The New York Knicks fired Derek Fisher on Monday after they lost nine of their last 10 games. While the recent losing ways and myriad questions about Fisher's overall coaching effectiveness likely played roles in his ouster, one theme has consistently popped up: Fisher didn't run enough of the triangle offense, Knicks president Phil Jackson's baby.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote that Fisher "strayed too much from the offense." Frank Isola of the New York Daily News said it didn't sit right with Jackson that Fisher ran a more traditional pick-and-roll offense in tight games. Jackson confidant Charley Rosen wrote for Today's Fastbreak that Fisher had a "stubborn insistence" of wanting the Knicks to play faster and run more pick-and-roll.
Jackson himself naturally talked up the triangle at Monday's presser after the firing. He said he'll be looking for a coach who will match his "style," which would presumably mean a coach more willing to stick to the triangle than Fisher. Via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
"Someone has to match the style about the way we do things," he said. "And there's a certain style that I have that I think that works and have found to work before. I don't know if all those people measure up to that because I don't know them enough. But that's an important aspect to it. We'll find that type of person."
Jackson also oddly said running the triangle isn't "paramount," but nevertheless is "important." That again seems to signal he wants somebody to come in and primarily run the triangle:
"The system of basketball is what's important. We're talking about a system," Jackson added. "This happens to be the system that we're familiar with so it's not paramount but it's important."
Jackson clarified his stance on Tuesday in a Twitter message:
I am sad about D-Fish. However, I'm not discouraged. Here is some things pundits should know before assuming 'next'. pic.twitter.com/cFnA8TQAhx— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) February 9, 2016
Here's the money part when it comes to the next coach and the triangle:
Inside that style of play for that leader is the idea that there should be a system of play that includes the group. How that is done can include using the ∆ system of basketball, but doesn't exclude other systems that include group play.
Jackson is suggesting that running the triangle specifically isn't of the utmost importance, but there's enough evidence to the contrary to suggest that it'd be the much-preferred route.
This is why it's no surprise that Jackson protégé Kurt Rambis will get the first crack at turning the Knicks around. Rambis was a disaster in his last head coaching stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but his familiarity and devotion to the triangle will give him an opportunity to potentially become the long-term coach.
Even if Rambis isn't the answer, Jackson, who appears to have no interest in coaching the team himself, will likely then turn to another triangle disciple. ESPN's Brian Windhorst immediately reported after Fisher was fired that Brian Shaw and Luke Walton were top candidates for the job.
Shaw fared poorly during a short stint with the Denver Nuggets because he couldn't get through to his players, so hiring him to coach another rebuilding team with a young star in Kristaps Porzingis doesn't seem ideal. Walton will be a hot commodity thanks to the job he's done with the Golden State Warriors this season and that could lead to a potential for a bidding war between the Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, which would pit Jackson against fiancée Jeanie Buss.
But as Wojnarowski notes, would Walton commit to New York when there are rumblings that Jackson may not be there for the long haul? Both Wojnarowski and Isola suggest there's reason to believe Jackson will reunite with Buss and the Lakers in the near future, which could give Los Angeles the upper hand with Walton.
With Jackson's future somewhat in doubt and not many great triangle candidates to pick from, it seems foolish to be fully married to the triangle when picking this next coach. Running some triangle principles is one thing because they can be effective. The Warriors certainly use triangle principles and they're doing just fine. But pigeonholing yourself in order to only run this specific system isn't a great way to find the right head coach.
The goal should simply be to find any good coach who can help take this team to the next level and help make it attractive to future free agents such as Russell Westbrook, who's said to be intrigued by Porzingis and the Knicks. Tom Thibodeau is a popular name that's come up, and ESPN's Ian O'Connor said the Knicks are basically his dream job. However, the general consensus is Jackson wouldn't hire him because their philosophies are so different.
There are numerous other non-triangle candidates who could be attractive hires if Jackson broadens the search, including recently fired NBA coaches like David Blatt and Jeff Hornacek. While things didn't work out for those two at their prior spots, they were in unique situations that didn't help their causes. Getting a fresh start coaching a rising star in Porzingis could be what one of those coaches needs to turn around his NBA coaching career.
Whomever Jackson hires next, it's important that he gets it right. The Knicks need some stability in the organization, especially with Porzingis in the all-important developmental years. To get it right, Jackson should keep an open mind. An unfettered devotion to the triangle could potentially doom the franchise.
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