Perhaps Kurt Rambis is still a shoe-in to remain head coach of the New York Knicks. What this series presupposes is ... maybe he isn't? We already know that Carmelo Anthony expects a thorough search, and we are here for you, big cat! Feel free to use these profiles, Knicks front office bros.
Let's dive into a list of potential coaching candidates that interest the P&T staff, presented in no particular order of preference or likelihood or anything. Today's featured coach is Becky Hammon.
Currently an assistant coach in San Antonio, Becky Hammon has Garden roots, having joined the New York Liberty as an undrafted free agent in 1999, not long before someone named James Dolan ascended to the role of MSG czar. In her eight years in New York, Hammon became a three-time WNBA All-Star. Dolan's built his Knick teams around three former All-Stars - Stephon Marbury, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony. Phil Jackson's favorite shape, the triangle, has three sides. Phil was the Black Mamba's boss. Hammon owns the Red Mamba. Coincidence? Stay woke.
Per Howard Beck's terrific Bleacher Report piece on Hammon, she was born in Rapid City, South Dakota. By age eight she was dominating boys two grades above her. She played college ball at Colorado State, where she became the Rams' all-time leader in scoring, assists and three-pointers, and passed former Knick Keith Van Horn as the top scorer in Western Athletic Conference history. The seven-time WNBA All-Star's career was divided between New York, where she became a member of the Liberty's Ring of Honor, and San Antonio.
In 2008, for reasons no one can seem to explain, Hammon - who'd finished second in MVP voting the year before, to Australian Lauren Jackson - was not invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic team. Bitterly disappointed, she accepted an invitation to play for the Russian national team, which led then-U.S. women's coach Anne Donovan to quip, "If you play in this country and you grow up in the heartland, and you put on a Russian uniform, you are not a patriotic person." Hammon clearly has experience dealing with superiors who show a tendency for asinine cruelty, a valuable trait in a prospective head coach.
She played for the Russian team again in 2012, and on a flight back to the U.S. ended up seated next to San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich. The two started talking and Pop discovered a kindred spirit.
"When you've been around it, you know who can coach and who can't coach," Popovich told Beck. "Becky is one of those people. She's a Steve Kerr. She's a Doc Rivers. She's those kind of people. They have a feel for the game that they want to continue to participate in."
When Phil Jackson discussed the strong suits of Kurt Rambis, one of his quotes seemed to draw a line between the interim coach and the ex-coach: "He finds life humorous and fun." Hammon shows a lighthearted spirit when telling Beck about backstage life as a Spur: "For lack of a better word, they are all ball-busters, for sure. They love to have a good time. They love to work. But I think in the midst of working, you can't get too crazy serious. So they crack on each other, and they crack on me."
I spoke with Kyle Spishock at Pounding The Rock to learn what kind of impressions Hammon has made on the Spur bench, both last summer when leading the Summer League Spurs to the Vegas title and this season on Popovich's pine.
"She was able to utilize what she had on the roster (similar to the [Knicks'] lack of depth outside Melo and Porzingis)," he said, "transforming Jonathan Simmons -- a University of Houston product [who] wasn't heavily recruited after college and joined an open tryout for the Austin Spurs -- into a high scoring threat, and ran the offense through Kyle Anderson -- UCLA's 'Slo-Mo,' a name drawn from his slow facilitation, mimicking a younger Boris Diaw -- and turned him into a reliable point guard."
As Dad Melo ages into his 30s and relinquishes some of the scoring burden to others, it isn't a stretch to imagine him playing more of a facilitator role. He isn't "slow," but Anthony is patient in the post and has good court vision. It's impossible to project any ceiling at this point for Porzingis, and he's certainly shown the ability to function as a playmaking four. Maybe Hammon could accelerate that learning process. But her aptitude isn't limited to working with bigs.
"Her facilitation of WNBA offense contributed to her current play schemes," Spishock said, "in particular with spacing the backcourt, and tutoring [San Antonio's] 1s and 2s -- who listen and respect her because of her former experience...the defensive alignment and offensive sets she ran in Vegas were similar to Mike Budenholzer's strategy that propelled the Atlanta Hawks to the top of the Eastern Conference last season." Budenholzer, another former assistant under Popovich, also once led the Summer Spurs to a Summer League title.
Unlike Fisher's sometimes cringeworthy stolidity, Hammon apparently has a pulse. "During [games] she didn't stand still, preferring instead to pace the coach's box and shout at calls she vehemently disagreed on," Spishock said. "The energy seemed to bring a competitive response from her players." When's the last time you heard a Knick player praising a Knick coach's energy level?
Hammon never played in the NBA. Neither have about half the current head coaches. Would Phil Jackson consider hiring a second rookie head coach in just over two years? Would Dolan be attracted to hiring Hammon for reasons beyond X's and O's? Six of the Knick owner's nine coaches have been African-American, a progressive rate I can't think of any other organization matching. On a strictly public-relations level, adding Hammon to a team reaping the positivity windfall of Kristaps Porzingis could be tempting for a media mogul in position to leap light years ahead of his non-BFF over in Brooklyn.
But would Hammon want to work for Dolan in light of his continued refusal to accept culpability for overseeing a work environment where Anucha Brown Sanders was sexually harassed and won a lawsuit against MSG? Steve Kerr was looking for his first head coaching job when the Knicks came calling and walked away from the opportunity, perhaps in part due to misgivings about working under Dolan. Would Hammon leave the progressive, successful Spurs model for an organization that literally and figuratively hosts a circus every year?
Jackson said his having a pre-existing relationship with the next coach is "not paramount, but it's important." Hammon is from the Popovich coaching tree, and if Phil's little digs over the years at Pop are an indicator, there isn't a lot of inter-arboreal love between them trees. Still, Hammon does now share at least one important connection with the Knick president.
Toronto: check; Celebrity game: check; Dinner with greatest Coach all time (yea I said it ) check; All Star game: check; meeting the greatest player of all time: PRICELESS!!! CHECK off my life time bucket list!! Been infatuated, obsessed with, in ❤️ with this guy since I was 10!! #THAThappened Never been giddy meeting anyone before, but I reverted to being a 10 year old when I met him!! #MichaelJordan #AirJordan #Jumpman #ChicagoBulls #NBAAllStarTO #nbaallstar #nba #spurs #sanantonio #satx #sanantoniospurs #toronto #tdot #the6ix #gsg #spursnation #ThisIsWhyWePlay #WatchMeWork
Last year Porzingis was a high-upside but unconventional move for the Knicks, one that seems in keeping with Jackson's basketball rebel ways, one that's paid off handsomely. If he isn't interested in pursuing established outsiders like Tom Thibodeau or Jeff Van Gundy, would Phil go outside the box - even outside the Triangle - and hire Hammon?