By John Schmeelk
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The Brooklyn Nets made the first strike of the offseason in the battle of the boroughs, making former Knick Jason Kidd their new head coach. It's a high-risk move to make a former star with absolutely no experience the head coach of a win-now veteran team with some pretty strong personalities. Will Kidd give Deron Willams the freedom and knowledge that he needs to be a top five player in the league? Or will Kidd, as many star players have been known to do, harp on all the things Williams doesn't do as well as he did and be too hard on his point guard? There's no way to know.
For now, the Brooklyn Nets own the basketball headlines, and the Knicks are left licking their wounds as their very valuable mid-level exception last year was wasted on a player who gave them only a half-season of decent basketball. As one of the few ways that the Knicks can get better, they need to make better use of their mid-level this year. I have no doubt that Kidd billboards will be popping up all over the city proclaiming that, once again, the Nets are ready to rule New York. The Knicks do have a say in all this, however, and the recent reports about Doc Rivers might give them an opportunity.
Despite his problems in the postseason, Mike Woodson did a good job getting the Knicks to 50-plus wins this season and into the second round of the playoffs. He was outcoached (badly at times) by Frank Vogel in the conference semifinals, and showed once again that he is not a difference-making coach in the playoffs. You know who is? Rivers. There are various reports out there that Rivers does not want to coach the Celtics next season, likely because they are going to rebuild and jettison a lot of their veteran players.
With Woodson under contract for only one more season, the Knicks are obligated to make a phone call to feel out Rivers and see what he thinks about the Knicks. If Rivers is in fact an option, Woodson would have to be made an undeserving casualty for the betterment of the team. With the Knicks' cap situation, one of the few ways they can get better is by improving their coaching. Rivers is undoubtedly an upgrade. Considering James Dolan's history of being loyal to a fault, this is probably an unlikely scenario, but still what would be best for the team.
There is a catch, of course. Rivers is still under contract with the Celtics for three more years, and it seems unlikely that Boston will let him walk out of that deal to join a team in their division. The best situation for Rivers and the Knicks is for him to "retire" and take a year off from basketball, setting up a 2015 reunion with the Knicks. By then, the odds are better that he will be able to work out whatever contract issues he has with the Celtics. It would give the Knicks a premium coach for one more year of their run with Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and the rest of this core. I honestly believe that Rivers could put this group over the top and get them to play in an NBA Finals.
It would give the Knicks their best coach since Pat Riley -- sorry Jeff Van Gundy, but it's true -- and make the Jason Kidd signing look like nothing more than a PR stunt. Rivers is a basketball coach. It's in his blood. He knows what it is like to win in New York. He knows how to handle a big media market. He can get the most out of Anthony like he did out of Paul Pierce. It's a perfect fit.
Now the Knicks just have to be smart enough to make it happen.
LEBRON NEEDS TO MAKE THE SPURS PAY; PARKER INJURY COULD SHIFT SERIES
- I hate the fact that everything that happens in this NBA Finals invariably comes down to LeBron James, as if no one else on either team is even playing. It can frustrate the hell out of me, but at least right now this series does have a lot to do with James. The Spurs' defense on him has been consistent this series. They are going to extraordinary lengths to turn him into a jump shooter, going under every screen-and-roll and clogging the lane. James, to his credit, has refused to give in and has tried to make plays for his teammates. But with his supporting cast struggling on the road (except Mike Miller), it's time for James to start firing away. If the Heat want to get this series back to Miami, James is going to have to give them a 35-point game. The only way that he is going to do that is to start taking the wide-open jumpers that the Spurs are daring him to take. He needs to make San Antonio pay for that. He is a much-improved shooter compared to his earlier years, and it's time for him to show it.
- The Tony Parker hamstring injury could help destroy what could otherwise be a great NBA Finals. If he has to miss any games, or play at a significantly lower level, the Spurs could be in a heap of trouble. Granted, the Spurs have shown the ability to win without their best players all year, but Parker is their best player and point guard. He is also the one player who can get his own shot fairly consistently. If Parker is out, Manu Ginobli will have to get out of the funk that he is in, get in his time machine and bring out some vintage performances. For the most part, he has been sloppy and bad this series, and the Spurs can't afford that if Parker is out.
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