Steve Kerr was not only Plan A for Phil Jackson and the Knicks, he was the only plan. Jackson has not had a serious, sit down conversation with anyone else. Kerr was the guy. He was the lone target.
It’s a blow to any Knicks fan who simplistically believed “Phil Jackson is here, our problems are solved.” His mere presence does not solve all the Knicks’ problems. Even if Jackson is good at this job it’s going to take time — read: years — to really right this ship.
So what is Plan B for the Knicks after Kerr?
There doesn’t seem to be a great one, not one that’s going to be a great sell for Knicks fans. Phil Jackson does not have a large coaching tree to draw from and the names on the list are not going to be big and sexy enough to make the Big Apple happy. There will be disappointed fans.
What Jackson needs to find is someone who can help build a new culture in New York. The changes Jackson wants to bring to the franchise are about a dramatic shift in how things are done, a change in the status quo, and he needs a coach with the strength of personality to help pull that off. I’m just not sure if he can find that guy.
Here is a list of names that have been mentioned. They are in no particular order:
• No, Phil Jackson is not coming down to the bench. Not happening. Zero chance. He is done coaching, so stop asking.
• Kurt Rambis. He is a Phil Jackson protegé, but he is also a guy that won 32 games in Minnesota — in two years. He was far from loved by his players. He has been a weak head coach at his stops, never commanded the respect of top players, and has seemed out of his depth in the role. And you want to sell him to New York as the answer?
• Brian Shaw. He is the coach of the Denver Nuggets, the question is can he be pried out of his three-year deal? What kind of compensation would be needed to make this work? The cost seems steep, if he were available at all. That said, Shaw is a coach with plenty of triangle experience.
• Tom Thibodeau. He is under contract in Chicago is unlikely the Bulls let Thibodeau walk anywhere — especially the Knicks. Despite some friction with GM Gar Forman management in Chicago knows Thibs is at the heart of what the Bulls have become. That said, he could help create a culture of winning and responsibility in NYC.
• Derek Fisher. Don’t laugh, he might be my dark horse pick. He’s a natural leader, he is respected by other players, he knows the system, and Jackson trusts him. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN and other sources have said it could happen.
• Tyronn Lue. A former Jackson player who is now an assistant coach for Doc Rivers, one well respected around the league. (Marc Stein of ESPN floated this name first.) Not a big name, not necessarily a triangle guy, but someone to keep an eye on.