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NBA Head Coach Hiring Season Is Open
Posted By Stephen Brotherston On April 24, 2013 @ 12:00 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Head coaches began losing their jobs at a rapid pace after the close of the NBA regular season as several teams took little time in accepting the fact a change would be in their best interests. As usual team managements thanked their outgoing coach, but since the Cavaliers, Pistons, 76ers and Bobcats had a combined record of 108-220, the unspoken message could have been, ‘don’t left the door hit you on the way out.’ The bad news for NBA head coaches is that firing season is by no means over.
Now former head coaches Bryon Scott, Lawrence Frank and Mike Dunlap are back on the market and the 76ers shouldn’t complain if Doug Collins gave up his advisory role and found a new job elsewhere.
There are a lot of other potential new or refurbished head coaches available. Current assistant or associate coaches like the Spurs’ Mike Budenholzer, the Warriors’ Mike Malone, the Pacers’ Brian Shaw or the Heat’s David Fizdale would make a solid choice for a team willing to overlook the lack of head coaching experience. Then there’s the I wish they would come out of retirement group including Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan, but sometimes coaches really have just retired. Plus, there’s a few guys making a comfortable living in the media like Jeff Van Gundy that should be excluded. Fortunately, the list of former head coaches that just might like to coach again is extensive and diverse. Mike Brown, Stan Van Gundy, Nate McMillan, Scott Skiles, Avery Johnson, Maurice Cheeks, Alvin Gentry and Mike Dunleavy are all known quantities and recognizable to abused fan bases. The list of former NBA head coaches can seem almost endless.
No one should have been surprised that the Lakers most recent former head coach would be in the most demand. Brown led the Cavaliers to the playoffs for five consecutive seasons and kept the Lakers on track in the post Phil Jackson era until he was inexplicably fired five games into this season. Brown had interest from the Cavaliers and the Pistons, but the Cavaliers moved fast to get back the coach they should probably have never let go in the first place.
Cleveland wanted a proven defensive-minded head coach and they knew exactly what they were getting in Brown. In fact, there isn’t anyone who knows Brown better than the Cavaliers and that is probably why they are back together. In a case of you don’t know what you got until it’s gone, the Cavaliers are just correcting their mistake of three seasons ago.
Brown will be heading into next season with a budding young superstar, a wealth of young talent, ample salary cap space to go after free agents and the possibility of adding two more first round draft picks. He took the perennially losing Cavaliers team back to the postseason in season one last time; this situation doesn’t look all that different.
After missing out on Brown, the Pistons have their sights set on 12-year head coach Nate McMillan. There are other very experienced former NBA head coaches with NBA playing experience available that can do the job, but the McMillan resume fits Detroit’s situation perfectly. Pistons President Joe Dumars has acquired some nice young talent and finally cleared the decks of veterans from the past era.
McMillan got his start in Seattle and in his fifth season helped take a mediocre franchise to a 52-win season and a Northwest division title. Then he helped rebuild a very young Portland team that had finished the 2004-2005 season 5-22 under Kevin Pritchard to a 50-win team in four seasons. Considered a player’s coach who might have let his charges get away with too much, the now 48-year-old McMillan can likely balance being liked with getting the job done better than earlier in his career.
With a team being built around big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, McMillan’s slower more controlled style of play should work well and if Detroit’s interest in Jose Calderon is still high, they have plenty of salary cap space to bring back the veteran pass-first point guard to run the show and still go after other free agents suited to McMillan’s approach.
The 76ers have talent. Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young provide a young core that can be built around. The mirage of a healthy Andrew Bynum may have hung over this team all season and may still haunt them into this summer and beyond, but the 76ers have the salary cap space and sign and trade possibilities with Bynum that could take this franchise in another direction with greater certainty.
The overhang of Doug Collins salary shouldn’t stop 76ers owner Josh Harris from bringing in the best coach available for next season, but money often dictates who the next head coach is and this team does have less expensive coaching options. Current associate coach Michael Curry or assistant coach Aaron McKie could be given a shot at the job. The former 76ers player McKie might be a popular choice with fans and players, but has no prior NBA head coaching experience. Curry on the other hand led Detroit to the playoffs in 2008-2009 in his one shot as an NBA head coach and didn’t deserve to be dismissed. If money becomes a primary consideration, Curry would make an acceptable choice.
As experienced as Collins was, it became apparent throughout the past season that it was challenging to hold the attention of this group. If Philadelphia wants to keep their core intact, a strong hard-nosed coach with boundless energy is the way to go and no one can scream longer, louder and with more effect than Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy got the most out of his players in Orlando and he would be the choice to get the most out of what Philadelphia has to offer. Not to mention, a proven veteran head coach would make attracting free agents to Philadelphia just a little easier this summer.
When a team’s owner is the one breaking the news about a coaching change as was the case in Philadelphia, discerning the next move becomes a little clouded, but if 76ers hope to make a quick return to the postseason, every move they make this summer becomes magnified and getting the best head coach available should be the goal.
In the three seasons since Michael Jordan acquired a majority interest in the Bobcats, the team has let go three head coaches as they put together some of the longest losing streaks imaginable while building a record of 62 wins and 168 losses. Recently fired head coach Mike Dunlap tripled the number of wins from the prior season to 21, but his college coaching style didn’t resonate in the NBA and it was time to move on again.
The best players on this team are very young and with another high draft pick this year, they are about to get even younger. The Bobcats need a coach that can both develop players and provide leadership until the kids mature. The challenge may be that a team located in one of the weaker NBA markets without a multi-billionaire owner who can absorb significant loses; acquiring a top-end coach while still paying for last season’s hire might not be in the cards. Bobcats general manager Rich Cho probably hasn’t completed his list of potential candidates yet, but it’s likely the only exclusions will be coaches with limited experienced developing young players and those looking for a major payday.
From the recently released pile, Collins or Bryon Scott could put this young group of players on the right track if they could be talked into coaching again on a modest contract. On a new team, the 61-year-old Collins might find his interest in coaching renewed and give the rebuilding Bobcats some mature leadership for the next three seasons. Scott just spent three seasons developing players with the rebuilding Cavaliers and did a pretty fair job. Like Collins, Scott is probably best in small doses of four years or less, but he would get Bobcats pointed in the right direction.
Alternately, there are several associate or assistant coaches that could prove to be the right move. An obvious choice would be the 76ers Curry as he has prior head coaching experience and has been working with a somewhat messy rebuild himself lately. Going the completely unproven route by hiring someone no prior NBA head coaching experience isn’t necessary and after last season, isn’t all that wise either.
Unless a team has targeted a specific person to be their next head coach, there is no reason to rush into this. The upcoming draft is largely the responsibility of the general manager and there may be additional experienced head coaches coming onto the market as teams fall out of the playoffs and re-assess their personnel needs. The one defining thread of the Cavaliers, Pistons, 76ers and Bobcats is the need to hire a coach with the right kind of experience for their organization. Those assistant coaches may look appealing, but nothing can replace the experience of being NBA head coach.
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