The Knicks May Compound Their Mistakes And Bring Kurt Rambis Back

Kurt Rambis
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Carmelo Anthony isn’t yet endorsing anyone to become the next coach of the Knicks. But it seems like he may have to develop an opinion soon.

Knicks president Phil Jackson already has his preference on who he wants running the team next year, according to ESPN’s Ian Begley and Marc Stein. Apparently, it’s someone with whom he’s already familiar.

From ESPN:

The Knicks are giving strong consideration to making Kurt Rambis their full-time head coach, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that Rambis, who has served as the Knicks’ interim coach since Derek Fisher was fired Feb. 8, is the preferred choice of team president ‎Phil Jackson, who sources say is pushing for a new multiyear deal for Rambis despite New York’s 8-16 record since the coaching change

Anthony said in March that he wishes the Knicks would conduct an external coaching search before hiring someone. And that 8-16 record, along with Melo’s wishes, isn’t the only reason bringing Rambis back without looking elsewhere would be a curious move.

Even with Fisher out and Rambis in, there are obvious strategic flaws with the Knicks.

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They have been using Kristaps Porzingis more in the post than as a stretch big since Rambis’ arrival, which could be worrisome heading into what would likely be an even more extreme situation next year when the Knicks are “his” team. Now, he’s just interim.

Minutes distribution has been disconcerting, too. Sasha Vujacic remains, somehow, starting despite his shooting and defensive struggles. Meanwhile, depending on whom you talk to, Rambis either did or didn’t talk to Arron Afflalo before benching him for “the Machine.” Afflalo ain’t too happy and the organization continues to overplay Carmelo Anthony, who remains only a little more than year removed from knee surgery.

Anthony’s minutes may give the best microcosm of the Knicks’ strange playing-time problems. Even as the team continues to slide (and it was just 23-31, far from the playoffs to begin with, when Rambis took over), Anthony keeps racking up those minutes. He’s playing 36.8 minutes a night since Rambis’ promotion to interim coach. He’s played upwards of 38 minutes 10 times, and remember this is only over a 22-game stretch.

In Rambis’ first game as interim coach, coming against the Wizards in the final matchup before the All-Star Break, the Jackson disciple played Anthony for the first 14 minutes of the game before sitting him for the first time with 10 minutes left in the second quarter. If that wasn’t enough, if the 10 days of ridicule didn’t teach anything as Anthony headed to and returned from All-Star Weekend in Toronto, Rambis went even more extreme coming back from the break, playing Melo the initial 18 minutes of the Knicks’ return game against the Nets. Yes, Anthony didn’t rest in that one until six minutes left in the second quarter. And he had already been dealing with knee soreness at the time.

So, what’s the appeal?

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Begley and Stein reveal some of Jackson’s reasoning:

With Jackson, 70, insisting that he can no longer handle the day-to-day rigors of coaching, sources say he sees Rambis as the coach best suited to not only run the triangle offense he favors but also manage the team using Jackson’s long-held principles.

Phil Jackson last publicly addressed the Knicks’ coaching situation in March during the team’s West Coast road trip and said then that Rambis is “perfectly capable” of coaching the club on a full-time basis.

“Kurt and I have a relationship that goes back to 2001,” Jackson said. “He knows the ins and outs, what pleases me and [what] probably I want to have changed. … We have a relationship that’s much more tight [than Jackson’s relationship with Fisher].”

Jackson has always prioritized the triangle, and whether Knicks fans wanted to admit it or not, the next coach — if Phil had his way — was always going to be a part of the triangle mindset. The triangle may not be as inherently ineffective as its reputation — pretty much all teams have some traces of triangle principles in their offenses — but running a coaching search for a 31-47 organization based purely on an outdated offense seems unnecessarily stubborn. You’re narrowing your candidates considerably, and for what reason?

Not only are there not many of triangle coaches out there, but there also aren’t a boatload of coaches looking to take on the label of “triangle coach” at risk of never being able to shake off such a tag.

So, the Knicks are basically stuck looking at candidates like Brian Shaw, a former Jackson assistant who flamed out in Denver after a year and a half, similar to how Fisher did in New York over the same amount of time, and…Rambis.

Those options shouldn’t be appealing. But it appears those are the ones in front of the Knicks if they do, in fact, decide to go through with an even stricter implementation of the triangle, as Jackson and Rambis have both said. Running the triangle better would be great. If you’re going to use it, at least use it well. But Rambis may not be the guy the Knicks need to execute better on the court. His résumé with Minnesota, where he went 32-132 in two years as coach, doesn’t show that. His 8-16 stretch with the Knicks doesn’t either.

Yet, Knicks fans may have to welcome him back next season.