The names have already begun to trickle out, the favorites for the Knicks’ now-vacant coaching job. The friends of Phil and followers of the triangle populating the list. But if Phil Jackson really wants to move the organization forward, he should pass by the devoted followers and instead reach out to the coach who was his most bitter rival during their coaching days.
Steve Kerr, the front-runner, played for Jackson and picked up three championship rings in Chicago. But a better choice would be Jeff Van Gundy.
Yes, Van Gundy, the one who used to tweak Jackson as “Chief Big Triangle,” when the Knicks and Bulls were battling through bruising series. Jackson, when asked what he thought about Van Gundy in those days once said, “I don’t even pay attention to him. He’s like a fly on the wall.”
Sounds like a marriage made in heaven, right? But they don’t have to be married. They just have to work together, nearly two decades past their squabbles.
What Jackson really needs is to put a coach in place who can win and win now. But before the first game is won or lost, the first task of whoever takes over is to be alluring enough to convince Carmelo Anthony that New York is a place worth being a part of.
Anthony has made no secret of the fact that winning is the priority in his free agency this summer and the Knicks now have a window to show him something before he can hear the pitch from other suitors.
While Kerr is a smart and savvy basketball man, a success as a player and an accomplished analyst, he has never spent a day as a coach. Is that learning curve something that will impress Anthony in the wake of a 37-45 season?
Anthony said he wanted no part of another giveaway season, not content to wait for the salary-cap space of next summer to rebuild the cast around him. And even if Jackson has some plot to let Anthony leave and start completely anew, is a struggling team with a neophyte coach going to attract the top free agents to abandon other teams?
The triangle offense that was so successful for Jackson was anchored by the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Other followers of the system have not fared so well. Jim Cleamons was 28-70, Bill Cartwright 51-100 and Kurt Rambis 56-145. Frank Hamblen was 33-71 and even Brian Shaw was 36-46 in Denver this year.
Is there anyone who doubts that Van Gundy is a more accomplished coach? Is there anyone among the Jackson/triangle clan that would outwork him, would instill the defensive grit that marked Van Gundy’s teams? And most importantly — is there anyone who would appeal to Anthony and the other top players in the game?
You’d like to be a fly on the wall when Jackson tries to argue otherwise.
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