The New York Knicks need stability, and the worst way to accomplish that is by firing two head coaches in the same season; the Knicks should stick with interim head coach Mike Miller through this season.
Since the Knicks fired David Fizdale, the team’s head-coaching future has been the central talking point to the public eye. Is Mark Jackson poised to get the job? Jeff Van Gundy? Jason Kidd? Isiah Thomas?
Will president Steve Mills survive the season? What’s general manager Scott Perry’s future with the organization?
The Knicks have a unique situation on their hands in Miller. No, that doesn’t mean he’s going to blossom into a great NBA head coach. With that said, this is an individual who has specialized in player development.
Before this season Miller was the head coach of the Westchester Knicks, the New York Knicks’ G-League affiliate. In the 2017-18 season he was awarded the G-League Coach of the Year Award.
The Knicks have a roster with several young players who are talented but need direction. Whether it be RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier, Damyean Dotson, or Frank Ntilikina, there are plenty of players on rookie deals present — including some first and second-year players.
These players need guidance. They need to learn to share the sugar, play as a team, and challenge teams on the defensive end. The rest of the 2019-20 NBA season is about player development for the Knicks. They’re likely not going to the playoffs, and there’s a chance that they shop some of their veterans before the NBA trade deadline.
So far, the Knicks are 2-3 under Miller. They lost a one-point game to the Indiana Pacers, were blown out by the Portland Trail Blazers, and played the Denver Nuggets tough in their Sunday night matchup. On the other hand, the Knicks gutted out an overtime win on the road against the Golden State Warriors and overcame a 16-point second-half deficit on the road against the Sacramento Kings.
Sure, Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox didn’t play, but the Knicks’ comeback was impressive, nonetheless. They kept challenging the Kings, played with aggression, and did so with their best player, Marcus Morris, accounting for just 10 points while shooting 33.3 percent from the field.
In the bulk of the games the Knicks won prior to their shootout in Sacramento, Morris was the team’s leading scorer or an integral reason for their success that given night (Morris is averaging a team-high 18.7 points per game). In Sacramento, he wasn’t. Everyone else stepped up and rallied as a team.
Under Miller, the Knicks are playing with more tenacity defensively, finding ways to score when their lead dogs are struggling, and garnering consistency; this is the way they should’ve been playing from the get-go.
When your roster includes proven players like Morris, Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis and budding youngsters like Barrett and Robinson, you shouldn’t be 4-18. Under Fizdale, the Knicks were being repeatedly blown out of arenas. The offense was stagnant, the defense was suspect, and the head coach was publicly critical of his team.
Did Fizdale get a raw deal? Maybe, especially since he was just a mere year and a quarter into his tenure with the team upon being jettisoned. But Fizdale did himself no favors. His rotation excluded some young players who were previously viewed as individuals the Knicks could build around, and little changes were made in the process.
He was outcoached late in games. Whether it be drawing up plays, the players he put on the floor, or the Knicks letting a late lead slip away, Fizdale had his fair share of discouraging moments. Granted the rotation has marginally changed under Miller, the Knicks look like a different team.
Most, if not all Knicks fans have grown tired of continued futility and tanking for a better chance of winning the NBA lottery and want a hallmark name calling the shots; Miller isn’t that big-name hire.
At the same time, there’s the possibility of Knicks fans quickly turning on another midseason coaching hire.
Let’s say the Knicks hire Jackson, Van Gundy, or Tom Thibodeau — who are reportedly the three names on the team’s shortlist. They inherit a mix of raw, young players and veterans who are accustomed to consistent playing time.
With such a coaching shakeup, the players have to mentally adjust to yet another head coach. These aren’t robots or statistics: they’re human beings with human emotions. Adjusting to Miller’s coaching philosophies midway through a season is a major adjustment. Adjusting to another new coach? That’s going to make some restless and perhaps want out, especially if it means another enormous schematic shakeup.
What happens when the Knicks lose five games in a row with their third coach of the season? Or if they continue to get embarrassed at Madison Square Garden? The narrative will shift to their new hire is terrible and/or the brain trust of James Dolan, Steve Mills, and Scott Perry will continue to be shredded for scapegoating head coaches. What do the Knicks accomplish in this inevitable scenario?
In all likelihood, Miller isn’t coaching the Knicks next season. They’re going to look to hire a more experienced and well-known commodity. But even if that’s the case, Miller should be the bridge that leads them into next season. He can help groom their youngsters and help establish a culture that players from the outside want to be a part of. A compelling culture, as well as improvements from some of their youngsters would make the Knicks a more appealing situation to inherit.
The rest of the season should be an audition for Miller or, at the very least, be used to build continuity.