DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 15: Head coach Mike Miller of the New York Knicks instructs his team as the play the Denver Nuggets in the first quarter at the Pepsi Center on December 15, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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With Tom Thibodeau as the presumptive favorite to coach the New York Knicks next season, who would be the best addition to his staff?

Danny Small

Who is going to be on the bench for the New York Knicks next season? Obviously, hiring a head coach is the priority, but putting together a strong group of assistants can help propel a team forward in a way that is difficult to quantify.

Although this coaching search is taking a bit longer than most expected, Tom Thibodeau is still the favorite to land the gig. SNY’s Ian Begley reports that the Knicks plan to continue vetting candidates into next week. Team president Leon Rose appears to be in no rush to make his decision.

Despite the slow process, the smart money is still on Thibs. If the long-expected hire finally happens, the next question is who will he bring along as assistants? Perhaps the better question is who will Thibs and the front office decide to hire together?

According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Thibodeau is open to the idea of collaboration with the front office. Berman also notes that Mike Miller and Mike Woodson are two possible candidates rumored to flank Thibodeau on the MSG sidelines.

Although Kenny Atkinson could still pursue a head coaching job somewhere else, it’s not crazy to imagine a world where he winds up taking a lead assistant role with the Knicks. The Long Island native and former Brooklyn Nets coach could stay home and wait for the right job to open up. Crazier things have happened.

Despite the exhaustive list of coaches vying for the Knicks’ job, these three are the most likely to sign up to be a part of Tom Thibodeau’s staff. All three are former Knicks assistants and Atkinson is the only one who hasn’t been the head coach (interim in Miller’s case). Here’s how they stack up.

Mike Miller

Miller took over the Knicks after the team ousted David Fizdale. The basketball junkie took over during a tumultuous time in the organization and did as well a job as anyone could expect. The Knicks were 4-18 when he took over and Miller led the team to a 17-27 record as interim head coach.

Were the Knicks outstanding with Miller as the coach? No, but they were much better. Not to mention, Miller took plenty of bullets from the media while the front office remained in the shadows for much of the season.

But all that aside, Miller can be an invaluable addition to Thibodeau’s staff for his familiarity with the young guys on the roster. Miller developed a strong bond with Mitchell Robinson over the 2019 summer and the work they put in together didn’t go unnoticed. Robinson’s rise from a solid second-round pick to a potential franchise cornerstone.

Miller is respected in the locker room and can help ease the transition between the laissez-faire style of Fizdale and Thibodeau’s approach to coaching.

Mike Woodson

What Woodson might lack in familiarity with the Knicks’ current roster, he makes up for in NBA experience. We all know Woodson was in charge during the team’s last run to the playoffs. He has spent nine seasons as a head coach and even longer as an assistant.

Almost 25 years of experience in The Association can’t go unnoticed. Woody latched on with Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers following his exodus from New York when Phil Jackson took the reins of the franchise. Spending the last few years on staff with one of the best coaches in basketball is a good sign. Woodson is a pro’s pro when it comes to NBA coaches.

Kenny Atkinson

This would be Atkinson’s second stint as a Knicks assistant. His first time around was crucial in establishing his credentials as a player development “guru.” It’s been said and covered a million times, but Atkinson worked closely with Jeremy Lin during Linsanity and he’s credited with helping the point guard unlock a level of play no one believed he was capable of.

Atkinson’s development chops were on full display in Brooklyn as well. Although there were a few lean years, he helped guys like Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, and D’Angelo Russell take their games to the next level.

The Knicks need an assistant who can whip the guards into shape. There’s no doubt Atkinson can do that and if he’s looking to wait on the right opportunity to come up, a top spot on Thibodeau’s staff would make sense.

Final Thoughts

In truth, any of these guys would make great assistants for Thibs. Woody’s experience, Atkinson’s reputation for player development, and Miller’s connections to the current roster are all valuable. In a perfect Knicks world, all three would sign up for a spot on the bench.

Nonetheless, it’s unlikely all three come to New York to be assistants. Of these three, Miller is the one who is best cut out for the gig. Plus, there is a connection between the two from their previous work with USA basketball.

His familiarity with the current group of young guys would help facilitate a seamless transition for Thibs and the players. Continuity matters in the NBA and keeping Miller in the fold would help stabilize the franchise during these unprecedented times.

And of course, Miller can give Thibs some pointers on how to deal with the intense New York media.

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