Commentary

Replacing Isiah: Options abound in Knicks coach search

Originally Published: April 18, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Some coach is going to inherit the mess Isiah Thomas left behind. So who would be the best fit?

"If I could get the coach I wanted right away, then that would be great, but if it's going to take time, then I have to give it that time," Donnie Walsh, the new president of the New York Knicks said Friday as he announced Thomas' firing on a conference call.

"I know this: That by getting to this by today, Friday, we still have a good selection of people that are available out there. I will get calls. This is a coveted job, and people will want to coach here. So I'm going to get calls," Walsh said.

Let's take a look at some of the candidates whose names have been in circulation since Walsh, who said he has not yet formally contacted anyone about the job, took over from Thomas as team president:

Mark Jackson: The former point guard is a perfect candidate in many ways: He's a New Yorker, as brash and outspoken as they come, a guy who won't be afraid to bench Eddy Curry and tell the world he's keeping him there until the big fella drops 20 pounds and learns to lift his arms over his shoulders.

[+] EnlargeMark Jackson
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesOn Mark Jackson's résumé are 10,334 assists (No. 2 all-time) compiled over 17 seasons.

Jackson was loved by New Yorkers when he played for the Knicks and won rookie of the year honors in 1988; reviled by them in the mid '90s when he played for the hated Pacers and had the audacity to shimmy-shake on the Garden floor as the Pacers were pulling away for a key victory in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals; and respected by them for his insightful work in the broadcast booth alongside Marv Albert on the YES Network's telecasts of New Jersey Nets games. He has never been a head coach, but Walsh's goal of getting under the salary cap by 2010 would provide Jackson with two years of on-the-job training with expectations set deliberately low.

Herb Williams: He twice has held the job for which he'll likely get to interview again, and has a positive history with Walsh going back to the days when Williams was a star for the Pacers in the '80s.

But Williams, like Isiah, carries the baggage of being a face inextricably linked to the Knicks' dismal recent past. Williams is better than Thomas was at relating to and communicating with the players, and he could be kept aboard in some sort of bridge capacity … even if it isn't as a member of the new coach's staff.

"If we choose a new coach, usually they want their own staff. But I'll certainly present this [current] staff to whoever it is that has this job so they can be part of the mix of what he has to choose from," Walsh said.

Rick Carlisle: Die-hards among Knicks fans remember that Carlisle actually played 26 games for the Knicks in the 1987-88 season … the year Jackson was rookie of the year for a 38-win team that included coach Rick Pitino's failed Twin Towers alignment of Patrick Ewing and Bill Cartwright. (Also on that Knicks team was another future coach, Billy Donovan.)

Carlisle was on the Larry Bird side of the equation in the ever-evolving Bird-Walsh dynamic in Indiana, and it's unclear whether that might affect his chances. Another factor is whether Carlisle is courted harder by the Bucks and/or Bulls than by Walsh.

Scott Skiles: Would a two-year rebuilding project predicated on shedding big contracts truly appeal to Skiles, who already went through a long rebuilding process with the Bulls? Then there's the question of how he'd mix with Curry if the big fella isn't traded. Skiles, you'll remember, was asked once what Curry needed to do to be a better rebounder. "Jump" was the one-word reply from Skiles, who also had a less-than-perfect relationship with another current member of the Knicks, Jamal Crawford.

Jeff Van Gundy: Walsh supposedly has complete autonomy, but it's hard to imagine Knicks owner Jim Dolan stomaching the return of a coach who burned his bridges with Dolan when he resigned (Dolan always likes to use the word "quit") 19 games into the 2001-02 season.

"I haven't contacted anyone. I've had a couple guys reach out to me, but I told them that until we dealt with the coach that we have in place, I wasn't going to be dealing with them, and so far I haven't. But I will be compiling a list, and Jeff is certainly a legitimate guy to be on the list, that's for sure," Walsh said.

Tom Thibodeau: He signed only a one-year deal as an assistant coach with the Celtics, so he'll be a free agent when Boston's season ends. The defensive guru, whose success in Boston ironically might be keeping the Celtics' Doc Rivers from being considered a strong coach of the year candidate, was a longtime Van Gundy assistant and disciple who has come out from under that shadow this season. It's unknown whether Dolan still views him through a Van Gundy-tainted lens.

Paul Silas: Perhaps he and Del Harris will be in the mix as fallback candidates. Silas is especially intriguing as a long shot candidate because he could be put in place two years early as part of a plan to go after LeBron James on the free-agent market in 2010. Silas, you'll remember, was James' first coach in Cleveland, and James still likes and respects him tremendously.

If Walsh chooses to go younger, other current assistants and former NBA coaches who could enter the mix include Patrick Ewing, Terry Porter, Dwane Casey, Brian Shaw and Mario Elie, among others.

David Blatt: The longest of long shots, Blatt nonetheless is considered the best American coach overseas. The Russian national team coach was fired recently by Efes Pilsen in Turkey. Euroleague conspiracy theorists believe he'll soon replace Ettore Messina for CSKA Moscow, but it also should be noted that he was a college teammate of Madison Square Garden president Steve Mills'. Blatt told ESPN.com last summer that he was at a point in his career when he would want to come to the NBA only as a head coach, not as an assistant.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.

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