to create a culture/foundation/system that can highlight Porzingis’ strengths, then get players into that system that fit it. Most importantly, once they pick a system, the Knicks need to completely stick with it for at least three or four years — give it a chance to breathe. Whoever gets the Knicks job has to know going in he may not get that kind of window.

Still, these are the Knicks, they should be able to get whoever they want as their next coach. Mills and Perry need to think through their options and make the right call here. This is a crucial hire, this next coach will be there through the start of Porzingis’ prime.

 

 

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

AP
3 Comments

There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

AP Photo/Eric Gay
Leave a comment

The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

AP
2 Comments

But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

AP
Leave a comment

The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.