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Top coaching candidates to replace David Fizdale in New York


Predicting who will replace David Fizdale as coach of the New York Knicks is a practically impossible task. The sheer number of variables at play here widens the candidate pool to include practically the entire NBA

Will the Knicks clean house in the front office? If so, who will replace Steve Mills and Scott Perry? How involved will James Dolan be in the search? Are the Knicks willing to hire a first-time coach, or will they insist on winning the headlines? 

In that sense, this isn't a list of the likeliest candidates to coach the Knicks moving forward. Rather, it is a listing of the obvious ones, the coaches that are either at the top of the free-agent market at the moment or have some specific fit to the Knicks over other teams. In truth, we are months away from knowing what the Knicks will even look for in a coach, but no matter who is running the search, these are some of the names that will likely be involved. 

Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson, the idea, is perhaps the most appealing candidate on this list. He played for the Knicks and is beloved enough by their fans to buy at least a few months of goodwill. He won 98 games in his two final seasons with the Golden State Warriors, and coached a team that wasn't even starting Draymond Green yet to be the No. 3 ranked defense in the 2013-14 campaign. Jackson is the perfect hire on paper. 

But Jackson, the coach, is far more problematic. There is ample evidence to suggest that his presence held the Warriors back by the end of his tenure. After all, Steve Kerr took a nearly identical roster to a championship in his first season at the helm. Jackson's mismanagement of Golden State's offense, in particular, was egregious. In his final season with the team, the Warriors were ranked 30th in basketball in total passes with 243.8 per game, per NBA.com. That's dead last. Reconciling his version of the Warriors with Kerr's is practically impossible. 

What's worse is that Jackson is known for being difficult to work with. Joe Lacob openly said that Jackson "couldn't get along with anybody else in the organization" after firing him. Several of his assistants were fired under suspicious circumstances. Coaches who take over lottery teams and reach the playoffs twice in a row are rarely fired. When one is, there is usually a good reason. In Jackson's case, there are several.

Dave Joerger

Dave Joerger couldn't have picked a better time to get fired. He became the first Sacramento Kings coach to reach 39 wins in a single season since Rick Adelman during the 2005-06 campaign. If any team in the NBA has been more dysfunctional than the Knicks in that span, it is the Kings. If Joerger could win there, perhaps he could be the coach to finally break through in New York. While they weren't together long, it's worth noting that GM Scott Perry spent three months in 2017 with the Kings before getting hired by the Knicks. 

Joerger lost his job with the Kings due to disagreements with the front office, as he notably squabbled with management over the best way to use No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley last season. Vlade Divac drafted Bagley, and wanted him featured in a more prominent way. Joerger, however, acted as coaches often act and emphasized winning games in the short-term over building a foundation for the future. 

The Knicks don't figure to win any time soon, and one of Fizdale's greatest sins as coach of the Knicks has been his management of young players. Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox haven't played enough. At times, R.J. Barrett played too much. If Joerger is willing to take a longer view and accept that player development is a major part of his job, then he'd be an interesting choice. 

Jeff Van Gundy

It's unclear how interested Jeff Van Gundy is in coaching in the NBA. He has been a serious candidate for only one job in recent years, the New Orleans Pelicans gig that went to Alvin Gentry, and it's entirely possible that he satisfies any coaching urges with Team USA. 

But like Jackson, Van Gundy would save the Knicks a few boos, and would likely shield the team from at least some criticism from broadcasters due simply to his popularity within his field. He is also the last truly successful Knicks coach, and has said himself that he regrets resigning from his post in 2001.  

Van Gundy hasn't coached an NBA team in 13 years. There's no telling how qualified he currently is to do so, but that has never stopped the Knicks in the past. If he is interested in a return, the Knicks would likely be open to considering one. 

Stan Van Gundy

While one Van Gundy has been out of the game for years, the other only just hit the open market fairly recently. Stan Van Gundy failed with the Detroit Pistons primarily because of his work as an executive. When given proper talent to work with, as he had with both the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, Van Gundy has proven himself to be a strong NBA coach. The Knicks may not have that talent, but no team goes into a rebuild assuming that they won't be able to find it. 

Van Gundy would likely depend on his brother for information about the Knicks job before taking it, as he was the rare Pat Riley disciple to have risen through the ranks without having spent time in the Knicks' organization. It's unclear what kind of review Jeff would give the Knicks, and even if it were a positive one, Stan infamously passed on the Golden State Warriors job that went to Steve Kerr in 2014. He isn't as hot a commodity as he once was, but he can be discerning if he wants to be. 

Becky Hammon

If nothing else, this is an interview that the Knicks absolutely need to conduct. Their reputation is horrendous across the board, but nowhere more so than in their treatment of women. The team was found liable for Isiah Thomas' sexual harassment of Anucha Browne Sanders in 2006, yet Dolan still hired Thomas to run his WNBA team, the New York Liberty, a decade later. Among the many goals of this coaching hire should be building goodwill, and interviewing Hammon in good faith would be a way of generating some. 

But putting PR aside, Hammon will be a head coach in the NBA one day. After the mass exodus of San Antonio Spurs assistants in recent years, there is reason to believe that she is among the favorites to replace Gregg Popovich when he one day retires from his post leading that team. She interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks job, and had Mike Budenholzer chosen to accept the Toronto Raptors' position, she may well have earned it. All indications suggest that she is qualified to lead an NBA team. So why not the Knicks? 

Actually a report indicates that Hammon has interest in the job if it comes with a long-term deal.

Mike D'Antoni

Yes, the odds of Mike D'Antoni ever working for James Dolan again are slim, and at the very least, it would probably take a new front office for D'Antoni to even consider returning to New York. But purely based on merit, D'Antoni is the best coach that figures to be available this offseason. 

His contract with the Houston Rockets is set to expire, and based on their front office's unilateral decision to fire most of his assistants, the Rockets don't exactly seem thrilled with the idea of keeping him. The last time D'Antoni feuded with a front office, it ended with him bolting for New York. It probably won't happen again, but if the Knicks are set on hiring the best coach they can find, D'Antoni is an option that should at least be explored. 

Rick Pitino

The longshot of all longshots. As maligned as Rick Pitino is for time with the Boston Celtics, he actually fared quite well during a brief tenure with the Knicks. He won 52 games during the 1988-89 season, and led an innovative offense in which his Knicks took 40 percent more 3-pointers per game than any other team in the NBA. 

Pitino is coaching in Greece now, but wants back into the NBA. He probably won't ever get that chance, but if there were a team crazy enough to hire him, it would almost certainly be the Knicks.