To the extent that a zen style coaching search means slow and deliberate, then Phil Jackson is trusting his zen master instincts to guide the way as he meanders through the head coach selection process for the New York Knicks. Known as a wily manipulator of players, referees and opponents, Jackson has never really been tasked with the job of recruiter-in-chief. As the $12 Million Man for the Knicks, he does have the task of locking down the best available hire for his team. The real question is whether the newly crowned King of the Knicks hires a new coach with a short-term or long-term view.
As NCAA football and basketball coaches can attest, recruiting is a 24 hour a day job. The best coaches, such as Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, are known as tireless recruiters. They make things happen. Meyer shook up the Big Ten coaching community by going after players who had already verbally committed to other Big Ten schools. Meyer pushes the edge of the envelope. As an NBA coach, Jackson never had to recruit. He no doubt gave his wish list to Jerry Krause, Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak over the years and they did their best to give Jackson the players he needed. Often, Jackson was handed exceptional talent and he obtained exceptional results from the players. He was an expert at ego management. Chiding one moment and stroking the next, Jackson always understood how to get the most out of his players. However, Jackson never had to beat the bushes to go get the players like Meyer.
Jackson’s zen coaching style often involved “less is more.” He knew his players were talented and had the knowledge and coaching to do the right thing, so Jackson often let them play through problems. Unfortunately, in the recruiting business, less is never more. The zen style coaching search of letting the candidates come to Phil Jackson does not appear to be working out well for the New York Knicks. Having dallied with Steve Kerr, Jackson was spurned due to a superior opportunity with the Warriors closer to home for Kerr. Now the real work begins.
With the Carmelo Anthony situation unresolved, the coaching search appears difficult. Add in the fact that the team does not have a first round pick in the talent rich 2014 draft and will be cap strapped for another year, attracting a top flight coach is even more difficult. Available coaches with NBA experience include newly fired Mark Jackson and the well-travelled Mike Dunleavy. Hiring one of the experienced coaches would be evidence that Jackson is latching onto a short run approach of holding down the fort until more talent arrives after next season. Hiring a coaching retread would also be a tacit admission that the recruiter-in-chief still needs some work developing recruiting skills.
The other possibility and more likely path is that Jackson entices one of his former players to take the plunge as head coach of the Knicks. Derek Fisher, Tyronn Lue and Luke Walton have all been listed as possibilities. While Fisher is still a player and has never coached, he has led the Players’ Association through a turbulent time and won kudos for navigating a tough situation. Lue is currently an assistant for the Los Angeles Clippers and Walton has spent time as a Developmental League coach. All three could be promising hires and would leave Jackson with the face-saving ability to say he specifically picked out a talented young coach for the long run. Further, Jackson could mold the coach to fit his way of doing things.
Although the zen style coaching search conducted by the New York Knicks has not yet produced a new head man, Phil Jackson will likely pick a good young understudy to handle the job. Jackson does have a large ego and hiring an experienced coach outside of Jackson’s circle could make the King of the Knicks look bad. One of the young guns will probably be Jackson’s pick.
Commentary by William Costolo