Leon Rose opted for a slice of status quo earlier this week when he decided to pick up Scott Perry’s option and bring him back for another year as the Knicks’ general manager. It is easy to shake your head and grumble at that, given what “status quo” means around the Knicks right now, and …
Leon Rose opted for a slice of status quo earlier this week when he decided to pick up Scott Perry’s option and bring him back for another year as the Knicks’ general manager. It is easy to shake your head and grumble at that, given what “status quo” means around the Knicks right now, and what it’s meant during Perry’s three-year run at the Garden.
The numbers are ugly — 67-163 — and would be even uglier if the Knicks had been able to play the final 16 games of this year’s schedule and keep losing 68 percent of them, which was the clip they were maintaining when NBA business was stilled. But you can make a case that Rose did the right thing here, for two very fair reasons.
First, Perry has a long enough track record in the NBA that he deserves to be judged independently and not in tandem with Steve Mills, with whom he shared decision-making duties. Also: Rose will have final say and thus will have oversight if oversight is necessary. Mills’ own record is enough of a train wreck that it shouldn’t spill onto Perry.
The same hold-the-line philosophy shouldn’t be extended to Mike Miller, who did a fine job under trying circumstances in his 44-game tryout as interim coach. Miller can certainly be in the mix to keep the job permanently, and should absolutely be given the opportunity to sell himself when Rose and Perry begin to look in earnest to make that move.
But it would be foolish not to acknowledge there are at least three formidable candidates who would surely, at the least, listen if approached.
I’ve already written that if I were Rose, I would make a big push to bring Jeff Van Gundy back. He is still young enough (58) to retain his old coaching energy and has kept sharp coaching international Team USA clubs the past few years. It isn’t a perfect hire: he hasn’t coached an NBA game in 13 years, and he has a terrific TV job now.
Tom Thibodeau, Van Gundy’s old lieutenant during the most recent Knicks glory run, does seem interested and this is a necessary path to pursue as well, because of his own record as a coach and the kind of credibility and gravitas he would bring to the job. And if the Knicks could use extra helpings of anything right now it is credibility and gravitas.
But the wisest choice of all may be right under their noses. Kenny Atkinson has worked for the Knicks as an assistant and he was doing superb work across the East River with the Nets before his surprising dismissal on March 7. There is still an air of uncertainty as to the details about that transaction but none of that should worry the Knicks because none of the elements of uneasiness in Brooklyn exist in Manhattan.
The Knicks need a worker, and they need a grinder, and Atkinson is the home office for both. He was handed mostly impossible rosters with the Nets and maximized every one of them, coaxing and cajoling them to both an unexpected playoff berth last year and a feisty first-round playoff tangle with the better, deeper, more talented 76ers.
The reward for that was supposed to be the talent windfall that arrived last summer: Kevin Durant on the layaway plan and Kyrie Irving immediately. From the start that seemed like a less-than-comfortable fit and something cracked — either the players hinted (or more) their reticence about the coach or the coach expressed an unwillingness to bend to their will.
Likely, it all falls somewhere in the middle.
And none of that is an issue with the Knicks. The Knicks have talented pieces, and intriguing young players, and on most nights this year that wasn’t nearly enough, and on some nights it was downright unsettling how noncompetitive they looked. That would end immediately on Atkinson’s watch. Anyone who saw his work at Barclays Center understands that.
“The secret I learned a long time ago is, you just can’t be afraid of hard work,” Atkinson said during a long conversation just before the start of last season. “You can’t worry about long hours. You can’t worry about how hard it all might seem. Put in the time, put in the effort, put in the sweat equity and there will be a payoff. There will absolutely be a payoff.”
Knicks fans are yearning for someone to give them a reason, any reason, to care again, to invest again, to live and die with the basketball team again. Yes, more skill must arrive. But it starts with the man who will coach that talent. Mike Miller is a good man. He’s done a good job. He would be a hell of a top assistant. And not a terrible Robin to a Batman like Kenny Atkinson.