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Editorials

5 coaches the Knicks should consider to replace David Fizdale

New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale’s termination, which seemed imminent a month ago, has finally happened, with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reporting that the franchise has finally made the long awaited move to fire Fizdale.

Fizdale joined the staff in the spring of 2018 and has only been on the job for one season plus a couple months into the 2019-20 NBA campaign. Mills and general manager Scott Perry unexpectedly spoke to the media following a home blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in November, preaching accountability and not-so-subtly placing blame on Fizdale for the lack of consistency and effort. After their start ran up to 4-18, they finally acted.

With Fizdale officially out of the Big Apple, let’s look at who could replace him for a franchise that has seen three head coaches in five years.

1. Dave Joerger

The 45-year-old is a popular name in NBA circles thanks to what he was able to accomplish with the Sacramento Kings. Despite failing to reach the playoffs (the Knicks know plenty of that), Joerger built the foundation for a future successful Kings team, including point guard De’Aaron Fox’s breakout sophomore season with the northern California franchise.

Joerger was ousted immediately following the 2018-19 season by GM Vlade Divac in spite of leading to the Kings’ best record since the last time they reached the postseason and replaced with Luke Walton, another former Laker like Divac. Joerger spent three seasons with Sactown and went 98-148.

Interestingly, though, Fizdale was the one that took over the reins of the Memphis Grizzlies when Joerger was fired there after three seasons. It was Joerger’s first head-coaching job after multiple years as an assistant in Memphis, and when Fizdale took his place it was Fizdale’s first head-coaching position after a long career helping Erik Spoeltra out in Miami and winning two rings as an assistant.

This time around Joerger could replace Fizdale in New York; wouldn’t that be a comeuppance.

2. Mark Jackson

It’s tough to admit it, on a personal, editorializing level, but Jackson in a vacuum isn’t a bad hire. While Steve Kerr came to Golden State and pushed them to the next level, Jackson was there first as the Warriors’ head coach, unlocking laden parts in Stephen Curry’s game and bringing the franchise back to relevance with consecutive playoff trips.

Regarding the Knicks, of course, Jackson has a history there—he was Rookie of the Year in 1988-89 after New York selected the local kid from St. John’s in the first round. More recently, Jackson was reportedly heavily favored during Mills and Perry’s last head-coaching search, so he’s sure to be another name to be kicked around this time.

The weaknesses to Jackson’s candidacy, though: well, to be blunt, the Warriors were ecstatic when he left them. Jackson doesn’t get along with everybody, and he leaves a bad impression on people he truly doesn’t get along with. Other points from his past include posing as a deeply religious pastor while engaging in an extra-marital affair resulting in an extortion case and responding with homophobic comments following Jason Collins’ coming-out-of-the-closet moment years ago.

In all honesty, Jackson is not a bad choice and could be the right move at this time for the Knicks. There’s just a ton of baggage, too.

3. Tom Thibodeau

I think everybody knows who this is at this point so we can keep Thibs’ profile brief. After much success as a head coach with the Chicago Bulls, playing a tough, grind-it-out game, Thibodeau eventually landed with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2016. He was canned mid-season in January at the beginning of this year.

Thibodeau has a connection to New York, too—he was an assistant coach for Jeff Van Gundy and then Don Chaney before heading to Houston to reunite with Van Gundy again.

Additionally, Thibs has a connection to a current Knick: Taj Gibson. The Brooklyn native joined the ‘Bockers in the offseason on a two-year deal (the second one is partially guaranteed). Gibson wasn’t the only former Bull under Thibs to join the Knicks recently—everybody remembers the Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah season(s) fondly.

Thibodeau would be a fantastic choice for the Knicks, especially considering they have the foundation for a good-to-great defense that Fizdale has consistently shied away from activating.

4. Jeff Van Gundy

Or, maybe the Knicks could choose the master over the student in Van Gundy, another NBA on ESPN analyst like his colleague Jackson. Van Gundy was an assistant for the Knicks under Pat Riley and coached the team from 1995-2001, winning 59% of his games before resigning and later reemerging to coach the Rockets.

Look, Van Gundy may not be a realistic choice due to uncertainty if he even wants to man the sidelines again. The connection is there and he was a name floated around during the search that landed Fizdale in the Big Apple. This would not be surprising if he was interviewed again and Perry and Mills could coax the crotchety coach-turned-broadcaster back.

5. David Blatt

Lastly, we have the former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach and career European hoops coach David Blatt, who recently left Greek club Olympiacos in October. Blatt is also suffering from multiple sclerosis, a diagnosis he revealed recently, so perhaps he doesn’t want to coach anymore.

Blatt was considered last time around and has a very good connection to Steve Mills—they were teammates together on the Princeton Tigers basketball team in the 1970’s (along with Mike D’Antoni!).

It’s unclear if Blatt wants to return to coaching professionally, but an available Knicks position makes a ton of sense as something enticing to rope him back in the NBA.