These coaches could have done fine work for the New York Knicks if they had just been given a proper chance.
This is a weird time for New York Knicks fans.
The NBA season is currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, but New York wasn’t making the playoffs anyway. In fact, the 2019-20 season, for the most part, finally showed just how out of touch the Knicks organization is. As we wait for play to resume, fans are instead remembering better times.
And better times are coming soon. New team president Leon Rose will, at some point, hire a new head coach. Once official, the new hire will be the Knicks’ 13th coach since 2000.
Which got this writer thinking. Throughout their history, the Knicks have been guilty of firing coaches early more than once. In some cases, letting these men go was just plain unfair. How is a coach supposed to succeed if he isn’t given proper time to do his job well?
More importantly, no sports being on TV makes us appreciate our favorite teams’ histories even more. Thus, in the spirit of that, let’s take a look at some New York Knicks coaches who deserved some more time on the job.
No. 5: David Fizdale
Record: 21-83, 2018-2019
We’re kicking off with a familiar face, as David Fizdale was fired just a few months ago. He was hired in 2018 to replace the outgoing Jeff Hornacek. Though the Memphis Grizzlies fired him after less than two years, Fizdale’s reputation preceded him. A strong communicator and developer, Fizdale tanked to a 17-65 season in his first year.
Except, there was a problem. In Fizdale’s first offseason, management went all-in on signing one or both of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in free agency. Both signed with the rival Brooklyn Nets and the Knicks settled for a consolation prize: Julius Randle and some role players. Cut to the Knicks starting off 4-18, and Fizdale was fired.
Granted, Fizdale didn’t do himself any favors when he didn’t open up his offense. New York’s offense has redefined inconsistent even under interim coach Mike Miller. Still, given how former president Steve Mills has been fired since, it makes one wonder what Fizdale could have done working under more competent leadership.
No. 4: Stu Jackson
Record: 52-45, 1989-1990
When the New York Knicks hired him in 1989, Stu Jackson was the new kid on the block; the big kahuna; the man who would be king. He was a babyfaced 33-year-old who served as an assistant under his predecessor, Rick Pitino, at Providence. Given Pitino rapidly improved the Knicks before leaving for Kentucky, similar results were expected.
Jackson’s Knicks did indeed win 45 games in the 1989-90 season before losing in the East Semifinals. Still, the Knicks were set up front with Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley, and Mark Jackson ran the point well.
Unfortunately, the Knicks stumbled to a 7-8 start the following year and Jackson became the victim of impatient management. He was replaced with veteran NBA coach John MacLeod, who finished out the year before New York hired Pat Riley.
Jackson, meanwhile, went on to coach Wisconsin for two years before the then-Vancouver Grizzlies hired him as GM. He could have been a fine coach for the Knicks, but management just wanted more immediate results.
No. 3: Mike Woodson
Record: 109-79, 2012-2014
Just how Vince McMahon screwed Bret Hart, the New York Knicks screwed Mike Woodson. Here is a man whose record as a coach literally speaks for itself. He was hired by the Atlanta Hawks in 2004 and won 13 games. Three years later, he had developed the team into a regular playoff contender.
Atlanta ultimately decided to move on from Woodson, and he joined the Knicks as an assistant on coach Mike D’Antoni’s staff. D’Antoni then fell out with Carmelo Anthony, resigned in 2013, and Woodson took over.
The results were immediate. Woodson adjusted the offense around Anthony, and the 18-24 Knicks went 18-6 the rest of the way. The following year, New York won 54 games under Woodson and advanced past the first round in the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
But somehow, the wheels fell off in the 2013-14 season for several reasons. The Knicks stumbled to a 3-13 start and never recovered, and Woodson was let go along with his staff. Maybe he overachieved. Perhaps he just lost the team at some point.
Either way, Woodson’s Knicks tenure was the worst kind of tease. At a minimum, he deserved one more season.
No. 2: Lenny Wilkens
Record: 40-41, 2004-2005
New York Knicks fans had every reason to be excited for the Lenny Wilkens hire. General manager Isiah Thomas had just traded for high-scoring point guard and Brooklyn native Stephon Marbury and Don Chaney was finally relieved of head coaching duties.
Wilkens, at the time, was the winningest coach in NBA history and in the Hall of Fame as both a coach and player. He led the Seattle Supersonics to a championship in 1979. He had coached five different teams and had a knack for improving teams in need.
And sure enough, the Knicks initially improved under Wilkens. Marbury led the offense as the Knicks went 23-19 once Wilkens took over and New York made the playoffs. The Nets eliminated them in the first round, but there was still hope for the future.
Or so everyone thought. The honeymoon between Wilkens and Marbury was short-lived and the two feuded almost from the get-go in 2004-05. The Knicks stumbled to a 17-22 record before Wilkens resigned and told Thomas, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
Maybe Marbury was a head case, or maybe Wilkens had just aged himself out of the game at that point. Either way, the Knicks had a great opportunity to win under an equally great coaching mind, and the opportunity was wasted.
No. 1: Larry Brown
Record: 23-59, 2004-05 season
Every New York Knicks fan worth their weight in gold should still be mad about how Larry Brown was treated. Here is a man who, wherever he went, touched a struggling team and turned it to gold. He was practically basketball’s version of King Midas.
Brown had not only coached eight different NBA teams to success, but was also a prominent college coach. He led Kansas to a national title in 1988, and won his sole NBA championship ring with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. Less than two months later, the Brooklyn native inked a five-year deal with the Knicks worth between $50 and $60 million.
Though a great hire on paper, Brown ran into trouble from the start. His conservative, defense-oriented approach didn’t sit well with the score-first Marbury. The two constantly argued throughout the season, each unwilling to bend to the other’s will. Management, in this case Isiah Thomas, sided with Marbury and Brown was fired after going 23-59 in his only season. Thomas then took over as coach.
Simply put, the Knicks were Joffrey Baratheon and Larry Brown was Ned Stark. He could have been great at his job, but the people in charge just wouldn’t let him. Even worse, Brown’s remaining salary was kept from him and he sued the Knicks. He was ultimately paid $18.5 million and later coached the Charlotte Bobcats before returning to the college ranks at Southern Methodist.
Brown could have been great in New York. Truly. He wasn’t even given a chance to remold the Knicks in his image because of Marbury’s attitude. His being a New Yorker only added to the insult and injury.
And all because Brown, as he says in the above video, wasn’t allowed to do his job.