- Brad Barket/Getty
With no playoffs, no first-round pick, and free agency more than two months away, the New York Knicks’ biggest piece of business this offseason was finding a head coach.
The team, to the surprise of many, fired Derek Fisher in the middle of the season, leaving Kurt Rambis as the interim coach.
Much has been made of the Knicks’ next head coach, and with good reason. The hire would be the second of president Phil Jackson’s short tenure with the team. It will also likely have a profound effect on the direction of the franchise as the team hits something of a crossroads between a win-now outfit behind 31-year-old Carmelo Anthony and a rebuilding project behind 20-year-old Kristaps Porzingis.
It’s puzzling, then, that nearly six weeks since the Knicks’ season ended, with no new coach in place, Jackson is on vacation.
Over the past week, Jackson has been tweeting photos of his trip through the upper midwest, with stops in South Dakota and reportedly Idaho.
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) May 4, 2016
The timing is odd, particularly with a glut of talented coaching candidates hitting the open market. It’s a list that includes names like David Blatt, Kevin McHale, Jeff Hornacek, Mike D’Antoni, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mark Jackson, with former Pacers coach Frank Vogel joining the ranks on Thursday.
According to ESPN’s Ian Begley, the implication of Jackson’s vacation is that the search is “on hold.” Jackson has been criticized for the slow-moving process, and a vacation in May hasn’t helped the optics. While Jackson has been conducting the slow-moving search, highly touted coaches like Tom Thibodeau and Luke Walton were scooped up by the Timberwolves and Lakers, respectively. There were conflicting reports about whether Jackson reached out to Thibodeau and Walton prior to their hires.
Jackson has maintained his desire for the Knicks’ next coach to be someone with whom he has a relationship and will coach his famed triangle offense. That makes Rambis the frontrunner, much to the dismay of fans, who note Rambis’ 65-164 record as a head coach, including 9-19 with the Knicks. The only other candidate who appears to have gotten serious consideration is Blatt, who played in Princeton with Knicks GM Steve Mills and reportedly met with Jackson to talk about the job.
If Jackson had settled on Rambis, who by record appears to be one of the weakest candidates for the job, he wouldn’t need a drawn-out process, nor a vacation, which, according to New York Post’s Marc Berman, gives Jackson a chance to clear his mind and reflect. That could mean Jackson is giving consideration to other coaches, and therefore basketball philosophies, other than his own. Additionally, it may also let Jackson weigh the coaching market, which could shrink or expand at any time, as seen with Vogel’s sudden departure, a coach with ties to Jackson and who could be a candidate for the Knicks’ job.
If this is indeed the route Jackson is going, it’s a risky one. If Jackson waits too long to make a move, some of the best candidates could be hired or decide to move on. Yet Jackson has largely been unpredictable in his short time as Knicks president. Taking a vacation in the midst of a coaching search certainly qualifies as an unpredictable move, and only time will tell if it will affect the Knicks’ next hire.