Storyline: Knicks Coaching Job

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3 months ago via ESPN

Ex-Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, who hired Fizdale when Woodson was a head coach in Atlanta, is also a candidate to join Fizdale’s staff. Howard, a current Miami assistant, interviewed for the Knicks job. Fizdale may want him on his staff but Miami would have to give the Knicks permission to allow him to leave, which is highly unlikely. The New York Post earlier reported that Smart was likely to be added to Fizdale’s staff. Another name to keep an eye on as an addition to the staff in some capacity? Memphis scout Adam Johansen, who worked with Fizdale in Miami and Memphis.

Why did a team that overachieved in Fizdale’s first season suddenly pull the plug just 19 games into his second? The short answer is that he and Marc Gasol didn’t get along. The complex reason, as league sources laid out, is that the partnership was doomed from the start. Carrying a mantra Fizdale liked to repeat — “the Miami Heat way” – he tried to completely overhaul a system and core that’d been successful for seven seasons and peaked with an appearance in the Western Conference finals.

“He wanted his own locker room,” a Grizzlies source told the Daily News. “And he basically convinced management to get rid of Zach (Randolph), to get rid of Tony Allen.” Trying to morph the Grizzlies was always going to strain a relationship with Gasol, and the toxicity reached a pivotal moment when, according to a source, Fizdale confronted the team about its lack of desire following a defeat. The coach went around the locker room asking each player if he believed he could win a championship. If they lacked belief, they didn’t belong on the Grizzlies.

The frosty relationship carried on for almost a year before Fizdale was fired in the middle of an eight-game losing streak. By that time, according to sources, Fizdale had alienated Gasol by disregarding the Spaniard’s accomplishments — both in the NBA and overseas — and casting away Randolph and Allen. In pushing away Randolph, Fizdale even told the media that the two-time All-Star was no longer an NBA starter and moved him to the bench to audition for his next job. Privately, that didn’t play well.

Lee spent parts of three seasons in Memphis and remains close with some players there. He knows of the fallout that Fizdale had with center Marc Gasol that ultimately cost him his job this past season. But Lee also has heard nothing but good things about the Knicks’ new coach. Lee also believes holding your best player accountable shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. “I just know that he’s a great players’ coach,” Lee said during a phone interview Friday. “He’ a guy that’s going to fight for what he believes in and fight for his team. He got that culture instilled in him in Miami. He was with [Erik] Spoelstra and with Pat Riley for a while. You saw the success they had in developing players and pushing for them playoff runs.

Troy Williams, the Knicks swingman, played for him in Memphis and gushed over his hire. He remembers a coach who made him feel at ease with the team. Williams holds Fizdale in high esteem for his motivational tricks. He pointed to the Fizdale’s fluency in playing mind games, noting the coach riled him up last season during a game against Golden State. Fizdale accused Williams of playing scared and not hard enough, finding the right buttons to push, Williams said, to tweak him into a state of utilitarian anger on the court. “He’s a laid-back person himself but he brings out the best in a person,” Williams told The Athletic. “He puts people in the best positions.”

Mike Woodson still is gunning for a second stint as the Knicks’ head coach, but acknowledged he would listen if David Fizdale were to offer him an associate coaching job. That is, if Fizdale winds up beating him and nine other candidates for the Knicks’ job. When contacted by The Post, Woodson said: “I love David. I gave him his first job on the bench — I know he worked one season before in Golden State. We’re very close. I’m sure he would call.’’

Fizdale may have his pick of the litter. According to a source, Fizdale was set to conduct his final interview with the Magic on Wednesday or Thursday. Fizdale already has interviewed with the Knicks, Suns, Hornets and Hawks. The Suns made the first hire Wednesday, choosing Utah assistant Igor Kokoskov. An NBA source said the Knicks are “zeroing in’’ on a choice. […] “There’s an army of fans in the league that just rave about [Fizdale],’’ an NBA executive said.

Woodson also noted while with the Knicks he used a lot of two point-guard fronts — which is in vogue — with Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni. “I had one of the great isolation players in the game in [Carmelo Anthony], so I’m going to try to get my best player some shots,’’ Woodson said of his isolationist rep. “But do the homework and look at the numbers on 3-pointers attempted and made.” Woodson said he had “a great meeting’’ with Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry. “Everyone’s just waiting,’’ Woodson said.

Fizdale emerged as a leading candidate after the Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek once the end of the season, but the front office made sure to do its due diligence in meeting with more than 10 coaching candidates. The Knicks’ front office met with accomplished head coaches – such Budenhozler, the 2014-15 Coach of the Year, Jackson, Mike Brown – as well as strong assistant candidates in San Antonio’s James Borrego, Boston’s Jay Larranaga and Miami’s Juwan Howard.
3 months ago via ESPN

Former Memphis coach David Fizdale, former Cleveland coach David Blatt and former Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer are among the candidates whom president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry have met with in recent weeks. Former Golden State coach Mark Jackson, Miami Heat assistant Juwan Howard, San Antonio assistant James Borrego, Toronto G League coach Jerry Stackhouse, Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, Clippers assistant Mike Woodson and television analyst Kenny Smith are among the candidates the Knicks interviewed to replace Jeff Hornacek, who was fired after two seasons as coach in April.

“I think the 18 years I’ve been on TNT has prepared me for a lot of opportunities, coaching being one of them,” Smith said this week on SiriusXM radio. “The preparation, the reservoir of information, relationships – from players to everything, players to coaches to assistant coaches. From being in college basketball doing the Final Four, AAU teams – every element has prepared me for more direction… “As long as it’s basketball it’s always going to be me. Coaching is on the aspiration list. I did meet with the Knicks and that was a lot of fun. They’re still vetting their process. I’m just sitting back. I know that in terms of basketball I’m ready because of the 18 years that went on.”

Larranaga, 43, is a rising young coach, who has been with the Celtics for six seasons, the last four as Brad Stevens’ top assistant. Larranaga was considered for the Celtics’ job before they hired Stevens, one of the best coaches in the league. He has interviewed for head coaching jobs in Philadelphia and Memphis previously. The Celtics have reached the postseason for four straight seasons, and had the NBA’s top-rated defense. One of Larranaga’s strengths is a Knicks’ focus now: player development. He spent two seasons coaching the Erie BayHawks, which was the Knicks’ Developmental League affiliate before they purchased their own team in 2014.

While the organization and president Steve Mills have been through this before, each process of finding a coach is unique. No search is the same, with different executives seeking different things and looking for different traits. Grunwald’s experiences, more than a decade apart, are indicative of how even the same GM can take different approaches. “It’s the hardest thing we do,” one former GM said. “There’s nothing even remotely close to finding the right coach.”

Interviews can last for hours, or sometimes even bleed into a second day, with the former league executive saying his lasted four hours on average, and another saying they sometimes had split sessions with the GM talking to a coach one day and other members of the front office engaging the coach the next day without the executive present. “Some coaches are great interviewers and not-so-great coaches,” Grunwald said. “I’m not going to say who, but I fell victim to that.”

Executives will hear out how a coach wants to build out his staff, trying to glean clues from hires he’d make. If an ex-player is only interested in hiring friends and ex-players, one former exec says, that’s a red flag. So is if, say, an offensive coach doesn’t want to add a defensive-minded assistant on staff. The organizations a prospective coach has worked for can be instructive because it shows who they’ve worked for and what philosophies they’ve been exposed to and prefer.

Brown, Woodson and Knicks general manager Scott Perry were together in Detroit in the early 2000s during glorious times for the Pistons. Perry was Detroit’s top college scout. Woodson was Brown’s assistant with the Pistons and also in Philadelphia. “I’ve read a whole lot of qualified candidates, but I can’t imagine anyone being more qualified than Mike,’’ Brown told The Post in a phone interview. “Mike’s family to me, we speak almost daily. I have a lot of admiration for him. He’s close to Bobby Knight. I think the world of him. When he was in New York, I thought he did a really good job. The year they struggled, they lost Jason [Kidd], Rasheed [Wallace] and Kurt Thomas. Those were three older, responsible leaders and great teammates. Mike loved New York. He had a great relationship with [owner] Mr. [James] Dolan.

The Charlotte Hornets will act quickly to interview San Antonio Spurs assistant Ettore Messina for their head-coaching opening, as soon as the Spurs season is complete. A source familiar the situation said Messina will interview as early as the middle of next week, if the Spurs are eliminated by the Golden State Warriors by then. Ettore coached the Spurs in Thursday’s loss to the Warriors, as head coach Gregg Popovich mourned the death of his wife, Erin.

David Lee will leave for the French Open in 10 days. He hopes before heading to Paris with fiancée Caroline Wozniacki that Mark Jackson is named the Knicks head coach. The ex-Knicks/ex-Warriors power forward played for Jackson in Golden State for all three of Jackson’s seasons. “He has a very smart perspective looking at the game,’’ Lee told The Post in a phone interview. “Especially dealing with what you want in New York, you need somebody to understand the landscape. “Coaching and playing in New York is different than any city. You see it in baseball — superstars play for the Yankees either thrive or shy away from the situation. Mark understands the difference in New York basketball. He’s from there. He understands the politics, the fans, things involved unique to the Knicks. That’s an advantage he has.’’

Dolan said he is searching for a coach who will be able to manage his assistants and attendant organizational functions while also being able to delegate authority. “The old-style coaching doesn’t work,” Dolan said. “A coach who tries to do everything himself isn’t going to be successful. “The coaching search for the Knicks is similar in a lot of ways to the Rangers. I think the teams are in similar spots. We’re looking for people to develop players and to create a winning team. We have our lists of candidates, but the lists are still open.”

My best read, with the Knicks just beginning the interview phase of their search, is that they’re most likely to choose one of three veteran coaches — unless the emerging Jerry Stackhouse wows them face to face. Those three coaches, in alphabetical order, are: David Blatt, David Fizdale and Mark Jackson. The link between Blatt and Knicks president Steve Mills from their days together at Princeton is well known by now. Blatt badly wants to return to the N.B.A. in the wake of his abbreviated stint with Cleveland and, because of those ties to Mills, has to be viewed as a contender here. Yet some in coaching circles believe the choice is more likely to come down to Fizdale vs. Jackson.

Miracles do happen. After years of frostiness following his resignation in 2001, Jeff Van Gundy could yet be in the mix for the Knicks’ job. Though Van Gundy appears a long shot, multiple sources told The Post that Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry spoke to his representatives Saturday. It is unclear, however, who made the first phone call. Knicks management also has talked with Mark Jackson’s agents, meaning the two broadcast partners and friends are now officially in the hunt for the same job.

Contacted by The Post on Saturday, Woodson said he hadn’t heard from the Knicks yet, but would love to. Woodson, who has been Doc Rivers’ top assistant with the Clippers the past four seasons, was the Knicks’ most successful head coach since Jeff Van Gundy, guiding them to their most recent playoff berth, in 2012-13, when the club posted a 54-28 record. “I don’t want to hide the fact I’d love to be back,’’ Woodson told The Post in a phone interview. “I’d like to finish what I started. At the end of the day, you want to come to New York, based on my body of work there. I want it to be mutual. I want them to want me. I hope they call me.’’
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July 19, 2018 | 7:03 pm EDT Update