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Breaking Down New York Knicks Head Coach Candidates

New York Knicks

The New York Knicks are one of eight teams who are not slated to return to NBA action July 30 in Orlando. Out of the teams that are not participating in the restart, the Knicks are currently the only team who will be looking for a new head coach this offseason. So the organization has a head start on who they want to bring in and could get their pick out of any of the available options.

The Knicks have been extremely mediocre for the better part of a decade. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2012-13. Since their last playoff run, the Knicks are 184-374 during the regular season. There are many reasons why the Knicks have played as bad as they have, but one of the biggest reasons has been the instability at the head coach position. During that span, the Knicks have had six different head coaches. Those coaches have been Mike Woodson, Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis, Jeff Hornacek, David Fizdale and Mike Miller.

During these unorthodox circumstances, the Knicks find themselves in a scenario where they are the only vacancy in the league and could act upon it. The organization intends to take advantage of this according to team president Leon Rose. On an interview recently with MSG Networks Rose said he hopes to have made a decision on the team’s next head coach by late July.

Weeks away from Rose’s deadline, many candidates have emerged. There are already reports of notable available coaches who are interviews planned with the team. Here are the candidates who will reportedly interview for the Knicks head coaching job and what they bring to the table for New York.

Kenny Atkinson

New York Knicks Head Coach Candidates
Many were shocked to see Kenny Atkinson part ways with the Brooklyn Nets. Many thought he was most appealing factor in the Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant decisions.(Mary Schwalm/Associated Press)

One of the more notable candidates for the Knicks job is Kenny Atkinson. Atkinson was born in raised in Long Island, New York. Atkinson’s first opportunity to become a head coach in the league came with the Brooklyn Nets after being an assistant to two-time coach of the year Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta. His goal was to rebuild and develop the Nets, who at the time were one of the worst teams in basketball and did not have many assets or draft picks because of a trade made years prior. In 2018-19 he took a team made up of afterthoughts and role players led by once considered a bust D’Angelo Russell to the playoffs as the sixth seed in the East with a 42-40 record. Atkinson deserves a lot of credit for developing Russell into the player he is today. When he came to Brooklyn he was a once highly regarded player looking for a fresh start and he left an All-Star.

Atkinson would be a fantastic fit in New York, because the Knicks are in a place similar to where the Nets were when he started coaching there. Their roster is primarily made up of role players and are lacking true superstars. The Knicks need someone who can coach and carry a lackluster roster to a playoff birth. Atkinson was considered one of the better coaches in the league because he did just that. He would also be a great coach to bring in for the development of R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.

Mike Brown

New York Knicks Head Coach Candidates
Mike Brown has been a part of coaching staffs of team with some of the all time greats like Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant. (USTSI)

It has been a few seasons since Mike Brown has been an NBA head coach, but he has had varying levels of success as a coach. Brown was hired as the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach in 2005 and had great success there. Brown brought LeBron James and the Cavaliers to their first NBA Championship appearance in 2007. He also was the Eastern Conference All-Star Team coach and won Coach of the Year in 2009. His last two years in Cleveland he won over 60 games, but was let go after not making the finals either year. After that Brown disappointed coaching a Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard led Los Angeles Lakers team. Following his firing in Los Angeles, Brown returned to Cleveland where he was put in charge of a young and dysfunctional Cavaliers team. Since 2016, Brown has been the assistant coach to the Golden State Warriors under Steve Kerr.

It can be argued that Brown was not given a fair chance in (his first stint) Cleveland and Los Angeles. If he can take what some of the culture and what he has learned in Golden State and avoid what happened during his most recent term with the Cavaliers he could be a very good NBA head coach. Instilling that Golden State culture could be the change the Knicks need.

Pat Delany

Pat Delany has not left a large impression on the NBA yet. He has been a long time assistant of Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford. Delany first became Cliffords assistant in Charlotte until Clifford was fired by the Hornets in 2017-18. He followed Clifford to his current team the Orlando Magic who are a young team with a bright future. Delany has been a part of three teams that have made the playoffs.

This might seem like a risk considering all of the known polished coaching candidates. But a team like the Knicks might need to take a risk on a coach like Delany considering not much else has worked up to this point.

Chris Fleming

Chris Fleming has been an assistant coach in a few places around the league. His coaching career started in Denver in 2015 as an assistant to Mike Malone in his first year as a head coach. The following season Fleming became Kenny Atkinson’s assistant in Brooklyn and was there until last season. This past year he was a part of Jim Boylen’s staff in Chicago. Though his resume isn’t filled with NBA experience, Fleming has had a lot of success coaching in Europe, more specifically Germany.

Many consider Fleming to be one of the top assistant coaches in the league. So he is sure to get a lot of attention this offseason. It is up to the Knicks to decide whether they want to take a chance on Fleming now or let some other team get a shot at him.

Will Hardy

The San Antonio Spurs are the NBA’s head coaching factory. There are currently seven head coaches who have a history as assistant coaches for the San Antonio Spurs or from the Gregg Popovich head coaching tree. Another two coaches played for Popvich’s Spurs for an extended period of time. It seems like the next Spurs assistant coach to possibly join that list is Will Hardy. Hardy has been an assistant for the Spurs since the 2016-17 season.

It is no secret that the Knicks need a culture change and there is no better team culture in the NBA than the San Antonio Spurs. A lot of the league’s successful coaches have learned a lot from Popovich. Being an assistant to him for more than three years Hardy has likely learned a lot from Popovich. If he could bring some of that to the Knicks organization he might be the coach to turn this organization around.

Jason Kidd

New York Knicks Head Coach Candidates
It is only a matter of time until Los Angeles Laker’s assistant coach Jason Kidd is an NBA Head Coach again (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

It might be difficult for the Knicks to get a commitment from Jason Kidd right now considering his current team is one of the favorites to win the NBA Championship. Kidd an extremely accomplished NBA career and will one day make the Hall of Fame. However, after his retirement, Kidd went right into coaching. He coached the Brooklyn Nets for one season. After adding Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson the Nets were one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference and possibly the NBA Championship. However, Kidd and the Nets fell short and were eliminated in the Eastern Conference semifinals that year. During the offseason, Kidd was traded to the Milwaukee for two second-round picks where he coached for four seasons. Kidd developed a great relationship with growing superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo during his time and Milwaukee and brought them to the playoffs twice. However, Kidd was fired during the 2017-18 season after a rough start to that year. The public really saw the relationship Antetokounmpo had with Kidd after Antetokounmpo pleaded with the organization not to fire Kidd. He is currently the assistant head coach to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Ironically enough Kidd played his last season with the Knicks and that was the last time the team made the playoffs. Kidd is a flashy hire, but a smart one. He was heavily considered for the Lakers’ job last year, but decided to take the assistant role to Frank Vogel with the hopes of getting promoted if Vogel and the Lakers had a rough start. The plan might be to bring in Kidd in order to lore Antetokounmpo in free agency after the 2020-21 season. But overall Kidd is a good coach. He might not win coach of the year, but he is a smart basketball mind and knows how to get the most out of his players. He will be much more desirable if the Lakers win the Championship this season.

Mike Miller

New York Knicks Head Coach Candidates
If the current locker room vouches for Mike Miller he might remain as the teams head coach. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

This might be one of the rare cases where fans might be excited to see a team stick with their interim head coach to fill their vacancy at the position. Mike Miller took over as head coach of the New York Knicks after David Fizdale was fired earlier this year when the team started 4-18. Before he was made Fizdale’s assistant before this season, Miller was a head coach of the Knicks G-League team the Westchester Knicks. Miller was named the NBA’s G-League Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 season. The two other G-League coaches of the year that currently have head coaching positions in the league are highly regarded Utaz Jazz coach Quin Snyder and 2019-20 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse.

Miller’s record this season might have been 17-27, but the Knicks played better under Miller than they had in the past few seasons. For the first time in a long time, the Knicks could feel a sense of confidence about their head coach. He may need to play his young players more, but Miller has experience with this locker room which gives him an edge as far as laying out the future of the franchise.

Jamahl Mosley

Jamahl Mosley is not only the assistant coach, but the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Mavericks. Mosley has been a part of former Coach of the Year and NBA Champion Rick Carlisle’s staff for six seasons. He is known for having a lot of one on one time with his players including young phenom Luka Doncic.

A glowing recommendation from former Maverick and current Knicks Dennis Smith Jr. would go a long way for Mosley and could land him among the favorites to get the job. Mosley and Smith Jr. worked together from 2017-2019.

Tom Thibodeau

New York Knicks Head Coach Candidates
Though Tom Thibodeau is considered one of the best coaches in the NBA there is a lot of risk that comes with signing him. (Matt Marton-Associated Press)

The frontrunner for the Knicks job is Tom Thibodeau. He was a part of the Boston Celtics Championship team in 2008 as an assistant coach and coached the best era of Chicago Bulls basketball since Michael Jordan. He became the head coach of the Bulls in 2010-11 and won the Coach of the Year that same season. He coached a team led by MVP Derrick Rose to the Eastern Conference Finals. After tension built between Thibodeau and the front office, he was let go by the Chicago Bulls. In 2016, Thibodeau became the head coach and president of Minnesota Timberwolves operations. In his second season with them, he brought them to the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons. However, Thibodeau was fired partially through the 2018-19 season and hasn’t worked since.

Thibodeau knows winning basketball, he has been a part of many winning teams. Thibodeau already has a head start on recreating his Bulls team in New York, like he did in Minnesota, with Taj Gibson already on the roster. The biggest problem with him landing in New York is the dysfunctional front office. The front office for the Knicks has been so dysfunctional over the years they even left a stain on Phil Jackson’s legacy. Thibodeau has had problems with NBA front-office executives in the past and could very well butt heads with the Knicks front office. He might bring the Knicks to the playoffs for a season or two but might not be around long enough to change the culture long term for the franchise.

Ime Udoka

Ime Udoka is another Popovich disciple waiting for his opportunity to become an NBA head coach. Udoka played professional basketball for 13 seasons including three seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. Right after his playing career ended, Udoka became a member of Popovich and the Spur’s coaching staff. He was in San Antonio from 2012-2019 and was a part of the 2014 Championship team. This past season, Udoka became the lead assistant to another former Spurs head coach Brett Brown and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Udoka will be receiving a lot of attention this offseason as a head coaching candidate, including from his current team the 76ers who could replace Brett Brown this offseason. Udoka is a veteran assistant coach who has a lot of experience on winning teams the Knicks would be foolish to not take a long look at an accomplished coach like him as a potential option.

Mike Woodson

New York Knicks Head Coach Candidates
Mike Woodson coached the Knicks to the 2 seed in the East during his first full season as the head coach (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The last head coach to bring the New York Knicks to the playoffs was Mike Woodson. Woodson was an assistant coach for the 2004 Detroit Pistons Championship team and then was hired as the head coach for the Atlanta Hawks the following season. After a playoff appearance in 2010 Woodson was fired by the team. In 2011, Woodson was named an assistant to Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni. But after D’Antoni was let go in 2012, Woodson was named the interim coach and eventually took over as the teams head coach the following season. He led the Knicks to two straight playoff appearances and after missing the playoffs in 2013-14 was fired from the team. He was later brought onto Doc Rivers coaching staff on the Los Angeles Clippers from 2014-18 and has not been in the league since.

The Knicks have an opportunity to redeem there mistake from 2014 when they fired Woodson to bring in Derek Fisher who many believed would be the next point guard transitioned to head coach like Jason Kidd was the previous season. He is the only coach on this list who knows how to coach a winning team in New York under owner James Dolan, because he has experience doing such. At this point that should be enough credentials to get him the job because it currently seems like an impossible task.

Other potential options:

Becky Hammon

Hammon started her playing career in New York for the Liberty. She also is the second female assistant coach in NBA history. Hammon has been an assistant coach for Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs for seven seasons. In 2016 she also became the first female coach on an NBA All-Star team. She will likely become the first female head coach in NBA history within the next season or two. In 2017, she was considered for the Milwaukee Bucks vacant general manager job. Though it is not reported that they will give her an interview the Knicks could be bold and hire for the female head coach in NBA history. This would not be a publicity stunt by any means because Hammon is well qualified for an NBA head coaching job.

Mark Jackson

Whenever a head coaching job becomes available rumors about Mark Jackson speculate, but he still has not landed a job since 2014. Jackson was the Golden State Warriors head coach from 2011-14 before they hired Steve Kerr. It is obvious that Kerr and the Warriors’ success definitely has hindered Jackson’s value as a head coach because he pretty much coached the same roster that went to the past five finals. Jackson was drafted by the New York Knicks and had individual success during his early years there. It wouldn’t be ridiculous for the Knicks to consider interviewing Jackson for the head coach position.

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