Excitement Abounds

It's great that the Knicks suddenly have a lot of buzzy names attached to their coaching search...as long as they temper their expectations.
Publish date:

In 2018, the Knicks hired a head coach who came up in one of the NBA's model organizations, had great relationships with superstar players, and got a raw deal at his last stop. Everyone was excited.

In 2016, the Knicks hired a head coach who barely finished second to Gregg Popovich in the Coach of the Year voting three years prior but was undone by an inept franchise that couldn't manage its assets. He also wasn't Kurt Rambis, so everyone was excited.

In 2014, the Knicks hired someone who seemed destined for coaching stardom since before his playing days were over and had unique expertise in the system that his former coach - New York's new President of Basketball Ops - won eleven titles employing. So of course everyone was excited.

In 2008, the Knicks hired the man who won Coach of the Year honors four years prior after he revolutionized offensive basketball and came thisclose to a title in the process. Everyone was delirious.

In 2005, the Knicks hired maybe the most highly respected basketball coach in the sport - someone who had succeeded at literally every one of his nine previous NBA and ABA coaching stops - and everyone was excited.

In 2004, the Knicks hired the man with more wins as an NBA coach than anyone else in history. How could anyone not be excited about that?

And before all of that, from 1996 to 2001, the Knicks employed a man who no one was ever very excited about, and watched as he guided them to winning season after winning season before getting into one of the last lifeboats departing the Titanic...with a 10-9 record still intact.

Along with Mike Woodson - another coach no one was ever particularly excited about - Jeff Van Gundy remains the only man to depart New York with a winning record in the last 25 years. Before he took over the full time job and guided the team to eight playoff series victories in six seasons, no one knew much about him. Pre-internet, most assistant coaches were unknowns, but even amongst the nameless, he was as anonymous as they came.

The joke about the Knicks always trying to win the press conference probably originates from its coaching hires, and there have been several since Van Gundy's departure, all of which gave people plenty of reasons to talk themselves into a beautiful new day for the organization. 

Over the last two weeks, following months of reporting which seemed to indicate this was a two-man race where one candidate had a sizable lead out of the gate, we heard of several additional names to add to the stable of possibilities. This time, the excitement came from the fact that finally, after all these years, the Knicks were barking up the Spurs coaching tree. 

Apparently pillaging Marcus Morris was only the beginning.

Will Hardy, currently on the Spurs staff, will get an interview. Becky Hammon may get one too. Ime Udoka, a longtime Pop assistant, will get a look, as will Chris Fleming, who coached under Kenny Atkinson, who coached under Mike Budenholzer, who spent nearly two decades coaching under Popovich. You can even add another branch for Mike Brown, who was on the San Antonio bench from 2000 to 2003, and Jamahl Mosley, who coached under Brown in Cleveland.

That's more than half the candidates, and with the exception of Brown, the bevy of names has most folks fairly excited. The Spurs are the gold standard, and getting a piece of what they have seems like opening up a golden ticket.

But gold standards are also the hardest ones to emulate, and just like the Bill Belichick coaching tree in football has a whole lot of dead branches lying beside it, save for Budenholzer, Pop's offshoots still have a lot to prove.

Brett Brown, James Borrego, Monty Williams, Jim Boylan, Jacque Vaughn , Vinny Del Negro, Avery Johnson and the aforementioned Mike Brown are all considered Pop disciples, yet none are what anyone would consider unabashed success stories. Meanwhile, Kenny Atkinson has been the top choice for a lot of fans heading into this week, but he brings with him just a .383 career winning percentage.

And then there is the man who has gone from the predictably boring choice to the exciting-if-you-squinted-a-bit choice, and is now back to being old hat.

Tom Thibodeau has the 13th highest winning percentage in NBA history among the 70 coaches with 300 or more wins. Among current head men, only Steve Kerr, Billy Donovan, Erik Spoelstra and Pop himself are higher on the list. Player after player have come out over the last several months to counterbalance the narrative that he no longer has what it takes to be successful. He is there for the hiring.

Whether Leon Rose tabs his buddy for the job or not is anyone's guess, and regardless of which way he turns, there will be a segment of people excited at the result, because that is what we do.

Just remember: until the ball tips and the games start, no one knows a blessed thing.

Regardless of what we talk ourselves into.