Open Letter To Phil Jackson: Give some thought to hiring Maccabi’s David Blatt

Dear Coach Jackson,

I’m sure you have been very busy in your new role as President of the New York Knicks and have been entrenched in recent days with the Chicago pre-draft combine, the excitement of this year’s NBA playoffs and the delicate process of selecting a new head coach.

The task of choosing the right head coach for the Knicks is far from simple. New York, in any sport, is an environment in which any coach or decision maker is under constant public scrutiny, with a very proud fan base that expects the best. Specifically with the Knicks, both fans and members of the organization are thirsty for the consistent excellence that has eluded New York since the Patrick Ewing era.

There is a long list of worthy candidates, including current NBA head coaches, as well as several of your former players who have the right combination of leadership, intelligence and emotional understanding to run a team that is built upon your philosophy.

However, there is an American-Israeli coach, David Blatt, who could be an excellent outside-the-box choice to run the New York Knicks for the foreseeable future. He just pulled off another of his miracles yesterday.

I hope that despite your busy schedule, you had a chance to catch some of the Euroleague Final Four this past weekend.  Maccabi Tel-Aviv emerged as the Cinderella champion, overcoming two significantly stronger teams in CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid, in a year in which few outside the Tel-Aviv locker room predicted even a quarterfinals appearance.

This is one of the greatest accomplishments in Blatt’s decorated career, winning his first Euroleague championship as a head coach after winning 4 Israeli League Championships, 5 Israeli Cup championships, an Italian League Championship, an Italian Cup Championship, a Eurochallenge Championship, an Adriatic League Championship, Eurobasket Gold and Bronze medals with Team Russia, along with an Olympic Bronze medal.

Coach Blatt has had so many noteworthy achievements since becoming a head coach of Hapoel Galil-Elyon in 1993, that it would be quite difficult to truly do justice to all of them in a reasonably short letter.

Ideally, the coach you will bring to New York will be open to running the triangle offense, or at least implementing the sort of system that embraces the concepts of the triangle. From reading your three books and following your Bulls and Lakers teams, it is obvious that the triangle is something far greater than a triple-post offense.  It is a system that embodies symmetry, chemistry and overall togetherness.

This season in Maccabi, Blatt has led a group that over 60 games into the season (the Israeli league playoffs are still going on) has a leading scorer averaging 11 points a game, but a whopping 11 players averaging 6 points or more.

Throughout Blatt’s time with Maccabi, it has been abundantly clear that his players have little interest in their stats or individual glory, and have organizationally embraced valuing the success of the club over individual achievements.

In my time as an assistant coach with Maccabi Rishon Lezion over the past three seasons, we have had the opportunity to play against a Blatt-coached Maccabi Tel-Aviv team 10 times, including in the 2012 Israeli Cup Final and the 2014 Israeli Cup semifinal.

I believe most coaches in both the Israeli League and the Euroleague would agree that the selflessness and team mentality make preparing to play against them extremely difficult. Maccabi typically has more than 10 players getting significant rotation minutes, with every player a genuine threat to be that night’s most important player. Even if you can find keys from the stats or video to try to gain an advantage, their togetherness allows the sun to shine on someone new on any given day.

This season’s Maccabi Tel-Aviv team has gone through the season without a traditional power forward in its rotation, playing wing oriented players at the four position. While many viewed Maccabi’s lack of a power forward as a disadvantage, Coach Blatt implemented a system that resembles that of the current Miami Heat, and the Brooklyn Nets since New Year’s Eve. Playing with four men out, and one man in, they have found a way to use the added spacing to their advantage, and have found a balance that empowers their personnel. Of interest to you, Blatt has found ways to find advantages for his wing players in the post, a staple of the triangle offense, and a concept that you have previously embraced, which will surely be crucial with the current Knicks roster.

While the New York media may be the toughest in the world, the constant scrutiny Maccabi Tel-Aviv deals with from the Israeli media is probably the greatest preparation to take the heat in NYC. With Maccabi Tel-Aviv being the most followed sports team in Israel, a coach often feels like he has 6 million coaches critiquing his every move. When Maccabi lost three games in a row earlier in the season, many reporters were speculating about Blatt’s firing, as well as the departure of several key rotation players. However, Coach Blatt managed to minimize the media’s effect inside his locker room, and the support he showed to his players was a big factor in their unexpected run to a Euroleague championship.

While Blatt may have no NBA experience, as a player or a coach, he has achieved some of the highest honors possible in Europe, both in club play and with international teams. Furthermore, as an American who has spent more than 30 years abroad, Blatt has consistently shown an ability to build a strong connection with his players, who have come from a wide variety of destinations and backgrounds. His penchant for uniting his teams wherever he goes will likely translate very well in the NBA, especially if he has your voice in his ear.

You have made it abundantly clear in your short time as the President of the Knicks that you will not allow media pressure, or agents, to dictate your decision making throughout your tenure. I have great admiration for this principle, and I absolutely agree that despite the constant input of “influencers”, those with a position in an organization have a responsibility to make decisions on the basis of what is best for the organization.

This letter is by no means an attempt to force your hand regarding Coach Blatt. When it comes down to it, you will make a decision that after careful thought, you believe to be the best move for the Knicks moving forward. I do ask, however, that you be sure to conduct all possible due diligence on Coach Blatt, as he would likely make an excellent choice as the new head coach of the New York Knicks.

Best Regards,

AJ Mitnick

AJ Mitnick is an American living in Israel and working as an Assistant Coach for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick is in his third season with Maccabi Rishon, where they have made the Israeli League Final Four, and have twice made the Final Four of the Israeli State Cup . Follow him on Twitter.

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  1. daniel flam says

    Wow, you wrote this letter, and see coach Blatt now… I guess there are people with heads on their shoulder, that also saw the light. Coaching the best player in the NBA is a well deserved pinnacle for this talented man’s career.

  2. Dror says

    AJ… You couldn’t have said it any better. David Blatt, in my opinion and many others who understand basketball, is not only an amazing coach but also a huge personality. There is no reason that I can think of why David couldn’t coach in the NBA. Look who was coaching the Knicks previously, Mike Woodson. Who is he and what has he accomplished? You ever hear him interview? No sense, no inspiration. Would you follow him? With DVid Blatt, I’d go to war. And by no means am I a die hard macabbi basketball fan. But to see what David Blatt accomplished this year with macabbi and their undermanned roster, any sports fan can admire. I hope Phil, who I’m optimistic and happy about being in NY, makes the right decision. David you are for sure Zen worthy!

  3. ari says

    Looks like AJ is positioning himself for the Head Coaching position for Maccabi Tel- Aviv lol. jk ;)
    I think it’s a well thought out piece. Nice write up

    • Ophir says

      You have no clue, Blatt is the best coach among European coaches. This year he really exceeded all expectations by wining the Euroleague (the premier European basketball competition) with a very mediocre Maccabi team (and I speak as a fan).
      For years he is known for taking teams with less skill and talent and achieve with them more than one ever expected(Maccabi this year, Russia on 2007 winning the eurobasket after beating Spain in Spain on the finals and more). And a word about European coaches they are far superior to their american counterparts. just ask Gregg popovich from who he steal his plays… (Serbian coaches: Ivkovic and Obradovic) and Blatt is in my opinion is better than all of them. NBA coaches actually came here to Israel to study from him. The only problem that I could see by hiring him is that in the NBA some players are bigger than the club itself (Bad sports cloture by the way) while in Europe the clubs are whats most important and no player would ever dare to “Try” the coach… While in the NBA coaches tremble to the hear of names such as Lebron, Kobe and others. Blatt will not allow them to be bigger than the team, but on the other hand he also has a great persona that might be able to convince them to put their ego’s on the side (with the Serbian coaches it will end up with blows). and if that will happen I think that what you will see will be an improved version of Gregg popovich in coach Blatt.

  4. jerrytwenty-five says

    Its just a matter of time before people realize that the hiring of Phil Jackson was the biggest mistake Knicks could have made. Without the hiring or Phil, Knicks could already have Mark Jackson under contract. Jackson would have had a reasonable shot at convincing Melo to stay.

    Now it looks like PJax will wait until Derek Fisher is available.

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