Although Tom Thibodeau appears to be the favorite, Leon Rose is casting a wide net in his search for the next New York Knicks head coach.
David Fizdale‘s tenure with the New York Knicks ended in abrupt fashion. Following a players-only meeting and a solid practice, Knicks brass canned the charismatic coach and installed Mike Miller as the interim head coach. Fizdale wasn’t put in the best situation, but simply put, he didn’t win enough to keep his job.
And like they’ve done so many times since the year 2000, the Knicks are searching for a head coach, yet again. Tom Thibodeau emerged as an early favorite and still stands out as the likely choice, but team president Leon Rose is conducting a thorough process with as many as 11 candidates in the mix.
Becky Hammon is among the notable absences from this list and it’s unlikely she interviews according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. Still, even though Hammon won’t interview, there are a bunch of coaches with ties to Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs.
Tom Thibodeau (reported interview)
Kenny Atkinson (reported interview)
Mike Miller (reported interview)
Mike Woodson (reported interview)
Mike Brown (reported interview)
Ime Udoka (reported interview)
Pat Delany (reported interview)
Chris Fleming (reported interview)
Jamahl Mosley (reported interview)
Will Hardy (reported interview)
Jason Kidd (reported interview)
From the very beginning, Tom Thibodeau has been the leading candidate in this head coaching search. Despite the recent flurry of names linked to the Knicks, Thibodeau is still the heavy favorite to take over as bench boss next season. He has a good relationship with Rose, a history of success as a head coach, and familiarity with New York from his days as an assistant. Thibs is still the heavy favorite.
Don’t sleep on Mike Miller. After taking over for Fizdale, Miller led the Knicks to a respectable 17-27 record. They weren’t fantastic, but they took a major step forward under Miller with big wins against the Houston Rockets and Miami Heat.
Miller’s work with Mitchell Robinson over the 2019 summer was key in his ridiculously efficient 2019-20 season. Although Kevin Knox struggled to find his way, Frank Ntilikina and RJ Barrett both made strides under Miller.
If Rose wants to hire Thibodeau, it would make sense to retain Miller as his top assistant given his familiarity with the young core.
Ask a Brooklyn Nets fan about Kenny Atkinson and they will probably mention “player development” in the first sentence. The former Knicks assistant was the man in charge of a brutal rebuild in Brooklyn and he was largely given credit for the development of Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and Caris LeVert.
The Knicks have a young team and are stockpiled with draft picks for the next few years. Atkinson’s ability to build up young players seems like a natural fit with the current roster. Not to mention, the New York native was an assistant coach for the Knicks when Jeremy Lin turned the city upside down. Many credit Atkinson as the assistant to helped create “Linsanity.”
Udoka is going to be a head coach in the NBA sooner rather than later. He’s a rising star in the coaching ranks after spending seven years learning under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. The driven individual only left the Spurs because he wanted another “challenge.”
He’s a strong defensive mind who was put in charge of the Philadelphia 76ers’ defensive gameplans during the 2019-20 season. With the Spurs, he was tasked with offense and defense. The Knicks have a young group with two elite defenders — Mitchell Robinson and Frank Ntilikina.
If the Knicks want to go with a younger, up-and-coming coach, Udoka would be the defensive-minded answer.
Jamahl Mosley is another young coach who won’t be an assistant for much longer. A head coaching gig is coming his way eventually and his current boss, Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, seems to think he’s not long for Dallas.
“He’s a young man that’s worked extremely hard to build up his reputation as a great young coach, great communicator,” Carlisle said in an appearance on the Dennis and Cowlishaw Show on ESPN Dallas 103.3. “I don’t think he’s going to be with us much longer, honestly. Whether it’s the Knicks or somebody else, this guy is going to be a head coach sooner than later.”
Much like Udoka, Mosley is a defensive coordinator for his team. The phrase “defense wins championships” might not carry so much weight in today’s offensive-happy league, but a strong defensive unit is a good place to start that building towards a championship.
And of course, Mosley’s good relationship with Luka Doncic is something that people love to talk about as well.
Worthy, But Probably Not
Chris Fleming is another assistant who will probably have his chance to be a head coach one day, but he doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Knicks. Fleming was an assistant under Atkinson on the Nets before joining Jim Boylen and the Chicago Bulls last season.
By all accounts, Fleming is a talented coach with a lot to offer, but it’s hard to see the Knicks passing on Atkinson for one of his recent assistants.
There isn’t anything bad to say about Pat Delany, but it’s tough to see him emerging from this process as the next head coach of the Knicks. A longtime assistant of current Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford, Delany has been around the block long enough to warrant an interview.
But Delany made his bones in the league as a video coordinator and later an advanced scout with the Miami Heat. Learning from Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley sounds great in theory, but after the disastrous Fizdale tenure, the organization might be a little hesitant to dip back into that well.
Hardy is another San Antonio Spurs product. The 32-year-old is a lead assistant for Popovich and a potential replacement down the road. Again, he’s a young coach with a bright future, but it’s hard to see the Knicks going with someone so young when all the tea leaves pointing to the team valuing experience from guys like Thibodeau and Atkinson.
Should the Knicks want to go with a younger candidate, Udoka and Mosley are a bit more established.
Woodson was probably the best coach the Knicks have had in the last 20 years, but is he the guy who can lead this team into the future? Maybe he could be, but there are just better options on this list.
It’s unfortunate that Woodson falls into this category because he’s a great coach who had success in New York, but a re-tread hire would feel like the wrong move.
Thanks, But No Thanks
Jason Kidd has a history with the organization. He finished his playing career in New York before diving directly into coaching the Brooklyn Nets. His coaching record is a lukewarm 183-190 despite having serious talent on his teams. Kidd was never able to fully unlock Giannis Antetokounmpo’s potential.
Speaking of the Greek Freak, Kidd had a great relationship with the young star. Hiring him as a way of enticing Antetokounmpo to come to New York in free agency would be a potentially disastrous move.
Mike Brown is another successful coach, who has an NBA Finals appearance on his resumé, but he isn’t the guy the Knicks are looking for. If they want a playoff-tested, experienced coach, Thibs is the guy. If they decide to go another direction, it would seem likely that they’ll go with one of the up-and-comers.