By Jason Keidel
A litany of primo positions were open in the NBA the moment the playoff bell rung.
Head coaching gigs in, say, Orlando, Chicago, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City made this one of the more fertile off-seasons in recent memory. Billy Donovan bagged the Thunder job, after building the Florida Gators into a swampland empire in an otherwise football town. Maybe that’s the right hire, even sans salient NBA experience. And so went so many gigs, without regard to two able men.
Leaving the Pelicans and Bulls, two young rosters with two young stars on the glittering marquee. And, in the case of New Orleans, the French Quarter may be home to the next icon of the Association. Anthony Davis would have any coach drooling over the job.
We hear the requisite names to fill the head coaching chasms, starting with Jeff Van Gundy. If he doesn’t get the gig, perhaps his BFF, Tom Thibodeau, will land the job.
Nothing wrong with those coaches, per se, as they will be spinning in the recycle bin for as long as they’re interested in returning to the bench.
But why aren’t we hearing other names? More specifically, Mark Jackson and Patrick Ewing?
In his three years stalking the sidelines for the Warriors, Jackson’s teams got exponentially better each season – winning 23, 47, and 51 games. We’ll never know if the Warriors would have won 60 games with Jackson this year, as they did with Kerr, and conjecture is pointless. But we do know Jackson earned a chance. If not with the team he turned into a monster, then another.
And what more need Ewing do? He’s toiled on the pine for 13 years, as an assistant, in every possible outpost in The Association, almost as long as he sweated on the hardwood for the Knicks. And he’s had two – two! – interviews since 2002.
Of course, you must chuckle at the castaways and cast of characters surrounding these NBA Finals, filled with Knicks fugitives.
Jackson is the primary pundit calling the games. The former Knick, native New Yorker, and accomplished coach wasn’t good enough for Phil Jackson to even interview.
Jeff Van Gundy is the last vestige and visage of the Knicks’ halcyon years. Yes, they actually had good times. Millennials may not remember the epoch, but the Knicks were once relevant, even regal. Van Gundy took the pseudo-empire Pat Riley built and led them to one more NBA Finals, around Y2K, when we thought some computer quirk would end our world.
And we’ve got Steve Kerr, the keenest businessman since Steve Jobs while rebuffing Jackson’s overtures and instead bolting west, young man, for the far more fertile roster of the Warriors. If watching Kerr lead the Warriors to the nearly the inverted record of the Knicks (67-15 vs 17-65), weren’t unpleasant enough, Jackson’s silly assertions about jump-shooting teams flailing and failing in the playoffs fell right on their face. The Warriors partied like it was 1999, filling up the basket with typical Splash Bothers aplomb.
This all comes back to the New Yorker’s narcissism. Or at least the Knicks fan. You loved when they sold the farm for Carmelo Anthony. Peter Vecsey and yours truly were the only local media who publicly and proudly denounced the deal. We were called hacks, idiots, and haters.
Now that we were clearly right, the online tough guys have scattered like so many roaches when the kitchen light flicks on.
Then we heard that Phil Jackson, the messiah, zen master, would restore world order inside MSG and NYC. We’ve seen what that yields so far. Not that anyone can win with the dearth of decent talent we find inside MSG. Problem is, Jackson is the one who cobbled the roster together. And Jackson’s pride won’t allow another Jackson to run his squad. Mark Jackson is the proverbial square peg into Phil’s triangular hole. And Ewing gave the Zen Master too many hardwood nightmares to work the hallowed hardwood on Seventh Avenue.
So the world west of the Hudson claps while we cry. New York used to be the most attractive gig in sports. Now, not even vocational beer goggles can get us to the dance. The Knicks just suffered the worst season in team history, which is saying a lot considering how historically wretched we are.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.