The next Knicks coach should be a long-term hire

JAIME C. HARRIS | 4/20/2018, 10:48 a.m.
Since 2001, the Knicks have had 11 men hold the title of head coach—a few of them tenuously. None moved ...
Mark Jackson Contributed

Since 2001, the Knicks have had 11 men hold the title of head coach—a few of them tenuously. None moved the franchise beyond the second round of the playoffs. Conversely, during the same span, the San Antonio Spurs have had one, Gregg Popovich, who became the team’s head coach in 1996 and has won five NBA championships.

The Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek last Thursday at 2 a.m., a few hours after their final game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was informed of his termination by Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry. Horancek, who was hired by Mills’ predecessor, Phil Jackson, had one year remaining on a three-year, $15 million contract. He went 60-104 over the past two seasons, a record commensurate with the talent, or lack thereof, Hornacek was charged with leading.

More than the Knicks’ list of coaching candidates, which includes fan favorite Mark Jackson, Mills and Perry should be under intense scrutiny as the franchise’s next head coach, barring extenuating circumstances, should be entrenched in the position well into the next decade.

It is the combination of Mills and Perry that will have a profoundly deeper impact on the trajectory of the franchise over the next few seasons than the man occupying the primary seat on the team’s bench as they will be supplying him with the requisite players to succeed.

“Today’s players are very different from yesterday’s players,” said Mills last Thursday at the Knicks’ practice facility in Greenburgh. “So you have to be a person that understands who these guys are, where they come from, what their basketball journey is…Understand the complexity of today’s NBA game from an analytic standpoint, from a physical development standpoint, from a player development standpoint. A good coach is willing to embrace all those things.”

Similarly, good presidents and general managers think outside the box and take calculated risks. They demonstrate fearlessness in not being influenced by fans or the cacophony of media—even in expansive and intense markets such as New York City—in making critical decisions.

“[Knicks owner James Dolan] has given us the room to be patient, which is not something that’s been common in this organization,” explained Mills. “All we can ask is for fans to look at the plan we laid out last year and we are going to be consistent with. Judge us on that.”

If those word are a statement of fact, then perhaps Mills and Perry will model Danny Ainge, the Boston Celtics’ general manager and president of basketball operations, and explore the possibility of luring Villanova’s coach Jay Wright, who earlier this month won his second NCAA championship in the past three years.

In 2013, Ainge shocked the basketball world by hiring Butler University’s Brad Stevens to replace Doc Rivers as the Celtics’ head coach. Many viewed the move as highly suspect and foolishly radical. Yet five years later, Stevens, now 41, is widely considered one of the best and most progressive coaches in the sport.

At 56, Wright is only three years older than the 53-year-old native New Yorker Jackson and 10 years younger than the Houston Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni, who will turn 67 next month.

With a plethora of unknowns facing them, Mills and Perry have many options but little room for error.