Johnnie Bryant leaving Knicks for Jazz would be a mistake

Part of what made the 2020-21 New York Knicks team so successful was the great coaching staff assembled alongside head coach Tom Thibodeau, and the basketball world was quick to notice. In the last two years, some of the men that were crucial members on that staff have moved on to bigger roles.

I’m of course talking about Mike Woodson and Kenny Payne. Woodson, the head coach of the Knicks once upon a time, took that position with Indiana University in 2021, where he spent four years as a player. Payne also left New York to join his alma mater, the University of Louisville, to become their head coach earlier this year.

And now, the Knicks are at risk of losing yet another assistant coach, Johnnie Bryant. Bryant, as reported by Shams Charania, is one of several candidates for the vacant head coaching job with the Utah Jazz.

This comes on the heels of Utah’s former head coach Quin Snyder choosing to step down. That decision was the latest blow in what seems like an inevitable and colossal shake-up for the Jazz.

Johnnie Bryant could regret leaving the Knicks for the Jazz

And it’s for that reason that I believe it would be a mistake for Bryant to depart from New York to be the new head coach for the Jazz. If he were to do so, Bryant could very well be walking right into a minefield.

You see, Snyder didn’t just wake up last week and decide that he didn’t want to be an NBA coach anymore. Snyder said he thinks that the Jazz “need a new voice.”

Snyder has seen immense regular-season success with Utah in eight seasons, but his team has fallen way short of the contender status many of the players and fans have expected them to display.

The Jazz have not reached the Western Conference Finals once in five straight playoff appearances since Mitchell has been with the team. The latest first-round exit at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks is the third time Utah has been eliminated in the opening round since Mitchell arrived in 2017.

If you’ve been following the team over this span of time, it is clear that coaching isn’t what is holding them back.

Whether it was Mitchell being the sole reliable offensive weapon, a lack of rotation depth, Rudy Gobert being targeted on the perimeter, or little to no perimeter defenders to complement Gobert, Jazz fans have had plenty of reasons to point a finger at the front office for roster construction that isn’t championship caliber.

So, if Bryant goes to Utah, why should he be expected to have any better a chance as head coach than Snyder has at reaching the WCF and beyond? This isn’t a knock on Bryant, who is clearly well respected and regarded for his coaching skills if he is being considered for a lead gig.

However, a rookie head coach is supposed to elevate a franchise and roster that keeps hitting the same ceiling and falling victim to the same weaknesses? If Snyder, who is considered an elite coach, can’t get it done, how can a rookie coach do so?

But even if Bryant thinks he is up to the task, there is no guarantee that he would be coaching the current version of the Jazz for very long, if at all. Mitchell’s chances of asking out are likely at an all-time high with Snyder’s departure, while Gobert is also a hot topic in the current rumor mill.

Utah can legitimately be without one or both of its All-Stars by the time the current offseason is complete. I don’t think anyone would be happy if they were hired to lead two All-Stars one day and then suddenly were coaching a rebuilding team the next day.

Let’s say Mitchell stays to be coached by Bryant, who he has a great relationship with. That still wouldn’t mean he is staying for good. Mitchell has been very public about his dissatisfaction with the Jazz’s success over the years.

Per Adrian Wojnarowski, Utah won’t be wasting time finding their next head coach, which is strange since it would make sense to hire a coach once you know the direction of your franchise. Bryant should be wiser than to rush into a job that can become unattractive very fast.

The Jazz’s rather reckless willingness to find a head coach so soon should be a major red flag for Bryant because it signals the potential for organizational self-sabotage.

And the worst thing that could happen to Bryant is he is hired just so that Mitchell can still request a trade and end up with the Knicks. If Bryant wants to coach his pal Donovan, it is just as likely at the moment that he can do so by being patient and helping lure the young guard to New York.

Who knows, maybe Thibodeau gets the boot, and Bryant gets upgraded to head coach for the Knicks and can then be in an even better position of power to influence a Mitchell acquisition.

In the end, maybe the allure of returning to the Jazz and to the state of Utah (Bryant played for the University of Utah from 2004-07) is too much for Bryant to ignore, and regardless of the outcome, I’ll respect his decision. But while I would love to see him get his shot as an NBA head coach, let this serve as a letter of caution.

Even with his connections to the franchise and the state, New York fans shouldn’t be panicking too much about losing Bryant. If Utah wishes to keep trying to contend, the organization could very well go with a candidate like Frank Vogel or Terry Stotts, coaches who have a ton of prior NBA head coaching experience.

My bias aside, I think the situation in Utah is fragile enough that any coach should be thinking twice about accepting the job. For the time being, the future of the Jazz is very cloudy.