Yesterday, rumors surfaced that the New York Knicks were trying to hire Steve Kerr by the end of the first round of the playoffs. According to several sources, Phil Jackson and the Knicks see Kerr as their top candidate, and the job is Kerr’s to accept or turn down. The first-round target date is a matter of flexibility as there will be less playoff games, so less TNT responsibility for Kerr.
Kerr, in many people’s opinion, is a pretty solid candidate. He was a smart player who played under two great coaches in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, he has front office experience (his tenure in Phoenix was solid, but nothing to rave about), and he’s spent the last few years doing color commentary for TNT, meaning he understands the modern dynamics of the game.
There’s really just one potential drawback — Kerr has never coached before.
That’s not always the biggest issue in coaching, however. Mark Jackson, Jason Kidd, and Jeff Hornacek are all current head coaches who didn’t have prior coaching experience before they jumped to the sidelines. Jackson has done well with a solid Golden State Warriors roster, Jason Kidd has slowly learned the ropes while coaching a good Brooklyn Nets roster (that, to be fair, could’ve been great), and Hornacek did an applaudable job with the Suns who just missed making the playoffs. Former players — particularly ones with long, successful careers — have spent enough time around the game and other coaches to learn what it takes. This isn’t suggesting Kerr couldn’t do the same.
But the Knicks are in an interesting position and a lot of it hinges on Carmelo Anthony. If Anthony returns to the Knicks, it will be under the belief that New York will reload its roster in the next two years and be ready to compete for a title. Can Kerr get to that level within three years? It’s certainly possible, especially with Phil Jackson in the front office acting as a mentor.
But one of the other problems is whether Kerr can command the respect of players. His career achievements and notability as a color commentator gives him some credibility, as does his relationship with Phil Jackson, but for the Anthony and the Knicks — a team that has spent the last few years hand-picking guys that appealed to the roster and CAA — will Kerr be given a fair shot? Will players buy into what he’s saying?
Kerr’s potential hire is a power move by Jackson. Keep in mind, Jackson has already stated that he hopes Carmelo Anthony is willing to take a paycut to stay with the Knicks and help them build a contender. However, he’s suggested that if Anthony isn’t willing to do that, the Knicks will move on and continue their rebuilding process. To Jackson, this doesn’t actually hinge on Anthony; Kerr is his guy, the right guy for the job, and players will need to buy in.
Nonetheless, despite Jackson’s own credibility, it’s not unheard of for players and management to see things differently. Players will accept Kerr as their coach (if Kerr takes the job), but that doesn’t mean they’ll like it. Perhaps the closest comparison is Kidd and the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets are a team with decorated veterans and future Hall of Famers. Kidd played just last season, and his achievements speak for themselves, but nonetheless, it took awhile for Kidd and his former contemporaries to understand their current relationships and balance power.
Kerr, who was a successful player, doesn’t have the personal achievements of Kidd, and he’s been out of the game for over a decade. There’s nothing saying Kerr couldn’t win players over with his coaching style and philosphies, but the potential for a bumpy start is there.