On Friday, the New York Knicks fired head coach David Fizdale just 22 games into his second season. Unhappy with the 4-18 start to the year, management decided it was time to move in another direction.
What that direction ends up being is anybody's guess, but in the meantime they pegged Mike Miller as interim head coach. That name might not have the punch of a Mark Jackson or Becky Hammon, but Miller may turn out to be exactly what the Knicks need, and should be considered as more of a contender for the vacancy than a stopgap.
Miller hails from the G League, where he coached the Westchester Knicks - New York's affiliate - for four seasons. In that stretch he made the playoffs three times and amassed a .540 regular season win percentage.
Miller took home Coach of the Year honors, voted on by fellow G-League head coaches and GMs, in 2017-18 following a 32-18 season in which the Knicks ranked third in defense and second in three-point percentage. He also oversaw the development of numerous G League success stories such as Luke Kornet, Kadeem Allen, Trey Burke, Billy Garrett, and Jimmer Fredette.
Prior to his Knicks stint, Miller served as an assistant with the Austin Spurs - San Antonio's affiliate - for three years. The G League was Miller's transition to the pros, but he had already spent over 20 years coaching at the college level, including as head coach for Texas State and Eastern Illinois.
He played collegiate ball as well, winning the 1984 Lone Star Conference Championship with East Texas State.
This resume should stand on its own - Miller is a tried-and-true basketball lifer. His teams emphasized defense and development, which his New York companions could use. But fans may remain iffy entrusting a coach they hardly know coming out of the NBA's developmental league.
This could ultimately be in the Knicks' favor.
First, Miller is already in tune to the organization. He's been around it for four years and was an assistant for coach Fizdale this season. There should be few transition issues here, and other teams have found great success in hiring their head coaches out of the G-League.
Take Toronto, who won their first championship under Nick Nurse, who followed an extremely similar career path as Miller. Terry Stotts and Quin Snyder, coaches of the Portland Trailblazers and Utah Jazz respectively, each set off their coaching careers in the (then) D League.
Miller's emphasis on development should be music to Knicks fans' ears as well. This team is not going to win anything, at least this season, despite what management may be hoping for. This gives Miller a chance to show off his ability to grow young players. There have been too many instances of Kevin Knox or RJ Barrett off in the corner with nothing to do but watch their team's veterans assume the offense for stretches at a time. Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson, two other intriguing prospects, weren't receiving any playing time to start the season.
These hiccups for a franchise that wants to rebuild around its young core need to go, and Miller, not the fanciest retread name, is the man to make these changes.
Of course, the Knicks' front office will have to see how Miller performs in his interim status before finalizing any decisions. Will he run a modern NBA offense after his Westchester teams finished last in three-point attempt rate in three of his four seasons? Can he correct some of Fizdale's shortfalls such as a lack of identity, lack of creative play-calling and lack of opportunities given to developing pieces? All that is to be discovered.
Miller has a tough proposition in front of him: assume his first NBA head coaching role in the face of an unhappy franchise, a 4-18 hole to dig out of, veterans who want to compete and prospects who need development.
He may not be able to provide the Knicks everything that they want, but if he can come close, he deserves to be more than just the 'interim' head coach.