(Reuters) - Phil Jackson was left scrambling for a Plan B on Thursday after the Hall of Fame coach suffered his first loss as president of the New York Knicks when his hand-picked candidate to coach the team took another job.
Steve Kerr, a Jackson disciple and friend who was widely expected to make Madison Square Garden his new home court, spurned the Knicks and signed instead to coach the Golden State Warriors on a massive five-year $25 million contract.
When Jackson fired head coach Mike Woodson and his staff last month after a disappointing Knicks season left them out of the playoffs, he vowed the time had come for change throughout the franchise.
Now the time has come for Jackson to identify another chief coaching target to help him change the culture of losing that has consumed the Knicks, who last won an NBA title in 1973 with Jackson on the court as a defensive-minded forward.
Fans of the orange and blue might dream of having Jackson call the shots from courtside as he did in claiming a record 11 NBA titles as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.
But the 68-year-old Jackson has repeatedly insisted his days of coaching are over due to his age and health concerns and that he was embracing his first crack at building an NBA title team as front office boss.
A long list of names have been bandied about in the media since the news broke late on Wednesday that Kerr chose to steer a more talented team that is based closer to his California home and family over his allegiance to Jackson.
Former coaches Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, whose firing by Golden State opened the door for Kerr to join the Warriors, have both been mentioned and both have ties to the Knicks.
Van Gundy coached the New Yorkers for seven seasons and then the Houston Rockets before becoming a TV commentator, while Jackson grew up in New York and played seven seasons for the Knicks in two separate stints.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, a former New York assistant, could also be a candidate if he were allowed to leave Chicago.
Kerr himself could provide a clue as to where Phil Jackson looks next.
Kerr, who also won two NBA crowns under coach Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and was general manager of the Phoenix Suns before becoming a TV analyst, had no coaching experience but was in step philosophically with Jackson and his hoops vision.
Jackson is committed to the fundamental principles of passing, movement and teamwork, as embodied in the triangle offense he used in Chicago and in Los Angeles and may favor a candidate that can install a similar game plan for the Knicks.
He could pursue Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis or make a run at Derek Fisher, his former Lakers point guard who won five NBA rings with him.
Fisher is currently playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA’s Western Conference semi-finals but has said this 18th season would be his last as a player.
Rambis, who also served as an assistant in Los Angeles under Jackson, had 2-1/2 seasons as a head coach with the Lakers and Minnesota, but a poor combined mark of 56-145.
If Jackson looks back to his days with the Bulls, he could seek out former center Bill Cartwright, who won three crowns with him in Chicago.
Cartwright, who coached the Bulls for parts of three seasons with a record of 51-100, also has Knicks ties, having played eight seasons at the Garden.
Jackson, however, could face competition for Cartwright from new Warriors coach Kerr, who hired Cartwright as an assistant during his days with the Phoenix Suns.
Another prominent name mentioned is Brian Shaw, a former player and assistant under Jackson in Los Angeles. But Shaw already has a job as head coach of the Denver Nuggets, who would require compensation for a move to New York.
Another candidate could be Jim Cleamons, an assistant under Jackson with both the Bulls and Lakers, who served as head coach of the Mavericks for just over a season with a 28-70 record.
Cleamons, who played for the Knicks in the late 1970s, is currently an assistant for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Editing by ......