Phil Jackson as Knicks’ part-time coach would be disastrous

By Michael Dixon
Could this happen next year? Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony together on the floor? Photo via

The New York Knicks need a good coach. They also need a good coach who can run the team for 82 games. With that in mind, the idea presented, via ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, that Phil Jackson could coach the team’s 41 home games while Kurt Rambis handles road games is just spectacularly bad.

Really, it’s bad on a few fronts. For the sake of argument, let’s assume for now that Jackson would be as good of a coach with the Knicks as he was with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. That still only covers 41 games.

In the other 41 games, Rambis would be manning the sidelines. History tells us this is not a good thing. New York is 5-9 under Rambis this year, which makes his overall record as a head coach 61-154. As a point of reference, Jackson has coached seven teams that won 61 or more contests in only 82 games.

We also have to back off on the previously stated assumption that Jackson would be as good of a coach with the Knicks as he was in Chicago and Los Angeles. Jackson last coached in 2011. While that may not seem like a long time, the game has changed a lot in five years.

Basketball is now a pace-and-space game that truly embraces the three-point shot. By any statistical measure, the Knicks are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA. Jackson has traditionally been against the excessive use of three-point shots and has stated those views as recently as the 2015 postseason.

When you have the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen, you can maybe get away with that even in today’s NBA. The Knicks don’t have anyone like that. Which leads us to our next problem.

The free agent class of 2016 is a potentially strong one. It’s conceivable that the Knicks could land a few players, but this half Jackson/half Rambis idea just can’t be anything that’s attractive for marquee players. This would be virtually unprecedented. Athletes are generally creatures of habit and it’s awfully hard to imagine the best players being all that receptive to two half-coaches.

As hard as it is to picture good players being open to the idea, it’s even harder to imagine good coaches being warm to it. Granted, the presented idea is for a Jackson and Rambis tag-team, but this is something other coaches are going to see. If the Knicks go forward with the experiment, even if it’s aborted pretty quickly, this will be a lingering memory in the minds of any future head coaches. It certainly wouldn’t help New York’s standing when looking for future coaches.

Lastly, we have to look at the fact that if the Knicks did this, they’d be effectively passing on what could be a pretty good group of available coaches this offseason.

Luke Walton coached the Golden State Warriors through the first 43 games of the 2015-16 NBA season. In those 43 games, the Warriors were 39-4. Walton played under Jackson with the Lakers. And if Jackson’s plan is to try to build a team that plays similar basketball to what the Bulls and Lakers did, Walton would be a good man to hire.

Tom Thibodeau is a former assistant with the Knicks. It’s true that Thibodeau is mostly a defensive coach, which not exactly a weakness of the team. With that said, it’s not a strength, either, and they can stand to get better. Also, in five years as Chicago’s head coach, Thibodeau racked up a nice 255-139 record and never missed the playoffs. It’s a good bet that any team coached by Thibodeau would at least be relevant.

Mark Jackson’s track record isn’t quite as impressive as Thibodeau’s, but it’s very good. In three years coaching the Warriors, Jackson was 121-109. His winning percentage improved each year and Golden State made the playoffs in his final two seasons.

The Warriors might be a model franchise now, but before he took over they were anything but. The Warriors became champions with Steve Kerr as the coach, but they became relevant under Mark Jackson.

Those are just three names. Jeff Van Gundy and Kevin McHale would have to at least be considered for openings that might pop up, and we never know what college coaches might make themselves available to the NBA.

Sometimes, new ideas are genuinely groundbreaking. This idea, however, is not. When imagining what two head coaches would look like, it’s very easy to see the numerous pitfalls and virtually impossible to see any benefit.

The next coach of the New York Knicks needs to be a full-time coach. If Phil Jackson can be that guy, great. If he doesn’t feel like he can handle life on the road, then he shouldn’t consider being a coach for one home game, let alone all of them.