A long time ago I heard from a wise man that the Chinese word for "crisis"combines the word "danger" and the word "opportunity," and that sounded like some really deep stuff.
Then I moved to China, lived among Chinese people, and found out that idea was bullshit. You can't just break up the word for crisis -- 危机 (wei-ji) -- into its two component characters willy-nilly. It's one complete word, and it means exactly what you think it means: "Bad stuff is going down."
The New York Knicks find themselves in the midst of the first crisis of the Phil Jackson era, as first-choice head coach candidate Steve Kerr opted for the higher salary, shorter commute and superior roster of the Golden State Warriors.
This feels like a disaster for the Knicks -- not only because every single thing they do is magnified, but because president Jackson (Phil, not Andrew) seemed so convinced that Kerr was his man. Did the Zen Master fail to hypnotize Kerr with his legendary 11 ring juggling trick? Did James Dolan walk into Kerr's house with his muddy cowboy boots and start stomping his feet all over the couch?
I don't exactly buy into the whole "Jackson's aura will attract free agents" deal -- I've been burned too many times by that old con. Players and coaches aren't stupid -- they want to join up with strong, healthy organizations. My real hope for Jackson is that his aura will be enough to overwhelm the juvenile sensibilities of James Dolan, and the awestruck owner will finally give a smart basketball man the kind of leeway he once gave to Isiah Thomas. In that case, the Kerr fiasco was troubling.
But now the real test begins. How will Jackson respond to the first crisis of his tenure?
The Knicks are facing a very public setback, which is traditionally the most dangerous moment for any Dolan-owned team. This franchise has loved nothing more over the years than to react to short-term difficulty with rash, haphazard moves. Fail to sign LeBron to pair with the recently-acquired Amar'e Stoudemire? No problem, we'll trade nearly all of our remaining assets for Carmelo Anthony, despite the fact that he'll be a free agent in a few months. Lose a tough Game 6 in the Eastern Conference semis? Let's change up our third-ranked offense and trade for Andrea Bargnani!
If Phil is going to earn his money, he can start right now, by avoiding the typical Knicks overreaction. The good news is that there seems to be little indication he's going after the obvious target of the old Dolan regime: former Warriors coach Mark Jackson. Now there is a man that just screams out "reactionary Dolan hire": He's charismatic and constantly in the news. He's also an egomaniac who fired respected assistants in the middle of the season, and became so toxic to management that he was replaced by...Steve Kerr. He's also an iso-ball fetishist straight out of the Mike Woodson school. In other words, he'd be the ideal old Knicks candidate. He's the ideal choice for Stephen A. Smith...which should tell you all you need to know.
Honestly, I'm all for the idea that seemed to drive the Kerr hire -- that Jackson wanted a coach he knew, and could work with. That kind of synergy of basketball philosophy between the coach and front office is crucial, and something the franchise has lacked for years. The only thing that the old regime had in common was the fact that all the key decision-makers were represented by the shadowy MSG puppet-master agency CAA, which led to the Andrea Bargnani trade (CAA client) and the Chris Smith fiasco (ditto).
But Jackson mustn't get too locked into whole "inner circle" thing and make the mistake of hiring a crusty old retread like Kurt Rambis, who was a disaster with the Timberwolves. Gentleman Wolves blogger Steve McPherson was even kind enough to say that he wouldn't wish Rambis on Knicks fans:
I want to want Rambis to coach the Knicks because I love to hate, but I have too many Knicks fan friends to actually wish it.— Steve McPherson (@steventurous) May 15, 2014
The world of the Triangle isn't that small. There are plenty of good coaches out there who have at least played in a Triangle Offense (Fred Hoiberg and Tyronn Lue come to mind). Let's take our time, and cast a wide net for once. It might be painful to watch at times -- Mike Dunleavy? Scottie Pippen? -- but a wide-ranging coaching search may be exactly what this team needs right now.
Fortunately, Jackson seems like a man who has that quality to Knicks have so often lacked: patience. He expressed a willingness to take his time in hiring a coach, according to Frank Isola:
"Hiring a coach I don’t think’s important with a timetable," Jackson said in April. "We’d really like to have a coach in our summer-league camp, or our summer-league games out in Las Vegas in July. That is important to us.
Sounds good to me. If Jackson wants to wait until after the Thunder are eliminated to interview Derek Fisher, then so be it. If he wants to interview several candidates, then all the better. That's what smart franchises do. That's what adults do.
Losing Kerr stings, but if this minor setback forces the Knicks to do the mature thing for once, and find a good coach in the process, then the organization will be better for it.