Who Should Coach The Raptors?
When the Raptors President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo announced that the option on head coach Jay Triano was not going to be picked up, he wasn’t about to let slip who the eventual replacement might be.
“Obviously there is already a list of potential candidates based on our knowledge of the marketplace,” said Colangelo.
“I would not exclude anybody from the list right now, at the same time I will not offer any names or specific targets because I want to keep the process as low key as possible. I do not want it to be a daily running play-by-play in the media with respect to who I am talking to and how meetings went.
“I will attempt to conduct this search process under wraps as much as possible.”
So unless Colangelo actually feels some pressure from the rumors that are bound to start, it doesn’t look like there is going to be much of a heads up from the team as to who the Raptors head coaching candidates are or if they are making much an impression on the guys who matter.
However, Colangelo did provide some clues about who is on that list of possible head coaches.
Most of the targets that I will focus on or follow up on will be candidates that have a great deal of experience,” explained Colangelo. “I think tenure, experience, success, rate of success; those will all be factored in.
“Someone with somewhat of a pedigree or a resume that would indicate that this is someone who has achieved success in that forum before.
“Clearly someone who has somewhat of a defensive minded perspective, someone who has had success putting solid defensive units out there on the floor and has had success limiting points while still having some flow to the offense.”
Unfortunately most of the coaches that have the pedigree Colangelo desires are either currently employed or unavailable for a variety of reasons. Candidates that might be high on the wish list such as Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown, and Jeff Van Gundy are not likely to be returning to the coaching fraternity any time soon and some like Mike Brown and Kevin McHale have just landed elsewhere.
Colangelo does have a few obviously solid candidates to consider.
Lawrence Frank, 40 years old, NBA Head Coach for 5.7 years, Record 225-241
Still a relatively young man by coaching standards, Lawrence Frank has well over a decade’s worth of NBA coaching experience. Frank spent three years under Kevin O’Neill at the University of Tennessee, followed by three years as an assistant coach with the Grizzlies, and three and a half years as an assistant at New Jersey before getting the Nets interim head coaching job in January 2004. Frank held on to the head coaching duties with the Nets until a 0-16 start in 2009. Last season, Frank was an assistant coach with the Celtics.
Frank lead the Nets to the playoffs four seasons in a row and during his team’s best season in 2005-06, the Nets held opponents to just 92.4 points per game.
Don’t look for Frank’s NBA player’s card, this coach wasn’t a player, and Colangelo has made it perfectly clear that NBA playing experience is not required.
A young coach who has achieved success in the past and has a defensive mindset, Frank has much of the pedigree that Colangelo is looking for.
Mike Woodson, 53 years old, NBA Head Coach for 6.0 years, Record 206-286
Mike Woodson has 17 years of NBA coaching experience. Three years as an assistant coach with each of the 76ers, Pistons, and Bucks and two years with Cavaliers preceded Woodson’s appointment to the head coaching job in Atlanta for the 2004-05 season.
The Hawks had been bad for five years before Woodson got the job and in his first season the team went 13-69, but the team had gone into full rebuilding mode and Woodson was coaching one of the youngest teams in the league. In his fourth season, the Hawks returned to the playoffs where they have stayed ever since. The Hawks won 53 games for Woodson in his last season with the club.
Woodson arrived in Atlanta as the defensive guru who installed a Pistons defense that held opponents to just 84.3 points per game the season before. Handed a very weak team in Atlanta, the Hawks surrendered 102.5 points in his first season. In Woodson’s last two seasons however, the Hawks held opponents to an average of 96.8 points which was tenth best in the NBA.
Drafted by the Knicks in 1980, Woodson spent 11 seasons and 786 games in the NBA as a player.
If Colangelo wants a coach who has been through the rebuilding process before with some success, Woodson would make a logical choice. The Raptors need to make a decision quickly however as it is believed the Pistons have their sights on him as well and Woodson has been an unsuccessful candidate for the Raptors head coaching job twice before.
Rick Adelman, 64 years old, NBA Head coach for 20 years, Record 945-616
After 20 years and 945 wins, if Rick Adelman wants another NBA head coaching job, he should be able to find one. Starting back in 1988, Adelman has been a respected head coach with Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, and Houston, and during that span, his teams have only missed the playoffs four times.
Convincing Adelman to take charge of a very young Raptors team would represent something of a homerun for Colangelo as even Adelman admits he does much better with veteran squads. Still, the soon to be 65 year old did not sound like a coach who was ready to retire as he left Houston unexpectedly at the end of the season and Colangelo is duty bound to try and sign him.
This shouldn’t matter anymore but, Adelman did play 462 games in the NBA before he became a coach.
Dwane Casey, 54 years old, NBA Head coach for 1.5 years, Record 53-69
Dwane Casey was an assistant coach in college for a decade before joining Seattle as an assistant in 1994. After 11 years with the Sonics, Casey got his chance to be a head coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves at the start of the 2005-06 season.
Casey led a weak Wolves franchise to a 33-49 record in his first season, but his team held opponents to just 93.6 points per game which was eighth best in the NBA. The next season Casey got the Wolves off to a surprising 20-20 start and in eighth place in the West before he was inexplicably fired. The team slid 12-30 the rest of the way and missed the playoffs.
Casey is considered to be a good defensive coach who can teach young players, and almost as soon as he was let go by the Sonics, Casey has been on the radar of teams looking for a new head coach.
For the past three seasons, Casey has been an assistant coach with Dallas and he gets at least some of the credit for the Mavericks improved defense this year.
Perhaps Casey is a little light in NBA head coaching experience, but what he did in Minnesota was impressive and he is widely regarded as deserving a second chance at head coach.
There are other possible candidates with NBA head coaching experience that Colangelo could consider.
In his only season as a head coach in 2008-09, Michael Curry led the Pistons to a 39-43 record and their last playoff appearance while they held opponents under 95 points per game.
The Raptors own P.J. Carlesimo has head coaching experience, but he has already been eliminated from the search by Colangelo.
It is anticipated that John Keuster will be released by the Pistons after two tumultuous seasons.
There are also some assistant coaches in the NBA that might get an interview even though it is hard to see how they could meet Colangelo’s hiring criteria.
Mike Budenholzer has been an assistant coach with the Spurs for 15 years.
Brian Shaw joined the Lakers coaching staff in 2005 and many thought he was being groomed to replace Phil Jackson on his retirement.
Bill Laimbeer is currently an assistant coach with the Timberwolves but is best known as the highly successful coach and general manger of the WNBA Detroit Shock and as a four-time NBA All-Star center.
There also is long list names being bandied about without NBA coaching experience, but they do not meet any of Colangelo’s stated requirements, and there is no need to take that kind of risk.
The last three head coaches in Toronto were Kevin O’Neill, Sam Mitchell, and Jay Triano, and they all had one thing in common, they were all rookies. This time the Raptors have several high quality candidates with NBA head coaching experience, pedigree, and at least some measure of success to pursue in their search, and after only making the playoffs twice in the past eight years, the Raptors are very unlikely to want to go down the rookie road again.
Send in your comments or questions about the Toronto Raptors or anything else in the NBA to my weekly NBA chat and check back on Thursday at noon ET for a response.