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P&T Round(ball) Table: Which first-time head coach would you hire for the Knicks?

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NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New York Knicks Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks have been linked to just about every head coaching candidate under the sun. We’ve had plenty of time to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of well-known candidates like Tom Thibodeau and Kenny Atkinson, former NBA head coaches with lengthy track records. But what about the new blood head coaches? If you had to pick a first-time NBA head coach, who would you pick? Our crack squad is on the case.

The candidates: Ime Udoka, Pat Delany, Chris Fleming, Becky Hammon, Will Hardy, Jamahl Mosley

If you’d like to know more about each candidate, our own Benny Buckets has provided a brief profile of each.

Joe: I’m intrigued by Jamahl Mosley. Everyone always talks about Gregg Popovich disciples, but Rick Carlisle is also a Hall of Fame coach, and Mosley has been with Carlisle for years now. He was in charge of the Mavericks’ defense last year. They were actually pretty close to average — 17th in D-rating — despite a roster filled with mostly crappy defenders. (Remember watching Tim Hardaway Jr. defend?) He even got that scrub Kristaps Porzingis to finally grab some defensive rebounds. Personally, I like the idea of stealing from the Mavs after they foisted Dennis Smith Jr. on us.

Stingy: So is Jerry Stackhouse just not getting an interview? I’ll be honest, I don’t know who I want. I do know that I don’t want Jamahl Mosley. Love me a Rick Carlisle disciple, but let’s be serious for just a moment. Look at these neophytes completely disregarding what he’s teaching them. They are openly embarrassing him on his home floor. How is this guy gonna hold a locker room? I don’t see it. Get rid of this guy. Cut his teeth.

Don’t you hate the idiom to “cut your teeth”? I hate it with the strength of a thousand tongues. I’m glad no one used it in this article where I said my piece first. I always read it and imagine enormous dental shears vertically cleaving through some apparently very buttery chiclets leaving little pointy triangular shards. Then turning horizontal to snip those molars out.

In any case, these candidates all seem like good and qualified people. I like them and I hope they all receive their chance to be a head coach in the NBA, especially if they’ll thrive in that role for the Knicks. There’s just not much to base my opinions on. Becky Hammon is the easiest to root for, for me. She’d be the first womyn head coach in NBA herstory. I also got a chance to see her up close and personal coaching the Spurs summer league team a few years ago and she was deeply engaging and the team was very successful. So I say Becky all the way. It’s the obvious answer. Everyone else after me is wrong. Starting with...

Prez: **lawyer answer incoming** I have no earthly clue who would be good of that group. Probably any of them? Because a team is so beholden to the strategic style of the head coach, it is impossible to divine what basketball style a career assistant would push if moved to head coach. Even when an assistant takes over in summer league, or when a coach is sick, or thrown out...they are still driving a car built by the head coach. They aren’t going to move the steering wheel to the right side of the whip. For fans, interviews and googles are useless too — mostly you get to learn about a coach’s personality and how they handle people (all important skills but less about the actual basketball deployed). You’re more likely to learn about what role they play in development than in tactics. The luckiest you will get is if the assistant has a public role - like Udoka, who was tasked with handling the 76ers defense explicitly. Us armchair critics are mostly working off of very imperfect proxies like “how other coaches talk about these potential new head coaches”....and we all know the coaching fraternity is outdone only by Police Unions in terms of never badmouthing and never even giving a singly iota of criticism to a fellow member of the guild.

Given limited information, I’m taking Udoka or Hammon. Hammon because she’s both a basketball genius and the 2nd in command for the top coached team of my lifetime, and Udoka because he very clearly knows how to organize a defense. Besides, if Philly could take more 3s than the Knicks with their roster of 18 bigs and no point guards then I’m sure he could modernize us well enough. I’d put Ime and Becky right up there with Thibs, Kenny, and Mike in my “Happy about any of em” top tier.

Alex: Pretending that I have any intricate idea about any of these candidates would be, well, pretentious. One thing that I’ve learned from the David Fizdale saga is that, no matter how good or bad a coach is, you’ll never find a single quote from around the league where a player or coach bashes one of their own. So there’s only so much that we can even glean from the various pieces being written about these fringe candidates.

That said, I think I’m on board with Ime Udoka. He has the flowery quotes from others around the league — which, again, that’s fine and dandy, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a candidate who didn’t have someone in the NBA willing to speak up and say that he or she was a qualified head coaching candidate. More importantly, I think Udoka has a clear progression to his career at this point, and success has followed him.

Udoka played the majority of his career in San Antonio, and following his last season in San Antonio in 2010-11 and a season overseas in 2012, he joined Gregg Popovich’s staff in the summer of 2012. Since then, he worked his way up Pop’s bench for a number of years, culminating with taking a job on Brett Brown’s staff (another Pop disciple) in Philadelphia this year as, essentially, their head defensive coach. The Sixers (as of now, pre-restart) managed to be 12th in the NBA in net rating and sixth in defensive rating, all while having their two stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons miss 21 and 11 games, respectively. That’s not too shabby.

Udoka, like any of the more green candidates on the list, will really need to prove himself in interviews. Most importantly, he’ll need to show that he has a solid and more modern approach to the offensive side of the ball, which has been something the Knicks have been missing since Mike Woodson accidentally stumbled into small ball in 2012-13. If he could prove that, I’d feel more than comfortable bringing him on. Plus, he’s a good recruiter! Udoka was apparently the swing vote to get LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs in 2015. I’m(e) on board with Ime.

MMiranda: Gimme Jerry Stackhouse. I know, I know: he hasn’t been linked to the Knicks, making him the only man in America with that distinction. As Alex noted, you’re only ever hear positive reviews of any and all coaching candidates from their boys around the Association, so I can’t be bothered giving a damn what anyone says about anyone. And I don’t know how to judge X’s and O’s off of a G-League or college roster — totally different contexts than the NBA. But I’ll take Stack for some of the same reasons enumerated in the review I wrote of him more than two years ago:

  • Pascal Siakam, Fred Van Vleet and Norman Powell all developed their games under Stackhouse when he coached the Raptors 905, Toronto’s G-League affiliate. Guess which team now has loads of young players in need of development?
  • Stack’s not afraid to let players fail, so long as it aids in their progress. In 2016 Lorenzo Brown scored 23 a game for the 905. He signed a two-year deal with the team, who promptly asked him to be more of a distributor. His scoring fell to 18 a night while his turnovers skyrocketed to 5+. Did the team give up on him? Nope. By year’s end Brown was the league MVP, averaging three times as many assists as turnovers. Kevin Knox is gonna have bad nights/bad weeks/bad months. Frank Ntilikina will, too. Let them work with someone who won’t break when they bend.
  • Despite his own successful career and pedigree — North Carolina star; third pick in the draft; two All-Star appearances — Stackhouse is not only comfortable working with non-top shelf talent, but objective enough to recognize Stackhouse the player’s game would not appeal to Stackhouse the coach.

“I probably wouldn’t like my game as a coach. Midrange twos...I tell guys, ‘All right, If it’s the shot clock and [a] guy runs you off and you gotta take a one-dribble pull-up, OK, do it. But otherwise, let’s try to get into the paint, pull another trigger, or find something else on the weakside, or just sidestep him and take the three...Guys who have efficient midrange games are always outliers.’”

That’s not a small deal. The ability to manage your own ego to the extent Stackhouse seems to have post-career shapes a perspective that can effectively manage all the ego games that make up so much of what NBA coaching requires.

  • The haters will note Stackhouse went just 11-21 last year, his first at Vanderbilt, and say, “Yo, Goober. Where’s the meat?” But dig deeper, Dig Dug. Stack took over a Commodores squad that won zero SEC games the year prior. In December the team’s best big, Clevon Brown, went down for the season with a knee injury. A month later the team’s best player, Aaron Nesmith, went down for the season with a foot injury. But Vandy kept on keeping on, and kept on improving. Listen to what Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said about them:

“There’s not one guy on their team that hasn’t improved since when we played them. I think that’s a sign of terrific coaching. Players that want to be coached. They made it hard on everybody they played.” If the Knicks are 25-40 late next year, only with a young cast that’s showing growth under Stackhouse, and Brad Stevens or Nick Nurse is saying similar things about Knox and Ntilikina and RJ Barrett and this year’s draft pick, I’m good.