With two games left in the NBA season, and the Knicks trying to finish one of their worst seasons they've ever had, Donnie Walsh has a lot of work ahead of him. Walsh has promised a lot of things, most importantly, progress. Something the Knick fans have been clamoring for for years now. Now almost five years into the Thomas regime, it's obvious that Walsh's first big decision is to get rid of the man who is still desperately hanging on to the notion that he'll still be around after this season. Walsh has promised that he'll have a "talk" with Isiah before he makes his decision, although the common theory is that Walsh is only doing this out of courtesy for Thomas.
So, when/if Isiah is gone, who will take over the coaching slot for the Knicks?
Let's play pretend...
Well, it's easy to figure out who the Knicks need. All you have to do is be even a slight improvement over Isiah and Knick fans will be happy. Take the team to the playoffs, and the coach will be treated like the messiah. Now though, who will be the coach of the franchise? Let's take a look at some candidates who might be in the running:
Rick Carlisle: Probably one of the best candidates based on how he's been with other teams. He's taken the Pistons to back to back 50 win seasons, taking them to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2003 (Fired only because Larry Brown came calling.) Another big plus is that he's a former Walsh guy. He was hired by Walsh, and was very likeable with the franchise. Then he takes the Pacers to 61 wins, making them an Eastern Conference powerhouse for the first time in years, and taking them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Then, the Brawl happens, and Carlisle still somehow gets whatever's left of the team to manage 44 wins, including a miracle run that almost takes them to the Eastern Conference Finals again. After a 41 win season, which was the first season without Reggie Miller for the team, Carlisle is somehow blamed for the Pacers downfall. Then, the Pacers have a disastrous year in 2006-07. Stephen Jackson, Jamal Tinsley, both have odd incidents that happen off court, embarrassing the once proud franchise. Bird trades away Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington for Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy, whom both flop under pressure. The Pacers finish the season 35-47, and somehow Rick Carlisle is blamed, and fired. Umm... OK? But anyway...
Carlisle would be a fantastic coach for the Knicks. Although anything is better than Isiah, the best case scenario would be for the Knicks to get Carlisle. Carlisle is a stickler for defense, something the Knicks desperately need and are lacking in. Carlisle is a great player's coach, and would probably be able to handle the ego's of various Knicks very easily. Plus, it'd be good news for Freddie Jones!
Chances: I'd say the chance of Carlisle becoming the coach is pretty likely. As I said before, Walsh is a big fan of Carlisle's style, and has seen the results Carlisle can bring to the table. Carlisle would more than likely give us the best shot of making the playoffs, and becoming legitimate in the East again. Of course, he wouldn't give us overnight results. It's going to take more than a coach to turn this team around. But I digress...
Mark Jackson: An interesting candidate, nonetheless. Patrick Ewing fully endorses him, most fans say they would love to see him have a go, and Donnie Walsh is known for picking guys that have never coached before, especially players. Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas both come to mind, with Bird having MUCH more success than Isiah did. However, there are some things that hold "Action Jackson" back from being the coach:
- He's unproven as a coach. While Walsh, as I said before, loves to hire guys who have never coached the game before, a lot of people like this have tended to flop as NBA coaches. Johnny Davis, Keith Smart, and Garfield Heard come to mind, among others.
- Jackson might instead get a front office job with the Knicks. It has been rumored that him and another Knick alumni, Greg Anthony, could get the job as Knicks General Manager. It all depends on what Walsh does over the summer. My personal opinion is that Anthony would be a better job as General Manager, but Jackson would surely not do an awful job.
- Jackson would more than likely be a player's coach, which could mean one of two things. Jackson will either be able to relate to the players very well, making the players motivated, or he'll be TOO lax, letting the players take advantage of the way he is. Maurice Cheeks is the PERFECT example of this. He was the coach during most of the infamous Portland "Jail Blazers" run, and let Chris Webber walk all over the franchise during his times in Philadelphia. Now, don't get me wrong, Cheeks is a damn good coach, who else could somehow lead the current Sixers to a mind-boggling 40 wins?! But he's a major pushover, and proof of that is in the way he's treated his players.
Chances: Jackson's chances, based on nostalgia factor, are also pretty decently high. Really, it all depends on if Walsh wants to lead the team to success right away, or wants to rebuild first. As compared to Carlisle or Skiles, however, I don't think he'll make it. And of course, if he does get hired, his success depends on how he treats his players.
Paul Silas: My personal hopeful for the job. Silas has had two successful runs as coach, first in Charlotte/New Orleans, and then in Cleveland, being LeBron James' first NBA coach. Silas is very good with coaching young guys. Silas, a MAJOR stickler for defense (Being named to the NBA's All-Defensive Third team three times, and even being named to the First Team once, as a player,) would be perfect for the job. Silas is also very good at coaching young guys. He helped mold Baron Davis into the quick, defensive energy point guard that he is today. And while Davis may be trigger happy, his good defense is a surprise to many NBA followers. Silas can very much be accredited to that. Silas also brought the Hornets their most successful run as a playoff contender since the Bristow era of the franchise. He was oddly fired from his job with the Cavs during his second year, leading the team to a 34-30 record (Brendan Malone, his interim successor, only went 8-10.)
Silas is my personal favorite for getting the job. Silas would be great at teaching the young guys on the squad how to play defense, something players like David Lee and Nate Robinson desperately need to be taught properly.
Chances: Admittedly, Silas' chances at becoming the head coach are more than likely pretty slim. He's not as name-worthy as Rick Carlisle or Scott Skiles. However, he's my personal choice as to whom would do the best job as the coach of the Knicks. He brings excellent championship experience as a player, and his great job working with young guys to the table. However, expect him to be hired elsewhere, if the Knicks don't get him.
Herb Williams: The old standby. Herb is the only man remaining from the Jeff Van Gundy/Don Chaney era of the Knicks. Herb has always done a decent job when it came to coaching the squad. He also did surprisingly well with the team after Lenny Wilkens resigned. The latest news has stated that he is staying with the Knicks in the long run, more than likely still an assistant coach, though. Williams serves as an excellent mentor to the Knicks, and has been noted to have good relationships with every player on the roster.
Chances: Herb's chances, to me, are also very high. His experience after Wilkens resigned in 2005 will play a big factor in Walsh's decision on hiring ol' Herb or not.
Scott Skiles: The ultimate disciplinarian, Skiles has had two very successful, but one highly controversial, coaching stops in Phoenix, and later Chicago. He did admirably well in Phoenix, resigning after 2 and a half seasons, and later on accepting the job as head coach of the Bulls, replacing Bill Cartwright. At first, Skiles struggled, before the team made a complete turn-around, winning 47 games and finally looking legitimate again. Skiles' Bulls teams always were near the top in defense specific categories, even leading the league in opponent's field goal percentage in 2005-06. After a season that started off poor, and ended hot, the Bulls finally became an elite force in the Eastern Conference Finals, winning 49 games, and even sweeping the defending champion Heat in the first round of the 2007 NBA playoffs. Everything looked great, and a lot of analysts were picking the Chicago Bulls to become a contender for the Eastern Conference crown, and even NBA championship.
However, Skiles is, like I said above, the ultimate disciplinarian, and that reared its ugly head just one too many times during his time in Chicago. From banning headbands, to getting into shouting matches with players during practice, to being brutally honest about the performance of his guys (He was once asked what Eddy Curry could do to improve his rebounding, Skiles replied "Jump.") And of course, if you're going to be brutally honest, some egos are going to get hurt, meaning some players are going to be sick and tired of you ripping them in the media, in practice, and during games. After a while, the Bulls just collectively stopped caring, stopped listening to Skiles, and just played like a bunch of zombies, starting off horrendously to begin 2007, before Skiles was mercifully fired on Christmas Eve.
Skiles is, to be honest, a good coach... sort of. Think about it, Doesn't Skiles sound so much like Larry Brown in so many ways? Yeah, remember how that worked out?
Skiles going to New York has "disaster" written all over it. Just imagine how Larry Brown used to feud with players, it'll be just as bad with Skiles. And the New York media, lovers of controversy, "he said she said" tomfoolery and fighting, will eat it all up with a spoon.
Chances: Unfortunately, Skiles has the greatest chance of landing the coaching position for the Knicks. He brings tons of experience, a great defensive mindset, and a no nonsense attitude, precisely the reason why he'll be the one hired, in Isiah's place. This is also precisely the reason why he'll be a complete disaster in New York.
One thing we know for sure, is that Donnie Walsh will definitely do whatever it takes to find the right man to coach this team in the 2008/09 season. That is, of course, unless Dolan forces him to stick with Isiah. In which, he'd be getting the last laugh, wouldn't he? But alas, it's fun to guess and see what's going to happen. My opinion is that Scott Skiles will be your head coach of the New York Knicks next year, although I would prefer to have Paul Silas, or even Rick Carlisle. Either way, this is going to be an interesting summer.