Schmeelk: Breaking Down Knicks' Potential Interim Coach Candidates

John Schmeelk
December 06, 2019 - 12:28 pm
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The Knicks followed up their 44-point defeat in Milwaukee on Monday night with a 37-point loss at home against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night. The Knicks had their entire team healthy. These are the types of losses that cost a coach his job. 

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While no move has been made as of Friday morning, it seems like the scale is at a tipping point, where any bad loss or negative event could change its balance. Even though neither the Knicks front office nor ownership has said anything for nearly a month, it feels like the status of coach David Fizdale’s employment is a day-to-day scenario. 

Team president Steve Mills’ timeline would appear to be a bit longer, but there is no doubt the Knicks’ record reflects just as poorly on him as it does on the coach. While Fizdale has failed to maximize the talent at his disposal, the roster was not put together well. When a team is 4-18 and losing games by 44 and 37 points, no one escapes culpability. 

Whenever a coaching change is made, it is unlikely that the Knicks will bring in their next full-time coach midseason. If Dolan is considering changing front-office personnel this offseason, it doesn’t make sense to allow Mills and general manager Scott Perry to select the team’s next head coach. Someone on the staff will get the interim label with the job of making the front office’s roster look closer to a 30-win team than a 15-win team. 

Here are the candidates who I believe are most likely to get consideration for the job:  

Mike Miller

The former Westchester Knicks head coach seems to be the likely choice because of his history in working closely with Mills, Perry and the Knicks front office in player development. Miller coached the Knicks’ G League affiliate from 2015 through last season and has been touted as someone who has implemented the same scheme as the Knicks to get guys ready for a potential call-up to the NBA. 

A former head coach at Texas State and Eastern Illinois, Miller has a history of coaching younger players. As the head coach in Westchester, he led the team to a 61-39 record in his final two seasons there. They were the second-best defensive team in the G League last season and third-best two seasons ago. 

The results were more mixed offensively. The team was near the bottom of the league in pace the last two years, and outside of the top 10 offensively. No G League team shot fewer 3s than the Knicks did last season and they shot the third-fewest three years ago. 

With all that said, Miller is an organization guy, which is probably exactly what Mills and owner James Dolan want at the helm to play out the season. 

Kaleb Canales

Canales is a lifelong coach who started on the high school level as an assistant before moving to college and finally starting his NBA career as a video assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers. He worked his way up to an assistant coach before being named interim head coach for the Blazers at just 32 years of age after they fired Nate McMillan in 2012. Canales went 8-15 for a Blazers team that finished the lockout-shortened season 28-38. He had coached the Blazers’ Summer League team the year before. 

The Blazers cratered defensively after Canales took over that season (112.1 defensive rating in his 23 games, which was the worst in the league), while their offense remained middling. After his brief stint as interim coach in Portland, he worked under Terry Stotts there for a year before going to Dallas to serve as an assistant in Dallas under Rick Carlisle. Canales came to the Knicks with Fizdale in 2018. 

Canales is only 41 years old with a strong assistant coaching background. Of the assistants now on the Knicks staff, he would be the person who might have the best chance of coaxing a little more success out of this group of players. 

Keith Smart
Justin Ford/USA TODAY Images

Keith Smart

Smart is Fizdale’s lead assistant coach and has experience as a head coach in the NBA at three different stops: Cleveland, Golden State and Sacramento. His stint in Cleveland was as an interim head coach. His career record is 93-170. He would be a logical choice, but odds are he would be relieved from duty along with Fizdale if he is fired. 

The Knicks’ other assistants do not have head coaching experience. The interim coach will only be a caretaker unless there is a seismic turnaround in how the team plays. What Dolan does in May and June with the entire basketball operation will be far more significant. 

The hope will be that whoever the interim coach ends up being would make the next five months more palatable until bigger decisions are made. 

You can follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. You can also listen to more of his Knicks opinion on his podcast, “The Bank Shot,” on most popular podcast platforms. 

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