Phil Jackson has called on one of New York's own to gauge interest in guiding the team's rebuilding process from the sidelines. A source close to the situation told me on Monday that Jackson has reached out to former Golden State Warriors head coach and Knicks point guard Mark Jackson to discuss the Knicks head coaching position.
In what was termed a "generic initial discussion," the Knicks president is exploring several options and plans on interviewing more than a few candidates for the position including Mark Jackson, the former St. John's grad and 1987 Rookie of the Year. Mark Jackson currently is an analyst with ESPN.
I reached out to the Knicks for a comment, but they had not heard anything about this conversation.
It has been widely reported that Phil Jackson preferred to keep Kurt Rambis as head coach, but I'm told the process of filling the current vacancy is "still wide open," with Rambis also as a viable candidate.
"It's no secret [Phil Jackson] and Rambis are good friends," the source said. "He admires Kurt's work ethic."
Before sliding down the bench, Rambis posted a 32-132 record in two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, which followed a 24-13 stint as the Lakers' interim coach in the strike-shortened 1999 season, the same season the Knicks made a run to the NBA Finals.Phil Jackson is on record saying that Rambis is "capable" of handling the Knicks head coaching responsibilities, a comment that many have taken as a recommendation and sign that Rambis will be the man running the day-to-day going forward.
Phil Jackson tweeted out the characteristics of who his next hire will be early in February. Regardless of who ultimately gets the head coaching position, it's fair to say that Rambis could very well be part of the organization moving forward. The coaching hire is a major decision for Phil Jackson, who has failed on the first attempt in Derek Fisher. The two did not leave on the best of terms. One name to keep an eye out for, reported yesterday by Ian Begley of ESPN, is former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt, who I was told in February told Phil thinks very highly of in terms of basketball acumen.
Based on what I'm hearing I would put Blatt ahead of anyone including Walton and Thibs. #Knicks- Tommy Dee (@ThomasCDee) February 8, 2016
Other names of potential candidates are Tom Thibodeau, Luke Walton, Brian Shaw and Scott Brooks.
Knicks fans with links to the past would love to see Jackson hire Thibodeau, a defensive-minded specialist who was an assistant coach in New York under current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy from 1996-2004.
It's worth noting that Phil Jackson and Van Gundy had an adversarial relationship during the heated Knicks/Bulls rivalry of the 1990s.
It's interesting to hear Jackson reached out to the former Knicks point guard. Even the conversation itself is telling, because it's evidence that he isn't as married to only committing to someone with triangle experience, as many seem to believe.
Whether or not the former Warriors' coach is the best fit for this squad, however, is up for debate. That said, he knows how to handle New York, its fans, and the pressure that comes along with the task of guiding this team to a successful future. As far as his relationship(s) with Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks' more notable players goes, Jackson was well known (and subsequently praised) for getting along with Stephen Curry and Co. in Golden State. Players love him, which is a huge plus in his favor. After playing with teams like the Knicks and Pacers, Jackson also knows gritty defense and an even tougher mentality on the court leads to big time wins.
Phil Jackson may not be married to someone with triangle familiarity, but he still wants many of the system's fundamentals to be a part of the Knicks' future. One has to wonder how Mark Jackson would embrace that. Would he welcome having Kurt Rambis as an assistant, or would he consider that to be giving his boss too much of an extension of power through association? As coach, the former NBA guard would likely appreciate some leeway to go as he pleases. The Knicks' President hasn't proven he can provide that just yet.