Oh, what could have been.
Four years ago, the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors were two franchises searching for a new head coach during the month of May.
The Knicks had dismissed Mike Woodson after two-plus seasons and two playoff appearances, though the 2013-14 season saw the Knicks finish eight games under .500 and miss the postseason for the first time in three years. Still, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and the newly-signed Andrea Bargnani provided some hope for a team that also was attempting to mold Tim Hardaway Jr. into a star.
The Warriors were fresh off a 51-win season, the most put up since 1991-92, but lost in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs in seven games to the Los Angeles Clippers. Jackson was suddenly and surprisingly fired after three seasons after spats with management put too much of a strain on the relationship between the two parties despite the head coach helping build the Warriors into what was looking like a formidable squad.
Steph Curry was developing into a star while the young Klay Thompson and rookie Draymond Green quickly became the core of a franchise that hadn’t won a title since 1975.
Both teams quickly set their sights on Steve Kerr, who had never coached before, but showed a high basketball I.Q. during his playing days with most notably the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs.
The Knicks were early front-runners considering team president Phil Jackson coached Kerr to three championships in Chicago.
New York offered Kerr a four-year deal worth $25 million after speaking with him for almost two months, but Golden State swooped in and provided the promise of greener pastures after losing out on Stan Van Gundy, who joined the Detroit Pistons.
“They have a good young team. The location is ideal, Kerr told NBA.com at the time. “My daughter goes to Cal and plays volleyball. My oldest son is in college in San Diego and our youngest is a junior in high school. It’s just a short flight for them.”
On this day, May 15, Kerr accepted a five-year, $25 million deal with the Warriors, though he admitted: “it was agonizing to say no to Phil because of what I think of him and what he’s done for my career.”
Well, it was the right decision.
After hiring Derek Fischer, the Knicks fell apart, winning just 17 games in 2014-15 after Stoudemire and Bargnani were hampered by injuries all season while Hardaway’s development went awry. In the meantime, they traded JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a feeble attempt to clean house. It was and remains their worst season in franchise history.
The Knicks have never recovered, winning just 32, 31 and 29 games in each of the following three seasons which included the departure of Fischer, Jackson, Anthony and Jeff Hornacek, who was fired after two seasons as head coach last month.
In the meantime, Kerr led the Warriors to its first NBA title in 40 years while Curry went on to win league MVP. They added another title last season thanks to the acquisition of Kevin Durant after dropping a 3-1 lead in the 2015-16 Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers, ruining an NBA-record 73-win season.
Golden State is once again the favorites to win the NBA title this season as they hold a 1-0 lead over the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. The Knicks, on the other hand, are preparing for yet another year relying on ping pong balls as they learned their draft fate during the lottery on Tuesday night.
Kerr couldn’t have played that situation four years ago more perfectly.