The Knicks decided to descend into chaos earlier than usual this season.
Following the team’s 129-92 home loss to the Nuggets on Thursday, the Knicks finally fired coach David Fizdale after weeks of speculation about his job security, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. New York also dismissed assistant coach Keith Smart, per Wojnarowski.
Fizdale finishes his tenure in New York with a 21-83 record and deserves a portion of the blame, but he is hardly the only reason why this organization is floundering with no direction. The Knicks have employed six different head coaches this decade, and they are on pace to miss the playoffs for a seventh straight season. The lack of success always starts at the top with owner James Dolan.
President Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and Dolan needed a fall guy, though, so Fizdale was shown the door. Who could take his seat at Madison Square Garden?
Mike Miller and Pat Sullivan (interim coach)
In the short-term, Miller and Sullivan are the top candidates on the current staff to finish out the 2019-20 season, according to Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne. It’s unclear if either Miller or Sullivan will be given a chance to earn the job on a permanent basis.
Miller coached the Westchester Knicks in the G League from 2015 through last season before serving under Fizdale. Sullivan has been an NBA assistant for several years, most notably winning a championship as a member of the 2003-04 Pistons staff.
UPDATE: Miller will take over as the interim head coach, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
The former Warriors coach was considered a top candidate after the Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek in 2018. Jackson played 500 games at point guard for the Knicks over the course of a 17-year NBA career, so there is familiarity with the New York fan base.
Jackson helped turn around Golden State and establish a defensive identity, but the Warriors didn’t emerge as a juggernaut until Steve Kerr took over and revamped the offense. Jackson did earn the respect of his players, which will be important as the Knicks attempt to develop youngsters like RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson. However, there are concerns about his ability to build relationships outside of the locker room.
“Part of it was that he couldn’t get along with anybody else in the organization,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob said about the decision to fire Jackson. “And look, he did a great job, and I’ll always compliment him in many respects, but you can’t have 200 people in the organization not like you.”
Stackhouse was also in the running for the job before the Knicks hired Fizdale in 2018. The two-time All-Star shooting guard got some head-coaching experience with Raptors 905 of the G League, and that eventually opened the door for him to become the men’s basketball coach at Vanderbilt.
It may not be a realistic pairing considering Stackhouse signed a long-term deal with Vanderbilt back in April and declared he was ready to “anchor down,” but the Knicks would be wise to at least gauge his interest.
Yes, Blatt became a punching bag with the LeBron James-led Cavs despite a trip to the NBA Finals in 2015 and a 30-11 record before his firing in 2016. The jokes about Blatt’s tenure in Cleveland conveniently ignore the fact that he was brought in to coach for a franchise in the middle of a rebuild prior to James’ decision to come home, not one with championship aspirations. The Knicks definitely fit into the former category.
Blatt could earn a call because of his relationship with Mills, who played with Blatt at Princeton from 1978-1981.
“Steve has tried to hire Blatt twice,” one Knicks source told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News in 2018. “He really likes him as a coach. The question is will Steve hire him now? If it’s Blatt, that’s Steve’s choice. I don’t know if he’d want to put himself out there.”
The biggest hurdle here is Blatt’s health status. He stepped down as coach of Greek club Olympiakos in October two months after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He initially planned to continue coaching, but it would be completely understandable if the 60-year-old chooses retirement rather than the stress that comes with this position.
The TNT analyst is way behind other targets in terms of coaching experience, but Smith confirmed that he did interview for the Knicks’ job in 2018. He is clearly intrigued by the idea of being an NBA coach.
“The 18 years that I’ve been on TNT have prepared me for a lot of opportunities, and coaching being one of them,” Smith said on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “The preparation and the reservoir of information, relationships, from players to everything. Players to coaches to assistant coaches, from being in college basketball, doing the Final Four, AAU teams — every element I’ve covered has kind of prepared me for more direction… Coaching is definitely on the aspiration list.”
This isn’t a ready-made winner falling in Smith’s lap, so he would really have to consider if he is prepared to leave one of the best gigs in basketball. He shouldn’t be at the top of New York’s list, but don’t be surprised if he lands another interview.