The last time the New York Knicks were in the NBA Finals Jeff Van Gundy was the head coach. That was over a decade ago, but he’s still loved by New Yorkers. Now that New York has a second team—one with a sudden vacancy in the head coaching position—perhaps it might be time to give Van Gundy a call.
The Brooklyn Nets are going to try and get Phil Jackson, the most successful basketball coach in the NBA; that’s a no-brainer. If David Aldridge’s source, Todd Musburger—a long-time representative of Phil Jackson—knows the coaches’ intentions, then Jackson “has no interest in the Nets’ job at this time.”
But you know who would?
Jeff Van Gundy.
On May 12, 2009, Jeff Van Gundy revealed in a podcast with Bill Simmons that he’d like to get back into coaching one day. He’s done the broadcasting business for a few years and now, with an opening, there’s no reason for him not to take this job.
Bringing Van Gundy in wouldn’t be purely for basketball reasons. Considering the type of owner that Mikhail Prokhorov is, it’s easy to imagine why Van Gundy would be hired; this is the same owner who put up a massive billboard right outside Madison Square Garden that said, “The blueprint for greatness.”
Prokhorov has been encouraging this rivalry since he first purchased the Nets, and this would be another attempt to further fan its flames. The Knicks loved Van Gundy, and for him to coach the Nets would enrage Knicks fans who are enjoying their first real winning season since Van Gundy was the coach.
With another game—and a possible playoff matchup—remaining between the two teams, hiring Van Gundy would guarantee the rivalry’s continued flourishing. More importantly, though, is the fact that it might act as the needed encouragement for more Knicks’ fans to jump ship and support the Nets.
But would Van Gundy even be a good coach?
Van Gundy has always been known to be a defensive minded coach. The Knicks were the best defensive team in the NBA under Van Gundy and the Rockets were the third best defensive team in the NBA under him. His record as a head coach is 430-318.
But, there are two potential tarnishes on his record.
First, Tom Thibodeau was always his assistant coach. Thibodeau is considered one of the best defensive coaches in the NBA, so the question is whether Van Gundy or Thibodeau created such great defenses.
The second tarnish is that Van Gundy has never led even an average offensive team. The Knicks were 24th in offensive rating under him and the Rockets were 23rd. He’s clearly not a very good offensive coach—and he might only be a decent defensive coach if Thibodeau is to thank for his teams’ defensive successes.
Even with all of those problems, Van Gundy would still be a great hire for the Brooklyn Nets.
The rivalry between the Knicks and Nets would get even bigger. But more importantly, whether Thibodeau is to thank for the defense or not, Van Gundy’s the head coach. And when push comes to shove, he is one of the more successful head coaches in the NBA.
Prokhorov did say that “a good plan is maybe conference final.”
So, while the Nets try their best to get Phil Jackson—and I don’t doubt that Prokhorov will offer everything he can—they would be wise to start feeling out Van Gundy. Because when Jackson says "no," Van Gundy will fill a critical role and help the team right itself moving forward.