Ranking the top 5 head coaching candidates for the New York Knicks

AJ LaRocca
Dec 22, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; A view of the Knicks logo on a players jacket during the national anthem prior to the game against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks are in their yearly tradition of looking for a new head coach after cutting ties with David Fizdale back in December. That feels like an eternity ago, as it was a simpler time when the Knicks were still the biggest problem in New York and the world hadn’t totally fallen apart. There are a lot of names that have been linked to the vacancy, per usual, so with that being said let’s dive into the top five candidates who new president Leon Rose could hire as the 1,678,735th head coach of the New York Knickerbockers.

5. Jeff Van Gundy

The Knicks want to rekindle their old magic from the 1990s, which was the last time they were good for a substantial period of time. What better way to do that than to bring back their head coach during that era in Jeff Van Gundy?

This isn’t the first time Van Gundy has been rumored as a possibility to return to the Knicks bench, as he’s been linked to the job multiple times over the last few years. His seven-year tenure with the Knicks was fantastic, going 248-172 and making the Knicks one of the NBA’s elite during that time. He even helped the Knicks become the first 8th seed to make the Finals in 1999.

Even though Van Gundy hasn’t been in the league since he was fired by the Rockets in 2007, he’s been around the game constantly as an NBA broadcaster for ESPN and ABC. He also was the head coach of the USA team in the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup tournament, leading them to a gold medal and qualifying them for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Assuming there is no bad blood left between Van Gundy and the Knicks for the way things abruptly ended, the Knicks could consider their former head coach to try and lead them back to relevance once again.

4. Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson has also been linked to the Knicks coaching job for years now, and for good reason. The former Knicks point guard had a very successful and somewhat underrated run as head coach of the Warriors for three seasons before he was replaced by Steve Kerr. Jackson transformed the Warriors from a rebuilding team to a playoff team, amassing a 121-109 record over that span. He’s also widely credited with building and developing the foundations of the Warriors dynasty in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.

Since he was let go in 2014, Jackson has also continued to be around the game a great deal as an analyst alongside Van Gundy, so he’s been able to keep himself sharp as well. Jackson has had the opportunity to assess and stay on top of how the game has changed and grown since he last was a coach, so he shouldn’t have too many problems adjusting if he were to get the job.

Jackson also is a no-nonsense coach who players respect, which is a quality that should attract the Knicks. While he isn’t perfect and did have his flaws with the Warriors, which ultimately led to his firing, Jackson’s record and positive qualities should definitely earn him some serious consideration from the Knicks.

3. Tom Thibodeau

The former Bulls and Timberwolves coach has been one of the names most frequently linked to the Knicks job since Leon Rose was officially hired back in early March due to their close relationship.

Tom Thibodeau has been a very successful head coach, posting a 352-246 record over seven and a half seasons. He was especially successful during his tenure in Chicago, making the playoffs each of the 5 seasons he was there. They were even considered title favorites in 2011 before Derrick Rose, who was league MVP that year, tore his ACL. Thibodeau was Coach of the Year that season as well. In Minnesota, Thibodeau lasted only two and a half seasons but did manage to lead them to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years in 2017.

While Thibodeau is known for being a stout defensive mind, and his record speaks for itself, he also has a reputation for overworking his players and pushing them too hard at times. That’s part of the reason he’s currently unemployed, but Thibodeau, who is also a former Knicks assistant coach under Van Gundy, certainly has the qualifications to end up back in New York as the head coach, especially when you factor in the Leon Rose connection.

2. Mike Miller

The Knicks’ current interim head coach has a real chance to have the interim label removed and stay on as the man in charge. Mike Miller has done a very good job since taking over after Fizdale was fired, and the troubles that the pandemic has created might help Miller’s chances of sticking around for next year at the very least.

The Knicks sat at a putrid 4-18 when Fizdale got the boot, and Miller quickly made his mark with the team once he took over. When the NBA season got shutdown indefinitely he had led the Knicks to a 17-27 record in 44 games with him at the helm. He has demonstrated a good job of being able to connect with the players, and his player development skills proved to be strong during his years of coaching in the G-League. Let’s not forget he was the G-League Coach of the Year in 2018.

Miller’s Knicks have noticeably improved in important areas like offensive rating, defensive rating, and assist-to-turnover ratio. The fact that Miller has been able to get the most out of this flawed Knicks roster should speak volumes to Leon Rose and has without a doubt catapulted him from an afterthought to a serious contender for keeping the job beyond this season.

1. Kenny Atkinson

Kenny Atkinson and the Brooklyn Nets mutually agreeing to part ways back in March was no doubt a surprise, but it also served as a huge break for a rebuilding team like the New York Knicks.

Atkinson, also a former Knicks assistant under Mike D’Antoni, had a strong tenure in Brooklyn where he took the Nets from being a laughing stock to a playoff team over his four years there. He helped turn D’Angelo Russell into an All-Star, and developed guys like Caris Levert, Joe Harris, and Spencer Dinwiddie, who were all late-first to early-second round picks, into important players. He also helped build the kind of positive culture that convinced superstars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to reject the Knicks and join their crosstown rivals instead.

Atkinson isn’t a flawless coach, but his dismissal from Brooklyn seemed to be more of Irving and Durant wanting to bring in their own guy rather than anything Atkinson himself did wrong. In my eyes, he’s the perfect coach for the Knicks right now, who are a team in desperate need of a cultural overhaul and are equipped with cap flexibility, future draft assets, and a lot of young players in need of development. Atkinson’s familiarity with both the Knicks franchise and the New York market in general also serves as a huge bonus.

Atkinson would be a welcomed addition amongst Knicks fans, as he is a proven culture-building coach who can turn this franchise around just like he did with the team located on the other side of the East River.