Months ago the Knicks had justifiable basis to fire head coach Mike Woodson. His rotation decisions often stood directly in the way of New York's basketball efforts. His strategic calls were of particular disadvantage to his roster, as there was a surprising lack of synergy between personnel and approach. By and large, Woodson did (and has done) little to facilitate his players' success and actively contributed to their failures -- a combination that would have spelled the end for a number of NBA coaches.
It might, too, for Woodson, provided the Knicks follow through on their telegraphed intent to shake things up in the offseason. It's in that regard that Phil Jackson's arrival as president of basketball operations shifts the framing of the Woodson conversation entirely. There's no reason for allegiance between Jackson and Woodson; the former wasn't responsible for Woodson's hiring, the latter has played such a prominent role in New York's disappointing season, and the two have never shared any kind of working relationship previously. Should Jackson have as much power within the Knicks organization as has been claimed in press conferences and the like, a coaching change seems inevitable.
The ensuing search for potential Woodson replacements would undoubtedly feature rumor of the glitziest names available, as is Knicks custom. But Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today contextualized the place of two particular candidates within the race for the Knicks job as New York's season inches toward its close:
If indeed TNT analyst and former NBA guard Steve Kerr, who played for three of Jackson's championship Bulls teams, wants to coach, he is the front-runner, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
But one other name to consider, if Kerr doesn't end up as coach: Derek Fisher, who could end up with the Knicks either as a coach or front-office executive.
Broadly, the bit on Kerr is nothing new; his interest in becoming an NBA head coach had been reported elsewhere, and his link to Jackson and the Knicks made explicit therein. That Kerr is identified here as having a leg up on the job, though, is certainly noteworthy, though having an early lead on a job that isn't yet open isn't exactly decisive.
That Fisher's name comes up here is more surprising -- if only because his potential future as an NBA coach had only previously been discussed in hypothetical terms. Fisher is a favorite response when NBA types are asked which active players would make the best head coaches, though that vote of confidence is a few degrees removed from being seriously considered as a coaching option for the Knicks as soon as this summer. Still, Fisher -- like Kerr -- shares a relationship with Jackson after their many years together as point guard and coach, where Fisher excelled in exactly the offensive system that Jackson hopes to implement. That familiarity would be an advantage for Fisher and Kerr alike, as the process of teaching the triangle offense to a coach without practical experience in the system who then must teach that system to the Knicks players would be a bit of a logistical nightmare.
All of which is to say: If Jackson is serious and committed to making the Knicks a triangle team, it's only natural that names like Kerr and Fisher would pop up. Neither has experience at the head of an NBA bench, though what Jackson is reportedly looking for is so specialized that New York would have little choice but to dig deep. Among other qualities, Jackson will be looking for an individual who could lead, motivate, and maintain the offense that brought him 11 NBA titles. The list of plausible candidates who both meet those criteria and have established coaching résumés is incredibly short -- so much so that New York could welcome a first-time head coach as a follow-up to this season's massive disappointment.MANNIX: Big Board 5.0: How is NCAA tourney impacting NBA draft?