There should be at least a couple of coaching vacancies coming now that the regular season has concluded, including one in New York. There is a Hall of Famer waiting for his opportunity to lead a team, but he is no longer waiting for his phone to ring.
Should the Knicks and new president Phil Jackson at least interview Patrick Ewing for their head coaching position if Jackson chooses to remove Mike Woodson as expected? The answer is yes. But Ewing, now an assistant with the Charlotte Bobcats, has been passed over for opportunities to be a head coach, despite his stellar playing career and experience as an NBA assistant.
Ewing would seem to be an intriguing candidate to coach the Knicks.
His retired number hangs from the rafters at Madison Square Garden and he was one of the top players of his generation. He has worked wonders this season with Charlotte big man Al Jefferson, who is an All-NBA first-team candidate.
Yet Ewing has joined the list of former players who have been curiously overlooked for jobs, for various reasons.
“I don’t even worry about it anymore,” he said. “I’m in a great situation here in Charlotte working for a very good organization, working for a guy I believe in. I believe in the system and the things that [coach Steve Clifford] is about. I’m one step away. I’m the associate head coach. All I can do is continue to learn and continue to work.”
There is a question whether former players make good coaches. Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra, Frank Vogel, Tom Thibodeau, Dwane Casey, and Brad Stevens never played in the NBA.
But Rick Carlisle, Mark Jackson, Scott Brooks, Randy Wittman, Doc Rivers, and Kevin McHale did. The league is leaning toward hiring coaches who come from coaching trees or are considered masterminds of the game, such as Stevens.
Ewing is seeking the opportunity to show that he’s capable of being a head coach and it’s curious as to why he hasn’t received more interviews.
“There’s been great coaches who have played and great coaches who haven’t played,” Ewing said. “It’s just if you are given the opportunity. Jeff Van Gundy never played in the NBA but he’s a great coach. There are other coaches who have been very good players who have been outstanding coaches also. It’s all about being given an opportunity and taking advantage of that opportunity, and that’s how I look at it.”
Ewing played 17 years in the NBA and was one of the more dominant centers in the history of the NCAA in his four years at Georgetown. He interviewed for the Charlotte job before Clifford was hired in 2013 and for the Portland Trail Blazers job in 2012 before Terry Stotts was hired.
When asked if he remains hopeful, Ewing said, “Who knows? One day it might happen.”
Celtics assistant coach Walter McCarty was interested in the Boston College opening but was criticized for his lack of head coaching experience. McCarty took to Twitter to address those critics and pointed out his national championship as a player at Kentucky, a 10-year NBA career, and three years as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville. McCarty feels he was unfairly scrutinized because he had not been a Division 1 head coach.
Ewing, who played with McCarty with the Knicks in 1996-97, understood his plight.
“Walter’s a great guy,” Ewing said. “He’s worked in this business a lot of years. He’s been in college and the NBA, so he’s put in his time. Has he had a head coaching opportunity? No. All it takes is just having the opportunity of somebody believing in you and giving you one shot. I don’t know why they didn’t give him that college job or even consider him for it. I think it’s all about recruiting and having a good staff and an administration that believes in you that gives you the opportunity.
“All I can tell Walter is for every no, there one day will be somebody who will say yes, and just make sure that he’s ready.”
Clifford, a longtime NBA assistant, knows all about waiting for that one call. When the Bobcats offered him the job last summer to replace Mike Dunlap, there was no hesitation despite the troubled history of the organization.
“For somebody with my background, I was going to take the first job that was offered to me,” he said. “So that’s just the reality of it. I used to tell my agent, if somebody offers me a job, we’re taking it. There weren’t a lot of discussions after that.”
NBA not in any rush to alter playoff format
There is widespread criticism about the current playoff system, especially after the disparity between the conferences this season. The Dallas Mavericks finished 49-33 and were the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. That same record would have produced the third seed in the East.
The West has been stronger than the East for several years now, and there have been thoughts about putting the best 16 teams in the postseason, regardless of conference affiliation.
The NHL did not consider conference affiliation in its playoff seeding until after 1981. In that 1980-81 season, there were six interconference first-round playoff series and all five Adams Division teams reached the playoffs.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was asked about potentially changing the playoff system and he has made it clear that it is the least important of the issues he wants to address.
“I’m still in the studying stage, so I’m not ready to state it’s a concern because it’s a function of what the best alternatives might be,” he said. “It’s not a new issue for the league. And you have to also take into account the conference play. Our desire is to continue regional rivalries in an unbalanced schedule for certain teams to play some teams more often than others.’’
Should the league return to a more balanced schedule where the Celtics and the Lakers would meet four times a season and Western Conference teams would have more of an opportunity to notch wins by playing more Eastern teams? Silver doesn’t appear eager to make any changes. He sees it as a situation that may change over the years.
“The league is doing so well right now, I just want to be very deliberate and cautious about any major changes like that,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make changes, and of course like any organization we should and we will, but one of the things I talked to the owners about is respecting the committee process. Everyone having confidence in each other, having an open forum to hear multiple points of view, letting the committees do their work, and then having the committees make recommendations back to the larger board. It’s just the beginning of the process right now.”
Williams may be key to Brooklyn’s chances
The Brooklyn Nets streaked to the playoffs, earning the sixth seed in the East and an intriguing first-round series against the Toronto Raptors.
The question is whether Brooklyn’s older players will be ready for this challenge, including 29-year-old Deron Williams, whose production has slowed because of recurring ankle injuries.
ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy talked about the potential impact Williams can have on the series and whether the Nets are legitimate title contenders.
“I think for them to make a run, I think he’s going to have to be very, very good,” Van Gundy said. “His matchup this first series I think could be the most underrated player in the league this season in Kyle Lowry. Kyle Lowry to me clearly should have been an All-Star. He’s had a tremendous year. He’s got the mentality of a pit bull, and so Williams is going to have to be really good.”
Williams was partially blamed for the Nets’ collapse in last season’s seven-game loss to the Chicago Bulls.
The question is whether Williams can lead a team to the Finals and whether he can remain an elite point guard.
“As far as the bigger picture, I really do think that there are two things that every NBA player can look at his situation and say, all right, what can I learn from it, and the first one would be sometimes you don’t know how good you have it,” Van Gundy said.
“Williams in Utah with Jerry Sloan, with the combination of the other players that they had, were right on the cusp. They were very, very good. And he was viewed at that point . . . some people thought Chris Paul was the best point guard, other people thought Deron Williams was the best point guard, but they were both these guys who you were looking upon as surefire Hall of Famers.”
Is Williams the same player he was in Utah?
“I can’t say, I haven’t seen him practice,” said Van Gundy. “I don’t know enough about his situation, if it’s a health-related thing, but I do think you have to examine those things when you’re a player because everybody thinks you’re going to be the same guy no matter where you go in this league, no matter who you play for, no matter who you play with, and my experience is that success is very fragile in this league.”
Van Gundy: Jackson’s job should be golden
Mark Jackson could be facing a difficult situation in the coming weeks. The Warriors entered their series with the Los Angeles Clippers as perhaps the most maligned 51-win team in NBA history. Jackson’s Warriors have had a fine season, but he has also fired two assistant coaches in the past month, while the team has had bouts of inconsistency and underachievement.
Jeff Van Gundy, who is usually the first or second name mentioned when a coaching opening arises, defends Jackson. And he compares Jackson’s situation to that of Brett Brown in Philadelphia.
“It’s interesting how our league has changed. It used to be that when you lost, you knew you were in trouble as a coach,” Van Gundy said. “Now losing is called a plan. Winning coaches are now every bit up for being fired as losing coaches. We saw it last year with Lionel Hollins, Vinny Del Negro, George Karl. But I’ve heard rumblings, I’ve seen the same reports as everybody else that Mark has got to win to keep his job, but I’ve never seen anybody willing to put their name to it. If it’s true, it’s utter nonsense.”
Golden State is participating in consecutive postseasons for the first time since 1990-91 and 1991-92, and before their playoff appearance in 2012-13, the Warriors had reached the postseason only once in the previous 18 years.
“If you’re a Warriors fan, management, owner, whatever, you can’t have that short a memory of where your organization has been,” Van Gundy said. “Your organization is one who’s historically lost and lost big, and Mark has come in there in the lockout year and they lost due to [Stephen] Curry being injured a majority of the year, and they made a huge trade, [Andrew] Bogut, who was hurt, for Monta Ellis, so they sacrificed that year. And then the last two years in a hypercompetitive Western Conference, they’ve put together back-to-back 40-plus-win seasons for the first time in like, I don’t know, 20, 25 years. So you can’t lose sight of how far you’ve come.
“So when you change coaches, it can get worse, too, and I think anybody thinking that Mark Jackson hasn’t done a superior job there in transforming them from a poor team to a very, very good team, and from a sieve defensively to an elite defensive team, just isn’t paying attention, and to think anyone could have done that with that team I think is making a mistake.
“I don’t buy it. I don’t think he is under any pressure to lose his job. I’d be shocked, I just can’t see it. I just can’t see management and ownership not recognizing what a great job he’s done.”
It seems attempts by both the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat to ramp up for the postseason by adding big men have failed. Indiana ruled out the ailing Andrew Bynum for at least its first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks with a sore right knee. Bynum played a total of two games for the Pacers, including his debut against the Celtics, before being shut down. Bynum’s desire was questioned before this season but it appears he is no longer physically capable of playing in the NBA. The Heat added Greg Oden for the express purpose of banging with Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and he’s been relegated to a bench role because of a lack of production. Oden played nine minutes per game in the regular season and may not have a significant role in the playoffs . . . While Michigan State’s Adreian Payne’s draft stock rose during the NCAA Tournament, the important stretch for Payne will be the workouts and interview process. Teams are going to want to determine his maturity level and whether Payne can play power forward in the NBA . . . A player to watch for the Celtics with their second first-round pick is UCLA guard Zach LaVine, who is interesting strictly on potential. His freshman numbers — 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists per game — were average at best because he was relegated to playing behind coach Steve Alford’s son, Bryce, toward the second half of the season. LaVine scored in double figures in 13 of UCLA’s first 19 games and then just four times in the final 18 games as the Bruins reached the Sweet 16. So the key will be workouts with teams and his performance at the draft combine . . . When Russell Westbrook sprinted toward the basket Sunday after a timeout was called and blocked George Hill’s shot before falling on his back, it was reminiscent of how Kevin Garnett would swat away shots after breaks in play with the Celtics. When Garnett began that tactic, a show of gamesmanship, it was considered ridiculous and petty. Now many players in the NBA block shots at the rim for the same reason. Westbrook was nearly injured on his attempt.Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.