The Knicks lost again and they didn’t even play a game.
Well, actually, they did. They were the favorites to land Steve Kerr as coach and they lost that chess match to the Warriors. Golden State offered Steph Curry instead of Carmelo Anthony, the chance to work in a more forgiving atmosphere, the opportunity to stay on the West Coast where he has a home, and above all, better odds of winning next year than the Knicks.
It was more than enough to pry Kerr from the arms of Phil Jackson, which goes to show the $12 million-a-year general manager’s name and reputation can only help so much. Losing Kerr after a long romance can only be seen as a failure for Jackson, who coached Kerr with the Bulls. Remember, Jackson’s big selling point and the reason he got him the GM job without having any prior experience was his magnetism. Those 13 rings he won as a coach and a player were supposed to hypnotize and seduce big-name coaches and free agents.
Well, he struck out with Kerr and it makes you wonder if he’ll do the same with Anthony, who becomes a free agent in two months and will be chased by the Bulls and Rockets, two teams that can offer what the Warriors offered Kerr: championship hopes.
Jackson does have a fallback plan that could ease the pain. Mark Jackson is available and would jump at the chance of coaching in his hometown and for the team that drafted him. New Yorkers would buy the idea of Jackson as a coach because he has a coaching point of reference, unlike Kerr, who was an unknown commodity. Jackson led the Warriors to back-to-back trips to the playoffs and was praised by most of his players but couldn’t survive an ongoing conflict with ownership and front office that wanted him out.
The Knicks can only hope that any mistakes Jackson made were a one-time thing — two assistant coaches were fired this season — and simply the cost of doing business with someone who never coached before. Jackson has a healthy ego but perhaps the Warriors experience humbled him. Anyway, Phil Jackson would be remiss if he didn’t give Mark Jackson serious consideration.
The big winner, of course, is Kerr. His journey to head coach was an unconventional one. He had a checkered stay as GM of the Suns (he acquired an old Shaquille O’Neal) and then went the broadcast route, where he was praised for his insight. Sitting at courtside with a headset doesn’t compare to hands-on experience as an assistant coach. But when coaches and GMs hear someone as smart as Kerr, they fall in love and believe that coaching experience is overrated. It happened with Mark Jackson, and a handful of times with Doug Collins, and Kerr won’t be the last to take advantage of sitting next to Marv Albert.
Kerr does bring an understanding of the game, and he played alongside superstars (Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan) which can only prepare him for dealing with the whims and strong egos of franchise players. He was mainly a role player in his career, so Kerr can relate to players on the bench, too.
And the Warriors hope that Kerr, one of the best three-point shooters in history, can relate to Curry because of what they share in common. Curry was one of Jackson’s biggest defenders and pleaded for management to keep him. The Warriors won 51 games this season and spooked the Clippers in the first round; their nucleus is young and, with the exception of Andrew Bogut, healthy. There will be big expectations for Kerr and the Warriors next season.
As for the Knicks … who knows? The Bulls will offer Anthony a chance to suit up next to Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose and be coached by Tim Thibodeau. Strictly from a winning standpoint, the Knicks can’t compete with that. The Rockets will offer Dwight Howard and James Harden. Meanwhile, the Knicks will need to burn at least a season, if not two, before they can make a realistic run at a championship, and that’s only if Jackson doesn’t make a big mistake as a team builder.
Is Anthony ready to sit tight here in his prime for what might happen in New York, as opposed to what very well could happen right away in Chicago and Houston? What about when Kevin Love becomes a free agent in 2015? He’s also a West Coast guy and the Lakers will be in play. Losing Love to the Lakers would be further embarrassing for Jackson, who has a love-hate relationship with the team he once coached.
That’s why Jackson is one of the highest-paid executives in the business. Those are his problems to solve, not Steve Kerr’s. Given the choice, Kerr chose the chance to stay close to family and win right away, which should surprise no one.