It’s barely been over 24 hours since Derek Fisher has been named head coach of the New York Knicks and already the questions are swirling. Will Fisher be a great coach? Will he struggle early like Jason Kidd? Will the players tune him out? Let’s put all that to the side for what is sure to be a long summer of more questions than answers about Fisher, and focus on one of the next steps in this process: rounding out the coaching staff.
Following a very disappointing 2014 campaign, new team president Phil Jackson not only fired head coach Mike Woodson, but also the entire coaching staff. That included longtime Garden favorite Herb Williams. This was to be expected, as the new team president is going to want his people in the organization, so expect to see many former Lakers and Bulls who played for Jackson on the sidelines this season. Let’s take a look at some of the candidates.
Kurt Rambis: Rambis has been a coach in the NBA for two decades, mostly as an assistant. Hewas actually drafted by the Knicks in the 1980 draft, but never played for the team as he was waived and later grabbed by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1981. Laker fans will best remember him as the overachieving underdog who was tough on the court. He did the dirty work and was a team first player and won four championships as a member of the “Showtime Lakers” of the 80′s.
Rambis spent time as a head coach in Los Angeles Lakers after Del Harris was fired, and he had moderate success before eventually losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals. He was given a chance to be a head coach again in Minnesota from 2009-11, but both seasons the Timberwolves were a disaster as the team lost 132 games in that span. Despite what his record might indicate, Rambis is a great basketball mind. He also won a title as an assistant under Phil Jackson in the 1992 season.
Fisher would love to have someone with as much experience as Rambis on the bench to help ease the growing pains of a first time head coach. He won two titles with Fisher and Jackson (2002 and 2009) in two stints with the Lakers. However, rumors are surfacing that Rambis may be the next head coach on the Lakers this upcoming season. If that offer really is on the table, it’s tough to see him passing that up for an assistant coaching gig. Hopefully for the Knicks, the Lakers will go in another direction.
Verdict: Rambis will hopefully be available to be on the coaching staff in New York.
Tyronn Lue: The first of many former Phil Jackson championship players to be mentioned, Lue is a two time former champion under Jackson winning titles in 2000 and 2001. That also puts him on the same championship teams as Derek Fisher. Easy to see the connection here.
Lue was also mentioned as a potential head coaching candidate if Fisher turned down the job. Lue retired in 2009 following an 11-year career, mostly as a role player/bench warmer. He has been coaching since he retired and is currently a member of Doc Rivers staff with the Los Angeles Clippers. He also served under Rivers with the Boston Celtics from 2009-2013.
Lue seems to be an up-and-coming assistant coach who would be a real help to Fisher, and given their relationship as they shared time together under Jackson, this seems like a natural fit. Lue is rumored to be of interest by the Cleveland Cavaliers as they continue their head coaching search. He may opt to stick with Doc Rivers unless he is presented a head coaching position. After all, why would he leave for a rebuilding process in New York when the Los Angeles Clippers are successful now?
Verdict: Would be a welcomed member of the coaching staff, but given his alternative options why would he come to New York?
Jim Cleamons: Yet another coaching staff candidate with a link to Phil Jackson and the triangle offense. Are we seeing a common theme here? Cleamons won a championship as a player in 1972, but he has nine championship rings as an assistant coach under Phil Jackson on both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. Cleamons has been one of the closest links to Phil Jackson throughout his coaching career and was an assistant to Fisher when he won the championships with the Lakers in 2000 and 2001.
Cleamons is considered a great assistant coach and has filled in as a head coach when Phil Jackson was absent. He currently serves as an assistant coach on the Milwaukee Bucks after returning from China where he was a coach in the Chinese Basketball Association. Like Rambis, Cleamons seems like the perfect veteran coach for Fisher to learn from and help him adjust to life as a head coach. Prying him away from the Bucks wouldn’t seem like a difficult task and given his relationship with Jackson it would be surprising for him not to be a member of the Knicks coaching staff next season.
Verdict: The most likely candidate to be a member of the coaching staff thusfar, expect to see him on the sidelines at MSG next season.
Rick Fox: Rick Fox was rumored to be in the hunt for the New York Knicks head coaching gig before Fisher was hired. Clearly he wasn’t as high on the list of candidates a Fisher, but that’s to be expected. Fox won back-to-back-to-back titles with Fisher and Jackson from 2000-2002. He was never a prominent NBA player, but he played an important role for those Lakers championship teams.
He started a lot of games for Jackson and had his best series against the New Jersey Nets in the 2002 NBA finals. Fox averaged 9.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals as the Lakers swept the Nets in 4 games to win their third straight NBA title. After that he was never really the same caliber player because of an ankle injury. As many expected, Fox has spent most of his post-basketball career on reality TV including a stint on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars in 2010. He has since said that he has an interest in coaching in the NBA and what better way to get back into the game than with Fisher and Jackson again?
Verdict: If Tyronn Lue isn’t on the Knicks staff, expect at least one former Phil Jackson player to join the coaching staff. That might be Fox. He however is the biggest question mark given the fact that he has no coaching experience and may be bitter for Fisher getting the nod over him. I say we stay away from Fox unless completely necessary.
Bill Cartwright: Cartwright is yet another Phil Jackson player on the radar, but from the earlier days in Chicago. Cartwright played in the NBA for 16 seasons including nine years with the Knicks, which is the team that drafted him in 1979. Cartwright was a great for the Knicks, but had all of his major success under Jackson with the Chicago Bulls. You know, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and company? Those Bulls. Cartwright was traded to Chicago in a deal with sent Charles Oakley to the Knicks. He, like so many of Jackson’s players, won multiple titles.
Cartwright also won titles under Jackson as an assistant coach in 1997 and 1998. Cartwright has spent time bouncing around the league since then and is currently coaching in Japan. Given his success under Jackson, it makes perfect sense to be an assistant and a crutch for Fisher to lean on, but it would be a bitter pill to swallow for Cartwright given the fact that he has expressed his desire to be a head coach in the NBA. Would he accept being passed over yet again for the much younger and inexperienced Fisher? It seems doubtful, but if Cartwright can put that and his resentment of the Knicks organization, he would be a great assistant/big man coach.
Verdict: Cartwright would be a great assistant coach for Fisher and probably the second best big man coach that Knicks fans could ask for (*cough* Patrick Ewing *cough*), but it’s doubtful that Cartwright swallows his pride and coaches under Fisher. He would be a great fit.
Luke Walton: Last but certainly not least, another former Laker looking to coach in the NBA. Walton certainly has a great NBA bloodline (son of NBA great Bill Walton) and a high basketball IQ. He was never a great player on the court, but a great basketball mind and a hard-worker as well as great teammate. Walton won two titles under Jackson in 2008 and 2009, which also ties him in with Derek Fisher. We are certainly going to hear his name a great deal this summer.
Walton doesn’t have coaching experience, but Jackson has endorsed Walton from day one. He currently coaches the Los Angeles Defenders in the NBA D-League. Getting him to be a member of the coaching staff wouldn’t be difficult, but the question is Fisher’s desire to have him on board. The two seem to have a good relationship, so now it’s a wait-and-see scenario.
Verdict: Of all the former Lakers players Walton intrigues me the most as an assistant coach. Most players who end up sticking on a team that aren’t great athletically make up for it with high basketball IQ and Walton would bring that. We all know the Knicks organization needs that on the coaching level.
Final Prediction: At the end of the day the Knicks will end up with a coaching staff of both veteran and first timers. The more veterans on the bench, the easier Fisher’s transition to coaching will go. Ultimately I believe the staff winds up consisting of Jim Cleamons, Luke Walton and either Rick Fox or Bill Cartiwright (who is a complete question mark at this point). The best staff in my opinion would be Jim Cleamons, Tyronn Lue, Bill Cartwright and Luke Walton. The coaching staff will need four or five assistant coaches along with player development coaches. It will certainly be interesting to see who joins the Fisher on the sidelines.