DALLAS - Mark Jackson was poised to hire Bernie Bickerstaff and Del Harris as his assistant coaches and even return Mike Saunders to his old job as head trainer.
From every indication team president Donnie Walsh had given him, Mark Jackson, the Brooklyn-born point guard out of St. John's, was about to become the Knicks' next coach in 2008. But then Mike D'Antoni parted ways with Phoenix, and with the league office - which had encouraged James Dolan to hire Walsh - now pushing Walsh to hire D'Antoni, Jackson's dream job was finished.
Three years later, the career paths of Jackson and Walsh have crossed again. Jackson got his big coaching break with the Golden State Warriors Monday, while Walsh announced on Friday that he is stepping down as Knicks president on June 30. And the way things are going, D'Antoni, the coach Walsh picked ahead of Jackson, won't be far behind.
KNICKS KEEP 'EM OR DUMP 'EM
It's hard to say if Walsh would have survived longer had he trusted his instincts and went with the player who helped him reach his only NBA Finals with the Indiana Pacers in 2000. Dolan was still going to have a relationship with Isiah Thomas no matter who was coaching the Knicks.
It would have been easy for the Knicks to sell Jackson, despite him having zero experience on the bench. He would have played a more traditional style, one that emphasizes defense. That's a style Walsh favors.
Walsh's best Pacers teams were big and physical. But he went with D'Antoni, who places an emphasis on playing small and quick with defense an afterthought. By the end of D'Antoni's second year, Walsh was telling people close to him that he had made a mistake.
D'Antoni was clearly the safe pick because of his success in Phoenix. Plus, the Knicks were selling him to the fans and the media by claiming that D'Antoni, an assistant coach with the U.S. national team, had developed strong relationships with the top American players.
The theory was that free agents would stampede to New York to play for D'Antoni, with LeBron James leading the charge. But for all the talk, only one came.
And that player, Amar'e Stoudemire, signed on the dotted line because the Knicks were offering $30 million more than the Suns were willing to pay. Moreover, D'Antoni wanted the Knicks to sign Chris Bosh and, according to sources, cautioned Walsh about investing in Stoudemire, with whom he had a contentious relationship in Phoenix.
D'Antoni himself wasn't sold on New York. His first choice was to join the Chicago Bulls, but in the end he chased the Knicks' money. In his gut, D'Antoni knew he was making the wrong move and he felt even worse when the Bulls won the draft lottery and selected Derrick Rose.
Now, D'Antoni is doing everything he can to save himself. He recently confirmed a Daily News report from May that he is considering hiring a defensive coach. His refusal to do so in Phoenix - he could have had current Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau - was one of the reasons D'Antoni had a falling out with Suns management.
And for two years, D'Antoni would become downright belligerent when it was suggested that bringing in someone to run the defense might be in the team's best interest.
After all this time, D'Antoni realizes that such a move is in his best interests.
He owed it to the organization, the players and Walsh to do that from Day 1. It's too late now. Walsh is gone, .D'Antoni is working on borrowed time and, three years after he was ready to come to work for Walsh at Madison Square Garden, Mark Jackson finally gets to prove if he has the chops to be an NBA head coach.