As one who meditates by his bedpost, thinks before he speaks and sometimes resorts to spectral spirits for life’s answers, Phil Jackson isn’t one for impulsive decisions. It makes no sense, then, for a man who coached 1,973 games in the NBA, and several hundred before then in basketball’s minor leagues, to hire as the first coach of his New York Knicks presidency someone who never has coached in his life.
Yet, surer than Madison Square Garden is round, it’s clearcut that Steve Kerr will be heavily considered for the position, if not offered it any minute. And there is no doubt he covets the job. “I do anticipate talking with Phil Jackson at some point. When that time comes, it will come,” Kerr said on his SiriusXM NBA Radio show just hours after Jackson fired Mike Woodson. “It’s going to be very interesting. My name is being thrown around. I do anticipate at least being a part of the conversation and we’ll see where it all goes.”
Later, on an ESPN Radio show, Kerr said, “When the time comes, I’ll be interested.”
Great. Exactly what are his credentials? He played for Jackson in Chicago. He once hit a game-winning shot in the NBA Finals because Michael Jordan knew he’d be smothered and Kerr would be unchecked on the perimeter. He was a general manager in Phoenix, with some success, but is best known as an insightful analyst on Turner Sports, where he has a comedy shtick going with equally dry-witted Marv Albert and argued so strongly with fellow analyst Greg Anthony during a Final Four telecast that I thought, for a moment, that they might take it outside. He has lived a full basketball life, including five championship rings and friendships with coaching icons such as Jackson and Gregg Popovich, but Kerr can’t get by this: He hasn’t coached a single game in his 48 years.
So why is he such a swell hire for a Knicks job overwhelmed by high frustration and absurd expectations from fans and media? He’s a likeable fellow who deals well with reporters, but Jackson must know, from his championship successes in America’s three largest markets, that affability isn’t as important in the big city as results. Fact is, no coach is going to find success in New York for at least two years, and probably much longer, because Jackson’s roster is paralyzed by bad contracts — not to mention no first-round draft choice — until the summer of 2015. Might Jackson sway Kevin Love then? It’s gospel in league circles that Love is an L.A. guy much more likely headed to the Lakers. LeBron James? Who knows by then, but James needs a place where he has a chance to win championships every year to pad his legacy, and New York isn’t it. Kevin Durant? Again, another guy who spends much of his down time in California and isn’t enamored of the Manhattan pace.
Most importantly, Jackson needs a coaching partner whose presence will help with the recruitment of major talent, starting with Carmelo Anthony in the coming weeks. Is Kerr a powerful enough figure? I highly doubt it. If the Golden State Warriors are foolish enough to let office politics lead to Mark Jackson’s departure, Phil Jackson would be nuts not to woo the former Knicks point guard and New York native and create an Action Jackson perfecta in the Garden. Florida coach Billy Donovan, possibly getting itchy for the NBA at a football school that doesn’t fully appreciate his basketball deeds, is being mentioned for a Minnesota Timberwolves vacancy more apt for Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg or the current team boss, Flip Saunders. Why wouldn’t Jackson look at Donovan, a highly accomplished college coach who grew up in the New York area and once played for the Knicks?
Those are the smarter calls for the Zensuit.
“We’ve remained close since he retired from coaching,’’ Kerr said of Jackson. “Even while he was coaching the Lakers, I would often have dinner with him on the road if I was playing for another team with him just to catch up.’’
Friends shouldn’t let friends coach the Knicks.
Especially when that friend never has diagrammed a play on a sideline.