Who Will Be the Next Knicks Coach? Leon Rose Gives Us Clues
For a change, the New York Knicks are doing their due diligence, casting a wide net in the team’s search for a new head coach.
When pressed for insight on the subject by Mike Breen during new team president Leon Rose’s first public appearance, the former agent-turned-executive kept his cards close to his chest. He didn’t name any candidates, but he may have left some clues.
“We want to find the right leader that can develop our young players, as well as hold everyone accountable and take us from development to becoming a perennial winner,” Rose said. “We also want somebody that we think will be collaborative with the front office. Someone that when you’re in that huddle, you’re looking in that coach’s eyes, every player that’s looking at him knows that person is driving the ship and going to get the job done.”
Rose is setting a pretty high bar here, and is considering as many as eleven candidates for the job. It will be hard for any one person to check all of the boxes on New York’s wishlist. Let’s break down a few of the most promising possibilities.
Ime Udoka should without a doubt be considered a top-choice in deciding the next Knicks head coach. Udoka appears ready to lead after spending seven seasons of apprenticeship under Gregg Popovich. San Antonio is known for its player accountability.
Like Rose, Udoka is a relationship-builder, and he has been involved in player development with both the Spurs and the Sixers. Udoka was an assistant coach with the 2014 Championship team in San Antonio, and has been through a number of playoff runs. The only thing lacking in his resume is a head coaching experience.
Chris Fleming is the lead assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls, and served the team quite well. Impressively, he has served as a head coach, albeit outside of the NBA.
Fleming won four championships in the German National League, won Coach of the Year in 2011, and coached a national team that featured Dirk Nowitzki and Dennis Schroder. A college teammate of Kenny Atkinson, Fleming also worked as his offensive coordinator with the Brooklyn Nets before becoming Jim Boylen’s lead assistant in Chicago. As such, Fleming could land in New York even if he isn’t hired to be the Knicks head coach.
Will Hardy is another Popovich disciple who should earn real consideration. The 32-year old has impressed in San Antonio since joining the team in 2013.
Hardy is often considered among coaching circles as a possible successor of Popovich once he retires. If he is also passed over as Knicks head coach, Hardy could also end up in New York considering his relationship with Udoka and Fleming as the trio once worked together coaching the Spurs’ summer league teams.
Jamahl Mosley, the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Mavericks, is also on New York’s radar. And for good reason.
Mosley was an assistant for Coach Popovich’s during Team USA minicamp in 2018. Likewise, he’s had stints with the Nuggets and Cavaliers before landing with the Mavs. He serves as Rick Carlisle’s top deputy, playing an important role in Luka Doncic’s rapid rise in the NBA.
It’s entirely possible Rose and the Knicks prefer established coaching talent and experience. New York still has plenty of candidates for its vacant head coach position if that’s the case.
Tom Thibodeau is still rumored to be the frontrunner due to his close ties with Rose, as well as William “World Wide Wes” Wesley, the Knicks’ new executive Vice President and senior advisor. Thibs could be the “collaborative coach” Rose is eyeing.
Thibodeau’s player development has been underrated, but his body of work in Chicago with Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson says a lot. He’s built perennial playoff teams in both Chicago and Minnesota. Thibs’ messy divorce with the Timberwolves and seemingly out-dated sensibilities could earn pause from New York, though.
Kenny Atkinson has been tied to the Knicks ever since he and the Nets parted ways this season. A former CAA client, Atkinson might have lost the locker room this season in Brooklyn, albeit at the hands of some of the league’s most determined stars.
To Atkinson’s credit, he built a winning culture with the Nets prior to this season. He was able to develop unwanted players such as Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and D’Angelo Russell and led them to the playoffs in a short span of time. The Knicks could use a coach with a knack for player development.
Jason Kidd actually had buy-in from his superstar player, but still lost his job as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. While the suggestion that his ties with future free agent target Giannis Antetokounmpo is a bit of a stretch -- and a demerit on Kidd’s ability to coach -- his checkered past will always be brought up.
Kidd needs to show Rose and Co. that he’s matured as a coach and willing to be more collaborative. From there, he could very well be another great option for player development and buy-in.
Mike Woodson, also represented by CAA, has a strong case to return as Knicks coach. He’s the only coach in the franchise’s last 20 years that has led the team to the playoffs, and his offensive schemes are perfect for today’s game.
That said, Woodson’s success as a coach in New York and Atlanta largely relied on established, veteran talent. That much can not be guaranteed for the immediate future in New York.
Mike Brown has also been tied to the Knicks, and unfortunately his resume is also lacking success without star talent. That said, his first-hand experience in helping build the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty as Steve Kerr’s top deputy could be his trump card.
Rose seems methodical in his approach to team building. As such, looking for a coach with championship experience could be a bridge too far.
Interim coach Mike Miller certainly deserves a consideration. He made quite an impression on Rose after making the most out of his brief time coaching the team. But it’s still a small sample size. The Knicks could have given him next season outright as a chance to prove himself but once Rose announced their coaching search, the writing was on the wall. He will probably slide back to being an assistant coach.
“It was a short period of time but what I witnessed before I was here and what I saw being around Mike Miller— first class. He Did a great job in a very difficult situation,” Rose said. “And we’re so appreciative of that.”
Rose maintained he’s looking forward to the hiring process:
“For me personally, this is educational. And I need to make sure we go through this process and we dot every i and cross every t in order to make the right decision,” Rose said.
Connecting those dots and reading between the lines, it seems that the first-time executive wants an accomplished mentor who can command respect, a veteran voice that could demand accountability in the locker room.
Udoka or Fleming have a puncher’s chance to land the job but unless they sweep Rose off his feet during the interview, this is going to be a four-cornered fight among Thibodeau, Atkinson, Woodson and Kidd.
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