Knicks head coach search: Mark Jackson, Tom Thibodeau, Kenny Atkinson latest

Atkinson, Thibodeau, Jackson
Kenny Atkinson (left), Tom Thibodeau (center), Mark Jackson (right). Photos: Reuters

The coronavirus freeze is not only delaying the inevitable for the New York Knicks — the end of another losing, playoff-less season — but also the thick of their head-coaching search under new team president, Leon Rose. 

In a normal season, the Knicks would have been roughly a month into their offseason, looking forward to the Draft Lottery and another top-five selection. 

They also would have thanked interim head coach Mike Miller for his services seeing out the unimpressive campaign after the firing of David Fizdale in December, either show him the door or offer his old spot as an assistant back, and started making strides toward appointing their new bench boss. 

But as the NBA looks for a way to get back to action after play was suspended on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Knicks fans are relegated to an extended dissection of the rumor mill as names continue to float around the soon-to-be-vacant head-coaching job. 

Amongst those prospective names are familiar faces and veteran options as Rose will attempt to provide the Knicks with something they’ve lacked over the past two decades: Consistency. 

It will start with developing young talent. Last summer proved that the Knicks have a long way to go before luring marquee free agents to the Big Apple and their bevy of young talent provides an immediate foundation to slowly rebuild upon.

Three of the largest names connected with the Knicks’ job have experience in doing just that. Here is the latest on New York’s search:


Mark Jackson

The former St. John’s product and Knicks point guard has largely been blackballed from head coaching in the NBA after butting heads with Golden State Warriors management in 2014. 

While the NBA world will always connect Warriors head coach Steve Kerr with the franchise’s pseudo-dynasty of the 2010s, Jackson was the architect that put the whole team together. 

He drafted Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to team up with Stephen Curry, revamped the organization’s defensive structure, and helped a team that had just one postseason appearance in 17 years become a contender in the Western Conference. 

In recent weeks, he’s spoken of his desire to get back to coaching after six years as an analyst while preaching that he would communicate more with the potential front office that chooses to hire him. 

Obviously, Jackson gets additional brownie points amongst Knicks fans for his hometown and organizational roots — creating the belief that he would be a worthy face to return the organization to glory.


Kenny Atkinson

Atkinson’s firing from the Nets in March is still a shock to many considering what he did for a franchise that was a doormat of the NBA for much of the 2010s. 

With few assets and little hope, Atkinson developed an unimpressive roster on paper and made the Nets a respectable playoff team last season. 

Picking up the reputation of a guard whisperer, helped D’Angelo Russell — a former No. 2 pick written off by the Lakers — become an All-Star while helping Spencer Dinwiddie go from a no-name to a scoring threat.

The Long Island native was a Knicks assistant for four seasons from 2008-2012 and would have numerous blank canvases to develop at Madison Square Garden — most notably Frank Ntilikina or a rookie point guard that could be acquired at the draft.


Tom Thibodeau

Thibodeau is already looking to get back into the NBA after he axed from his role as head coach and GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. 

The Knicks, Nets, and Houston Rockets all reportedly have interest in the 62-year-old, but it’s the Madison Square Garden inhabitants who are expected to get the first crack at signing him, as first reported by Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amico

Thibodeau was an assistant — mostly under Jeff Van Gundy — with the Knicks from 1996-2003 before stops in Houston and with the Boston Celtics.

He earned his first head-coaching job with the Chicago Bulls in 2010, won the NBA Coach of the Year award in his first year, helped young Derrick Rose become a superstar before injuries robbed the NBA of his full potential, and led the franchise to the postseason in each of his five seasons there. 

Joining the Timberwolves in that dual role in 2016, his stint up north didn’t go nearly as well. He made the playoffs just once and was let go midway through his third year with the team.

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