The Bad, Ugly, Atrocious and Mediocre: Ranking the Knicks Coaches (2003-19)

In the summer of 2003 the New York Knicks drafted a power forward out of Georgetown named Mike Sweetney. He was the 9th pick in the first round, a few slots down from what would be best of their generation players. It was bad luck that the Knicks picked 9th instead of 1st, 3rd or 5th where LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade were selected.

Sweetney had a four year career. Had the Knicks drafted Boris Diaw instead they would have acquired a player who would give the NBA 14 years and 1,064 games. Or, David West. He played in 1,034 games in 15 years. Kendrick Perkins played in 782 games. Even Leondro Barbosa would have been better than Sweetney. He was the 28th pick and played in 850 games.

The Knicks have had two problems over time. Drafting the wrong talent as evidenced by the Mike Sweetney pick.  And hiring the wrong coach.

Since the LeBron James draft, the New York Knicks have had 14 head coaches.  Only one coach in the past 17 years won 50 games. That was Mike Woodson in 2012-13 leaning heavily on Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudamire, Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith. That Knicks team lost to the Pacers in the second round and the next year Mike Woodson was fired. It is what the Knicks do well, their unique talent. Fire coaches that never should have been hired.

The 14 coaches that have cashed James Dolan checks have been an array of characters that had the same tragedy befall them. Blamed for a roster that can’t contend and so they are dismissed.

The Bad, Abysmal, Unlucky, and Okay

David Fizdale, 2018-19. 25% games won. Never should have been hired. Lacked experience in a big market and a style of play. Coaching Memphis doesn’t make you ready for the NYC expectations. If the Knicks remained committed to developing young talent, it may have worked. But they banked on free agency and failed. Their young players haven’t lived up to their potential.

Larry Brown, 2005-06. 28% games won. His highlight was his 1,000th win.  The lowlight was the Knicks refusing to pay the rest of his contract after they fired him. The two sides eventually settled. Brown is a tough coach to play for and Stephon Marbury was a rough relationship for Brown. Brown also ruined Trevor Ariza’s confidence with his constant public criticisms. Riding players doesn’t necessarily create toughness.  His tough love was a disaster with a young team. Besides Marbury, the talent was Jamal Crawford and Jalen Rose. Penny Hardaway was trying to stay in the league and rarely played.  Eddy Curry wasn’t fat anymore but he needed better talent around him and a less chaotic locker room. As did Larry Brown who was one and done.

Derek Fisher, 2014-16. 29% games won. If DFish the point guard was a player for DFish the coach he would have called foul. Derek Fisher wasn’t a good coach. His plays were atrocious. His substitutions made you shake your head. He was the Knicks coach only because Phil Jackson was the Knicks GM. Cream always rises to the top. And disasters like Derek Fisher ( who only won 17 games his first year in NY) sink to the bottom. Fisher had a young Porizingis and Carmelo and still couldn’t keep his job.

Kurt Rambis, 2016. 32% games won. Rambis was another Phil Jackson flotsam. One Laker exits and another enters. Rambis didn’t matter. He was just a placeholder. His coaching talent is somewhere nestled between god awful and cover your eyes. He only coached 28 games. Thank you basketball gods.

Isiah Thomas, 2006-08. 34% games won. Before the season started, President of Basketball Operations Isiah Thomas passed on Rajon Rondo, and Kyle Lowry in the draft and was roundly criticized for drafting Renaldo Balkman. He traded future draft picks for overweight, often lazy Eddy Curry. He gave Jared Jeffries a payday he didn’t deserve. Isiah the front office guy didn’t help Isiah the coach. Not at all. Innately combative, he was in the middle of a fight/brawl  with the Denver Nuggets that spilled on the court. He had ordered his players to foul hard. Then things got out of hand.  Isiah  had six players who averaged in double figures but Jamal Crawford, Stephon Marbury, David Lee, Steve Francis, Quentin Richardson and Eddy Curry were a ragtag bunch of old, young, average, and boring. They didn’t play hard all the time.  The next season Zach Randolph- a deal Isiah made- had his NY minute and didn’t disappoint with 17 and 10. But the Knicks only won 23 games. Isiah is a cautionary tale about great players. Their coaching can be suspect.

Jeff Hornacek, 2016-18. 36% games won. It amuses me how bad white coaches can just fail up. Hornacek was a disaster as a Phoenix coach and was given the keys to the Knicks farm. He followed Derek Fisher and Kurt Rambis because in a Knicks universe low hanging fruit is the thing. Carmelo, Derrick Rose and Kristaps Porzingis were the talent and all Hornacek could muster was 31 wins in a weak Eastern Conference. The defense was atrocious. The next year Phil Jackson was out and Steve Mills took over. The Knicks were a developmental team, trying to build around Porzingis. They won 29 games.

Don Chaney, 2003-04. Herb Williams, 2004-05. 38% of game won. Former players who were placeholders for Lenny Wilkins and Larry Brown.

Lenny Wilkins, 2004-05. 41% games won. It was supposed to be a romantic story. The Brooklyn  hero returning. Lenny Wilkins the New Yorker coaching the team he grew up idolizing. He had Stephon Marbury, Allan Houston and Keith Van Horn and nothing else. Wilkins only lasted 81 games. He resigned instead of being fired, doing himself a favor more than the Knicks.

Mike D’Antoni, 2008-12. 42% games won. D’Antoni was run out of town at the end but he was trying to revolutionize the game in a place where all eyes were watching. The Knicks with Melo were an iso team and D’Antoni was trying to Golden State the Knicks years before Steph Curry. Melo had more power than D’Antoni and won the war of wills. Of course, without D’Antoni there would not have been Linsanity, so there. Plus D’Antoni lasted longer than any coach in this era.

Mike Woodson, 2012-14. 57% games won. Mike Woodson replaced Mike D’Antoni and won 54 games in 2012-13 and the next year he won 37 games. Derek Fisher replaced him which was a slap. Woodson is the only coach to take a Knicks team to a 50 win season in the LeBron era. Carmelo and J.R. Smith were his anchors but so was Woodson’s defense.