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NBA PM: First Year Head Coaches Have It Rough
Posted By Yannis Koutroupis On August 29, 2013 @ 5:31 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
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Next season, almost a third of the head coaches in the NBA are making their debuts in the position. Typically we see a lot of familiar faces in the coaches circle as teams give veteran head coaches second (or in some cases third or fourth) chances, but this offseason that was not the case. There is going to be a lot of new faces calling the shots from the sidelines.
There’s a lot of respect and prestige that comes with being a head coach in the NBA, and a nice fat salary on top of that. However, it’s far from glamorous. It’s life consuming and security has never been more difficult to earn or easy to lose.
That goes for every head coach in the league, but especially those who are without experience. Until they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are the best coach for the position, they’re met by questions, skepticism and criticism.
This year’s large group of first-year head coaches is going to get a crash course on just how difficult life as the head signal caller in the NBA can be because they’re all walking into extremely difficult situations. Below we take a deeper look into their task at hand and just what it’s going to take for them to get through that initial probationary-like stage and into a more secure spot like Mark Jackson of the Golden State Warriors has over the last two years.
Jason Kidd – Brooklyn Nets
Of all the coaches on this list, Kidd is the only one walking into a situation where there are championship expectations. When he was originally hired, the Nets were a solid Eastern Conference team with the pieces in place to make it back to the playoffs.
But, shortly after his hiring, the Nets’ roster got ramped up significantly with the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry.
Now Kidd is in a situation where anything other than a trip to the NBA Finals will be looked at as a disappointment. Ownership is paying nearly $200 million for this team and the championship window opening isn’t exactly huge. This is an aging roster with guys who are closer to retirement than they are their primes, so patience is a virtue he is going to have to do without.
Kidd’s tenure is going to be a great case study that could really have an impact on players getting head coaching opportunities in the future. The league has seen plenty of players serve as head coaches in the past, but Kidd is pretty unique in the sense that he went right into being a head coach after playing. If he relates better with guys who he used to constantly go to battle with and gets the most out of them, heady players with a great basketball IQ could easily follow Kidd down the trail he’s blazing.
Brian Shaw – Denver Nuggets
Nobody was calling for George Karl to be fired. If the Nuggets were going into next season with him as their head coach still, expectations would probably be higher because he has a proven program that has produced quality teams over a 20+ year span.
However, Karl and the Nuggets executives did not see eye to eye and he was let go this summer, with Shaw brought in to fill some really big shoes. As Nuggets president Josh Kroenke explained, Shaw fits perfectly with this team as a young head coach with plenty of room to grow, much like the players on the roster.
What helps ease the pressure off of Shaw slightly is that while the bar for regular season success was set high, this team hasn’t been past the first round of the playoffs since 2009. Shaw can afford for the team to take a step or two back in the regular season, as long as it turns into a few forward in the postseason.
Shaw plans to utilize a more post-oriented attack than the team has used in the past. There could be some growing pains early on, but if the end result leads to the Nuggets getting out of the first round, Shaw could quickly find himself out from underneath Karl’s shadow.
Brett Brown – Philadelphia 76ers
It took the first-year general manager Sam Hinkie most of the offseason to finally get to hiring a head coach. He overhauled basically everything in Philadelphia and replacing Doug Collins was not high on his to-do list. That’s because he’s put together one of the league’s youngest and most inexperienced rosters for the 2013-14 season.
There are some benefits to the situation that Brown has walked into. Clearly, Hinkie isn’t expecting him to accomplish much in the first year. This upcoming season is all about developing the young talent, putting the right kind of foundation for future success in place and moving on from the disappointments of the past, creating new reason for excitement.
It won’t be until his third season that Brown probably feels anything close to pressure to win at a high rate. But, if this rebuilding project doesn’t show serious promise by then, he’ll be one of the first to go and getting a second shot won’t be easy without a history of success.
Brad Stevens – Boston Celtics
Stevens going from Butler to Boston was probably the most shocking hire of the offseason, mostly because there was absolutely no rumors or rumblings about it before the official press release came out. Stevens had proven to be one of the best coaches in college basketball regardless of age and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge was one of his many admirers.
Getting Stevens to leave a situation where he could do no wrong in Butler was not easy. It took a lengthy commitment from the Celtics, who have entered a rebuilding period themselves – although not to the same extent the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers have. There will be a grace period where Stevens is given plenty of slack, but by year three he’ll need to at least have the team back on track to contention.
Stevens still has one of the league’s best point guards in Rajon Rondo running the show for him and a decent supporting cast around him with some good young talent, but few coaches have been able to make the transition from the NCAA to NBA smoothly. In fact, many have ended up back in college before long.
That’s something that Stevens will have as a fallback as well. If he, or the Celtics, decide this isn’t the right fit, there won’t be a high major school in the country with an opening that wouldn’t offer him a deal that rivals what the highest coaches in college basketball are making.
Mike Budenholzer – Atlanta Hawks
This was supposed to be a big offseason for the Hawks, who went into the summer with hopes of luring away Chris Paul and Dwight Howard from Hollywood to join forces in Atlanta. That plan really never got off the ground, though, as Paul didn’t entertain offers from other teams and Howard bolted to Houston.
Their contingency plan yielded Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver being re-signed and adding Paul Millsap in place of Josh Smith, who signed outright with the Detroit Pistons.
Budenholzer has long been regarded as one of the league’s top assistants. He was thought to be the heir to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s throne, but the appeal of working for general manager Danny Ferry, who he has a long history with, was enough to get him to pass on being the favorite to eventually replace Popovich.
While the offseason wasn’t as fruitful as they hoped for, expectations are going to be the same for the Hawks. They’ve been a perennial playoff team over the last couple of years and it’s going to be up to Budenholzer to keep that streak intact. He could have had one of the best jobs in the NBA if Howard and Paul signed, but he’ll have to do without the luxury of major star power.
Jeff Hornacek – Phoenix Suns
The Suns have undergone a ton of turnover, from their front office on down. First-year general manager Ryan McDonough has opted to try to build this team from the ground up rather than trying to put together the most competitive team possible right away.
Hornacek was the guy he felt most comfortable with guiding this team from the sidelines and like Brown in Philadelphia, he’s not going to have to deal with a lot of expectations in the first two years. That can be somewhat of a double-edged sword, though, because it’s difficult to build a winning culture and get guys playing the right way when you don’t have the pieces in place to compete every night.
There is a lot of young talent in Phoenix. If Eric Bledsoe is the star point guard that many think he can be, Hornacek’s job will be a lot easier. But, like with any rebuilding team, there is going to be growing pains and Hornacek is going to have to weather those while maintaining his status as the right guy for the job.
There are plenty of examples in the past where a change at head coach is made right as a rebuilding team gets poised to take their biggest step because a new voice is needed. That’s what Hornacek has to try and avoid.
Mike Malone – Sacramento Kings
For years Malone has been tabbed as the league’s best assistant. He probably got as much credit as any assistant coach in the league last year for his team’s success as everyone recognized him as a vital part of Mark Jackson’s acclimation process of becoming a head coach.
As Malone put it, though, as an assistant you make recommendations. As a head coach he’s going to have to make decisions. His voice is the most important one.
He’s joining the Kings at probably their most stable time in the last several years. There’s completely new ownership and management. The franchise as a whole is undergoing basically a fresh start, but that optimistic feeling that comes with so many changes will wear off quickly if there aren’t results on the court. And, in Malone’s case, the expectations may be a bit excessive when you look at what he has.
The Kings tried to get Monta Ellis and Andre Iguodala this offseason, but ultimately came up short. Greivis Vasquez and Carl Landry turned out to be their biggest acquisitions instead, but expectations to get out of the Western Conference cellar remain.
It’s been seven years since the Kings have made the playoffs. If Malone can put that streak to an end, he’ll be looked at as a saint. If not, he’ll find himself under a lot of heat early.
Steve Clifford – Charlotte Bobcats
The Bobcats have only been in existence since 2004, but since then they’ve had six different head coaches. They’ve gone with highly experienced and proven head coaches like Larry Brown and Paul Silas, given less proven guys like Sam Vincent, Bernie Bickerstaff and Mike Dunlap a chance, but have yet to find a long-term solution.
Clifford came highly recommend and regarded in the coaching circle, but he’s walking into a situation that no coach has been able to truly succeed in, unless you count their single playoff appearance in which they were swept a moral victory.
The Bobcats came out of pocket for a big name free agent this offseason in Al Jefferson. They have a roster loaded with lottery picks; this is probably as good of a team as they’ve put together in the history of their franchise.
Michael Jordan is a hard owner to please and based on what this roster is costing him, he’s going to expect major improvements. If he doesn’t get them, all you have to do is look back at the fact that they’ve had six coaches in nine years to see what his reaction will be.
Dave Joerger – Memphis Grizzlies
Luckily for Joerger, Hollins also left a clear blueprint to follow in place. The Grizzlies brought back every one of note from last year’s team and improved their bench. The high expectations he’s facing aren’t unreasonable, and he has everything he needs in place to keep this team a contender in the Western Conference.
Where the Grizzlies really need to improve is on the offensive end, especially when their second unit is on place. If Joerger can make that happen while keeping their defensive identity intact, he will quickly put questions about whether Memphis made the right decision to rest. If not, he’ll have to deal with harsh criticism all year long. It will probably get magnified whenever Hollins gets back into coaching, especially if he’s immediately successful.
Is Gortat Next to Go in Phoenix?: The Phoenix Suns made another trade on Thursday, their third since Ryan McDonough took over as the team’s general manager.
To recap, they’ve now dealt away veterans Jared Dudley, Luis Scola and Caron Butler and are clearly rebuilding around a young core that features Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Archie Goodwin among others. They are also stockpiling draft picks, as evidenced by the fact that they could have as many as three first-round picks in the 2014 NBA Draft and five picks in the next two drafts.
That begs the question: Is Marcin Gortat the next Suns player who will be on the move?
McDonough has said on a number of occasions that he sees Gortat as part of the team’s long-term plan and he has delivered that same message to Gortat’s camp, according to sources close to the situation.
But keep in mind that he said similar things about Butler after acquiring the veteran small forward in a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks in early July. He talked about Butler being a strong veteran presence and excellent leader for the young Suns, only to trade the 33-year-old less than two months later.
Gortat is 29 years old and he’s clearly not part of the youth movement in Phoenix. In fact, his replacement is already on the roster in Len, who McDonough picked with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Also, Gortat is in the final year of his contract, and it’s unlikely that he would re-sign with the rebuilding Suns since he likely wants to play for a winning organization at this point in his career. That means Phoenix can either trade Gortat before February’s trade deadline or risk losing him for nothing next July when he can walk as an unrestricted free agent.
With the way McDonough has dealt away veterans in order to stockpile young players and draft picks, it’s hard to imagine him holding onto Gortat. If he doesn’t deal away the veteran center this summer, keep an eye on Gortat around the trade deadline because he could be one of the players on the move.
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