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.