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Knicks’ six top coaching candidates to replace fall guy David Fizdale in New York

The Knicks decided to descend into chaos earlier than usual this season.

Following the team’s 108-87 home loss to the Cavaliers on Sunday, Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry addressed the media, saying the front office is “not happy” with New York’s level of play. The Knicks followed that defeat with an 18-point loss to the Bulls on Tuesday night, dropping to the bottom of the Eastern Conference at 2-9 overall.

Needless to say, none of this is good news for Knicks coach David Fizdale, who appears to be on his way out of New York.

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Fizdale’s firing is “inevitable barring a dramatic turnaround,” according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Fizdale holds a 19-74 record through less than two seasons as New York’s coach, but he is hardly the only one to blame for the organization’s failures. The Knicks have employed six different head coaches this decade, and they are on pace to miss the playoffs for a seventh straight season. The lack of success always starts at the top with owner James Dolan.

Mills, Perry and Dolan need a fall guy, though, so Fizdale will likely be shown the door in the near future. Who could take his seat at Madison Square Garden?

Keith Smart / Kaleb Canales (interim coach)

In the short-term, Smart would likely take over as the interim coach and finish out the 2019-20 campaign. Smart, who worked with Fizdale in Miami and Memphis before joining his staff in New York, has finished seasons as the head coach following firings before (2002-03 with the Cavs, 2011-12 with the Kings).

Canales could also be an option on the current Knicks staff. The 41-year-old served as the interim coach for the Trail Blazers after they fired Nate McMillan in 2012.

Mark Jackson

The former Warriors coach was considered a top candidate after the Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek in 2018. Jackson played 500 games at point guard for the Knicks over the course of a 17-year NBA career, so there is familiarity with the New York fan base.

Jackson helped turn around Golden State and establish a defensive identity, but the Warriors didn’t emerge as a juggernaut until Steve Kerr took over and revamped the offense. Jackson did earn the respect of his players, which will be important as the Knicks attempt to develop youngsters like RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson. However, there are concerns about his ability to build relationships outside of the locker room.

“Part of it was that he couldn’t get along with anybody else in the organization,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob said about the decision to fire Jackson. “And look, he did a great job, and I’ll always compliment him in many respects, but you can’t have 200 people in the organization not like you.”

Jerry Stackhouse

Stackhouse was also in the running for the job before the Knicks hired Fizdale in 2018. The two-time All-Star shooting guard got some head-coaching experience with Raptors 905 of the G League, and that eventually opened the door for him to become the men’s basketball coach at Vanderbilt.

It may not be a realistic pairing considering Stackhouse signed a long-term deal with Vanderbilt back in April and declared he was ready to “anchor down,” but the Knicks would be wise to at least gauge his interest.

David Blatt

Yes, Blatt became a punching bag with the LeBron James-led Cavs despite a trip to the NBA Finals in 2015 and a 30-11 record before his firing in 2016. The jokes about Blatt’s tenure in Cleveland conveniently ignore the fact that he was brought in to coach for a franchise in the middle of a rebuild prior to James’ decision to come home, not one with championship aspirations. The Knicks definitely fit into the former category.

Blatt could earn a call because of his relationship with Mills, who played with Blatt at Princeton from 1978-1981.

“Steve has tried to hire Blatt twice,” one Knicks source told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News in 2018. “He really likes him as a coach. The question is will Steve hire him now? If it’s Blatt, that’s Steve’s choice. I don’t know if he’d want to put himself out there.”

The biggest hurdle here is Blatt’s health status. He stepped down as coach of Greek club Olympiakos in October two months after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He initially planned to continue coaching, but it would be completely understandable if the 60-year-old chooses retirement rather than the stress that comes with this position.

Kenny Smith

The TNT analyst is way behind other targets in terms of coaching experience, but Smith confirmed that he did interview for the Knicks’ job in 2018. He is clearly intrigued by the idea of being an NBA coach.

“The 18 years that I’ve been on TNT have prepared me for a lot of opportunities, and coaching being one of them,” Smith said on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “The preparation and the reservoir of information, relationships, from players to everything. Players to coaches to assistant coaches, from being in college basketball, doing the Final Four, AAU teams — every element I’ve covered has kind of prepared me for more direction… Coaching is definitely on the aspiration list.”

This isn’t a ready-made winner falling in Smith’s lap, so he would really have to consider if he is prepared to leave one of the best gigs in basketball. He shouldn’t be at the top of New York’s list, but don’t be surprised if he lands another interview.

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