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With Knicks' coaching search in the homestretch, meet a few of the candidates

Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Minnesota Timberwolves

Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Minnesota Timberwolves complains to a referee during a game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on February 9, 2018 in Chicago. Credit: Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel

So the rest of the NBA has gone through a four-month suspension of the season, 22 teams have resumed play in the bubble-like campus in Orlando and the Knicks still are searching for a coach. But finally, by the end of this coming week, the Knicks are expected to announce a decision.

In fairness, team president Leon Rose said he hoped to have a coach in place by mid-to-late July, so he’s on target, but it certainly feels as if the process has taken forever — and when you put it in context that the NBA and Adam Silver are trying to figure out a way to get 22 teams into a bubble against COVID-19 before the Knicks can decide on a coach, well, yes, it has taken forever.

But as we seem to be at the end of the process, there remains some mystery about how this search will end. Throughout the process, every indication has been that Tom Thibodeau is the favorite to land the job, and it still is that way. But it seems as if candidates have fallen away from the original 11 in this final stretch. Every day, some rumor gains steam that it could be someone else. 

Let’s recap the leading candidates: 

  1. Tom Thibodeau: The smartest thing that Rose has done is try to get this process done while the 22 teams in contention for a title are busy in the bubble, which has kept Thibodeau from being courted by teams such as the 76ers and Rockets, who might have a vacancy soon with far better rosters. Remember when Phil Jackson wanted to bring Steve Kerr to the Knicks, the franchise bickered with him,  the Warriors' job opened — and suddenly the Knicks weren’t so attractive? Thibodeau has the pedigree for the job — maybe a resume better than any coach who has gotten the job in New York since Pat Riley. He has guided two franchises to the postseason as a head coach, gotten the most out of young talent and veterans, and has won a title as a lead assistant. If the Knicks land Thibodeau, Rose is off to a good start in reshaping the Knicks.
  2. Jason Kidd: Kidd has long had an eye on the Knicks and would be willing to leave the championship-contending Lakers to try to turn the franchise around. He was a coach on the court when the Knicks won their only playoff series in the last 20 years. He went from their backcourt to the head-coaching job with the Nets and then the Bucks, guiding both to playoff berths. And maybe most important, a year ago, I was told that the Lakers wanted him on staff as a recruiting tool to try to lure Giannis Antetokounmpo next summer — a role the Knicks certainly would like him to play at Madison Square Garden.
  3. Kenny Atkinson: Atkinson fits the mold of what the Knicks are looking for right now. While Thibodeau can be seen as a coach who can take a team to the next level, the level the Knicks are at right now is the basement. They not only were 21-45 this season, but their youth movement boasts no sure thing. Atkinson was an assistant with the Knicks and helped develop young players such as Jeremy Lin. As a head coach with the Nets, he overachieved with makeshift rosters.
  4. Mike Miller: The current interim head coach impressed the Knicks with the job he did of stabilizing the team. This is his first season in the NBA in any capacity, and if he were to get the job, it would be seen as a placeholder.

Forgetting someone?

As an addendum, it’s worth noting that the Knicks never reached out to Jeff Van Gundy, who was interested in returning to the franchise when David Fizdale was hired and is open to coaching again. So it seems worth reminding the executives who are looking for a coach that Van Gundy coached parts of 11 seasons and compiled a 430-318 record, endured only one losing season in his career and coached in 88 postseason games. He hasn't coached an NBA team since 2007.

Voices in the bubble

Some of the players have considered how their voice on the social justice front will be heard. Perhaps more important than the words which many will wear on their jerseys or the Black Lives Matter imprinted on the court at the complex, a number of players have taken to using their Zoom interviews to focus on the issue of social justice.

It began this week with Tobias Harris answering all questions with a message — starting with a question about the message on shirts.

“Nothing against the T-shirts, but we want to make sure that [Kentucky attorney general] Daniel Cameron will arrest the cops and officers involved with Breonna Taylor’s death. And that’s all I’ve got to say,” he said. 

To the next question, Harris said, "That’s going to be my answer for every question. Daniel Cameron, step up. Do what’s right. That’s the only message I’ve got today. I appreciate everybody. Thanks.”

When he played his first scrimmage, LeBron James used his interview to raise the issue of Taylor, the death of George Floyd and what he said is a much bigger everyday problem.

“When you wake up and you’re Black, that is what it is,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a movement. It should be a lifestyle. This is who we are.”

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