Oh the tangled webs we weave…
In the midst of the NBA preparing to enter what is quickly becoming the seventh circle of coronavirus hell and Kyrie Irving thinking of taking his ball and going right on home, a bunch of Knicks coaching news broke yesterday:
I reported three months ago that people with knowledge of the Knicks thinking felt that Thibs was a near lock to get the job. Since then, several outlets - the Athletic, the Daily News, and I’m sure a few more I’m forgetting - have reported some version of him it being his job to lose.
All the while, Ian Begley - who I trust more than anyone, including myself - has been more couched in his language regarding the Knicks and Thibs, saying repeatedly that “people with a vested interest in the coaching search,” as opposed to within the team itself, pegged Thibs as the frontrunner. It looks like he’s been wise to take a more measured approach.
Could all these interviews be an elaborate ruse, maybe a way to make a predetermined process look like due diligence? Or, as was the buzzword two years ago, simply be “intel gathering” by a curious front office? Anything is possible, but I’m not buying it, especially since the NBA has zero requirements when it comes to the interviewing process for any position within a team, including the coach.
My guess - and this is just a guess - is that the Knicks’ front office wants to start acting like a model organization, the first step towards which is an honest-to-goodness, open search. Will Thibs still get the job? Probably, if he still wants it (which by all indications, he does). But I’d take yesterday as a damn good sign that they’re keeping an open mind.
I didn’t have time to confirm this, but I’m fairly certain the Knicks are the only team in the NBA to have actively avoided the Greg Popovich coaching tree despite the fact that they’ve conducted…
…eighty-seven head coaching searches since Pop was first hired.
This never made a lick of sense, but seems to be on the verge of getting corrected in a big way. Both Udoka (2012-19) and Hammon (2014-present) are Popovich disciples, and Fleming spent time on the Spurs Summer League coaching staff in 2014 before eventually joining Jim Boylan - another Pop offshoot - with the Bulls. Even Darvin Ham, who Begley mentioned yesterday as a possible interview candidate, has followed Mike Budenholzer everywhere he’s gone since he left the Spurs bench in 2013.
The Pop Poplar currently has five branches in the league (Coach Bud in Milwaukee, Brett Brown in Philly, James Borrego in Charlotte, Monty Williams in Phoenix and Boylan in Chicago), and seven if you count Utah’s Quin Snyder and Memphis’ Taylor Jenkins, both of whom coached the Spurs G-League affiliate. While it is clearly no guarantee of success, that the Knicks are finally barking up this particular tree is a good sign nonetheless.
Of course, all of these candidates have New York connections of some kind…
Former Knicks assistant coach Mike Malone became the Denver head coach in 2015, where Chris Fleming spent one year as his assistant. Fleming then left for Brooklyn to join Kenny Atkinson, who himself was a Knicks assistant from 2008 to 2012. Fleming really made his bones in Europe though, winning a slew of titles while coaching the non-Jersey Shore-affiliated Brose Baskets club in Germany. He won the German League Coach of the Year in 2011.
Fun Fact: When Fleming coached Brose to the league title in 2012, their Finals MVP that year was an undersized NBA washout by the name of PJ Tucker.
Delaney was apparently close to leaving the Hornets staff to join David Fizdale in New York two years ago before changing course and following Steve Clifford from Charlotte to Orlando. With the Hornets, Delaney was on the same staff as Patrick Ewing for three seasons. Clifford, meanwhile, started his career as a Knick assistant under Jeff Van Gundy, eventually following JVG to Houston before working under Jeff’s brother Stan in Orlando for several seasons.
Fun Fact: Like Fizdale, Delaney was once a video intern for the Miami Heat. Let’s not hold this against him.
Ukoda had a cup of coffee with the Knicks during the 2005-06 season, appearing in eight games and averaging a robust 2.8 points. He spent more time on the Spurs than any NBA team, so it’s unsurprising that he landed there as an assistant after his playing days were over.
He has been a buzzy name in coaching interviews for a while now, and is considered the frontrunner to land the Bulls job should that open up.
Fun Fact: Udoka has been with actress Nia Long, who is from Brooklyn, for a decade now. She will somehow turn 50 years old this year. Shoot me.
The all time WNBA assist leader started her career with the New York Liberty. She also interviewed for the Bucks GM job three years ago.
Fun Fact: I would sell my soul for the Knicks to hire Becky Hammon as their next head coach.
Look, I get it. Asking a first-time head coach who would be breaking arguably the single greatest barrier in sports since Jackie Robinson 73 years ago to come into this media market and resurrect what has been the most dysfunctional organization in the league for two decades and counting is a big request.
I think she can do it. Maybe this is the kid who was raised by a mom who outworked, outsmarted and out-hustled any man I’ve ever known talking, but I’m of the belief that women have to be twice as good and work twice as hard to succeed in a man’s world, and professional sports as is much of an old boy’s club as we have left.
That Hammon has elevated her career to this point is all the evidence I need to know that no challenge is too great for her. I hope the Knicks give her a real shot, and just as importantly, that she would consider taking the job.
As far as a timeline, keep in mind that Udoka, Delaney, Hammon and Ham are all going to be reporting to Florida soon, assuming the state doesn’t burst into flames in the next week or so. Newsday’s Steve Popper mentioned yesterday that the process would likely wrap up by the end of July, but if I had a bet to place, I would place my chip on a much quicker date, especially considering the whole virtual aspect of it all.
Either way, it should be fun.
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