While 22 NBA teams report to Orlando for the NBA restart, the Knicks find themselves in reality — the offseason. The Knickerbockers are currently looking for a new head coach after firing David Fizdale during this past season. New York has interviewed former Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau, former Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson, former Brookly Nets and Milwaukee Bucks head coach and current Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd, former Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, former Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach and current Golden State Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown as well as interim head coach Mike Miller and other assistants throughout the league. Let’s go through the candidates and I will tell you which one makes the most sense.
As it has been reported from multiple news outlets, Thibodeau remains the favorite for the head coaching job due to his relationship with Knicks president Leon Rose and senior vice president William Wesley dating back to when they represented him at Creative Artists Agency. Thibodeau has had success as a head coach as he consistently posted winning seasons in Chicago and broke the Minnesota Timberwolves 13-year playoff drought during the 2017-2018 season. While I understand that Thibodeau has a winning record as a head coach (352-246) and stresses defense, which is something that the Knicks have long lacked, he also had a rocky ending in Minnesota as he was accused of not being able to connect with younger players and tends to overwork players.
The Knicks have the upper hand in their pursuit of Thibs since he has also reportedly drawn interest from the Houston Rockets, Brooklyn Nets, and Philadelphia 76ers who are all involved in the restart plan in Orlando. This gives the Knicks more than enough time to run a well thought out interview process before the other teams can. The Knicks reportedly plan to name a new head coach by July 31st.
The coaching candidate that I think makes the most sense is Kenny Atkinson. Atkinson played a big role in turning around a Brooklyn Nets team that was still suffering from the effects from the failed Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade with the Boston Celtics and was able to develop unknown players such as: Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwidee Caris Levert, D’Angelo Russell and Jarrett Allen to turn the Nets into a playoff team. The Knicks and James Dolan have historically hired coaches with high name recognition rather than coaches who are able to develop players. If the Knicks want to build a culture and have real results, then they should walk the walk rather than talk the talk and hire Kenny Atkinson. However, as Brian Geltzeiler of Hoopscritic.com has reported, Atkinson isn’t interested in the Knicks job since he believes he will have better openings available to him. This tells me that Atkinson doesn’t want the Knicks job because of the bad reputation Dolan has created around league circles from not letting his basketball people take control of basketball decisions.
Jason Kidd’s name has been gaining popularity around the Knicks head coaching search the past couple of days as Marc Berman of the NY Post reported that Kidd had a “great” interview with the Knicks. This is not surprising considering that Kidd has a history of talking a big game during interviews. For example, he was immediately named head coach of the Brooklyn Nets when he retired as a player. On top of that, after his ugly exit from Brooklyn, he impressed the Milwaukee Bucks so much that he unseated the current head coach at the time, Larry Drew. Finally, the current Lakers assistant coach impressed the purple and gold so much that they reportedly insisted that the new head coach insert him as a top assistant coach. One reason why Kidd’s name has been gaining momentum is because of his strong relationship with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will be a free agent in 2021. Considering what happened last offseason with the failed free agency attempt to get Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the Knicks should not make their head coach search solely based on relationships to lure free agents like they did with David Fizdale. Once the dust settles it seems unlikely that Kidd will be able to unseat the favorite Tom Thibodeau unless Thibs goes the Steve Kerr route and backs out at the last minute.
Mike Woodson is an interesting name that has come up in this search. Woodson, the former Knicks head coach from 2011-2014, was the New York coach the last time they had a successful season when they won 54 games and made the playoffs in 2012-2013. While it seems unlikely that Woodson will get the job, he could very well be brought on as an assistant coach.
While I believe the right hire is Kenny Atkinson, it is unlikely to happen which sheds a bad light on the culture that James Dolan has created for a long time. It will be very interesting to see if the Knicks go the well known name route again or the less sexier name that can develop players.