The NBA Coaching Carousel
By Paul Benedict
I wanted to write this piece a few weeks back, but never got the opportunity to. Now with Orlando, Indiana, and Philadelphia having already made their moves, the carousel isn’t quite as wild a ride as it once was. Nevertheless, I’m still going to enlighten you guys with a run-down on the coaching scene around the NBA. I figured I’d touch on every team as well– your team’s coach may be safe for now, but once the 2005-06 season tips off, the carousel will be going full circle once again.
-Mike Woodson really wasn’t asked to do anything more than bring along the young guys this season and the organization has to be pleased with the progress of Josh Smith and Josh Childress thus far. Even if Atlanta makes a splash this summer, Woodson’s job should be safe through next season.
-I thought Doc Rivers did a terrible coaching job in the Playoffs and the results showed– the Celtics had no business losing that series to Indiana. This puts a little pressure on Doc heading into next season, but as long as he continues to bring along the young guns as well as he has, Doc should remain the Celtics’ coach through next season barring disaster.
-As Charlotte’s GM, Bernie Bickerstaff’s status as Bobcats coach is essentially up to him. After one season, the team has to be encouraged with the results thus far and I expect Bickerstaff to remain coach for the 2005-06 season. Beyond that is really a mystery– there’s been speculation that Bickerstaff will step aside once the team is positioned for success. Look for him to step down after next season and hire a young coach poised to lead the team for years to come.
-Scott Skiles is currently lobbying for a contract extension beyond next season. The Bulls want to keep him and will certainly exercise their option on him for 2005-06, but it appears the two sides aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the length of extension Skiles should get. C’mon. Skiles did a phenomenal job this season in resurrecting the Bulls from the dead and has an outstanding reputation around the league. If the Bulls don’t give Skiles what he wants, I can promise you a slew of other teams will. Reinsdorf needs to open up his wallet and commit to Skiles for the next half-decade.
-Dan Gilbert finally did something right as owner– hiring Mike Brown was a smart move and one that should pay off immediately. Known for his excellent rapport with players and for being tuteledged under X and O gurus Rick Carlisle and Larry Brown, Mike Brown should steer the Cavs into the Playoffs next season and more importantly, work well alongside LeBron James.
-Avery Johnson did a lot great things in his first stint as head coach, but also made some questionable moves during the Playoffs, often reacting too late in making some adjustments that would have helped the team. Regardless, Avery showed a lot of potential and his experience this spring will surely help him immensely in the future. Dallas is in good hands for years to come.
-George Karl proved to be the perfect fit in Denver and will have the Nuggets geared towards making a serious run out West next season. Now that the team is confident about who their coach will be heading into the summer, it will be on the players to work hard and be ready to make some noise next spring.
-If you’re not convinced that Larry Brown is off to Cleveland after the Playoffs, you’re kidding yourself. The move makes sense for Brown, especially when considering his penchant for switching jobs quicker than Eva Longoria swaps spit. Ultimately it won’t end up being a bad thing for the Pistons, not when top names will be lining up to be interviewed for a job that would immediately position them for a run at the title. I think Joe Dumars will pursue Nate McMillan hard if he hasn’t already come to an agreement with Seattle. He’s a defensive-minded players coach who showed a superb ability to build chemistry on the team. If McMillan agrees to return to Seattle, expect Dumars to offer the job to Flip Saunders. I would be hard-pressed to believe that Saunders takes either the New York or Portand jobs when he knows Detroit will be available. He might not get the money, but the opportunity is one that he just won’t be able to turn down.
-A lot of people questioned the hiring of Mike Montgomery, but he fared pretty well in his first season as coach. Chris Mullin is very high on him, so Montgomery’s job will be safe unless the Warriors don’t meet the high expectations they have for next season.
-The Rockets just extended Jeff Van Gundy’s contract and as long as the bald man can learn to keep his mouth shut, his job security won’t be in question.
-The Pacers should consider themselves lucky for having Rick Carlisle manning the sidelines for them. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.
-You really can’t ask Mike Dunleavy to do anything more than what he’s done in his two years as Clippers coach. If the team can bring back Bobby Simmons for next season and sign a couple adequate complimentary players, the Playoffs are definitely within reach. My hunch tells me Owner Donald Sterling lets Simmons walk and signs two insignificant players this summer, the Clippers win 35 games, and Dunleavy walks away on his own after next season.
-Phil Jackson is set to met with Kobe Bryant later this week, and if all goes well as everyone expects, look for the Lakers to announce the re-hiring of the the Zenmaster sometime within the next couple of weeks. Sources have claimed that the only factor that will draw out the official announcement is the negotiations of how much Jerry Buss is going to pay his eventual son-in-law (or so Jeanie dreams), which is reported to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million. Is he worth it? If you’re Jerry Buss and you have the most important market in the NBA to please, then the answer is undeniably, YES. Will it matter? I think that is what’s going to make this hiring so enjoyable to watch as it plays out. Can Phil Jackson take a mediocre team under his wing and lead them back into the NBA’s elite? Stay tuned…
-Mike Fratello’s job security is far from being in dangerous territory heading into next season, but it may be something worth keeping an eye on as Jerry West likely serves his last year as GM of the team. The time is now for West to pull the strings on some serious wheeling and dealing. They have already made it clear that Bonzi Wells has seen his final days in a Grizzlies uniform and that Jason Williams will probably be shown the door as well. If Memphis isn’t aggressive this summer in trying to make a leap forward, I’m a bit concerned that the team may actually take a step back next year. And with West gone, there’s always a strong possibility that the new GM will look to bring in his own guys.
-Like his brother, Stan also needs to learn when to shut his f*cking mouth. But apparently, that’s all he really needs to work on as he continues to make all the right moves as coach of the Heat. The only remotely possible scenario that would place Stan Van’s job in danger is if Pat Riley decided he wanted to take over as coach again, but that seems like a real longshot.
-After some speculation that he may not be retained as coach for the 2005-06 season, Terry Porter was recently endorsed as the Bucks coach and will indeed be running the team next season. Expectations are likely to be higher for Milwaukee with the anticipated re-signing of Michael Redd, the top pick in the draft, and the possible return of T.J. Ford to the team. If all three of the above occur, you can bet that there will be pressure on Porter to win right away.
-Reports out of Minnesota have P.J. Carlesimo pegged as the team’s top candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy. Owner Glen Taylor likes him and Kevin McHale is enamored with him, but there’s one catch– Kevin Garnett is not giving his seal of approval on the hiring. Instead Garnett would like the Wolves to give Paul Silas a closer look, but the organization doesn’t appear to be too keen on him. Other possibilities appear to be any one of the team’s three assistant coaches: Sidney Lowe, Jerry Sichting, and Randy Wittman. Now you may be thinking that Carlesimo might cause a dilemma in Minnesota what with Latrell Sprewell already there, however, P.J. has reportedly made amends with his former choker and actually tried hard to convince Greg Popovich to trade for Spree last year. It’s a tough call on what predicting how this all plays out. Glen Taylor is supposedly being tighter with his budget this summer and by already having to pay out Flip Saunders’ contract and with Carlesimo’s price tag going up because of all the interest he’s drawing, I’m guessing that the team hires one of the assistants and puts them on a short leash. Sidney Lowe, who has head coaching experience (although it was in Vancouver) and a strong relationship with KG, would have to be considered the top candidate if such is the case.
-Lawrence Frank quieted all his critics this season when he pushed the Nets into the Playoffs after a disastrous start. With J-Kidd, Vinsanity, and Jefferson all healthy to start next season, the Nets will likely be the front-runner to win the Atlantic Division. If the Nets fall short of those expectations, Frank’s job security could become a concern, but until then his job is undoubtedly safe.
-Things didn’t exactly go the way the team hoped in Byron Scott’s first season as coach, but aspirations will improve for the 2005-06 season with a healthy ball club, a high draft pick, and the likely signing of a top-flight free agent, quite possibly Stromile Swift. Given all the money George Shinn doled out to make Scott head coach, it’s unlikely the team is overly rash in determining when to cut him loose.
-With Larry Brown now out of the running and Phil Jackson looking like more and more of a longshot (if he was going to coach the team, it would have been decided awhile ago), the Knicks have focused their attention on P.J. Carlesimo and Nate McMillan. Carlesimo is certainly attainable so long as the Knicks are willing to write him a big check, but I think the organization is concerned that P.J. might not fit in as a New York guy. It’s also worth noting that Carlesimo is being recognized as the frontrunner for the Minnesota job and that he reportedly would prefer that position over the opening with the Knicks. The Sonics announced earlier this week that they are not going to grant Nate McMillan permission to talk with other teams until July 1st and with the NBA Draft taking place just days before, you would think the Knicks would like to have a permanent coach in place before then. Other names being tossed around are Paul Hewitt, Bill Laimbeer, and Flip Saunders– Hewitt denies having ever talked to Isiah Thomas; Laimbeer was interviewed almost as a favor from Isiah Thomas in order to get Laimbeer’s name out there among future coaching candidates; and Saunders is beginning to seem like a very likely choice to replace Larry Brown in Detroit. So who does that leave? Herb Williams of course. Isiah really should just settle the situation now and give the organization some certainty heading into the off-season. He doesn’t have to commit to Herb long-term and there’s really nothing out there that both interests him and is attainable.
-The Magic decided to go old school when they hired Brian Hill to be their head coach last week. Hill led Orlando to their only NBA Finals appearance in 1995 and will be relied upon to get the team back to those standards in due time.
-Billy King finally brought in Maurice Cheeks as head coach after years of speculation that made a Cheeks hiring seem imminent on an almost year-to-year basis. The move appeases both Allen Iverson and the 76ers fans, which is about as much as you can ask for in a coaching replacement. I fully expect Mo Cheeks and the 76ers to succeed in a marriage that seems like an ideal fit.
-Mike D’Antoni is already looked upon as a God in Phoenix, so you can be rest assured that he isn’t going anywhere for awhile. The only potential job that D’Antoni might leave Phoenix for is that of Team USA’s Head Coach, and that would not conflict with the NBA season anyways. D’Antoni is rumored to be the longshot with Greg Popovich and Mike Krzyzewski standing tall as the favorites to succeed Larry Brown. I earnestly hope the Olympic Committee gives D’Antoni due consideration with all of the coaching experience he has overseas and the international-style of basketball he coaches.
-The Blazers had long been rumored to have been targetting Flip Saunders to step in as head coach next season, but they reportedly offered him the position last week and Saunders immediately turned it down. Now with no other available name being mentioned for the vacancy, it’s being speculated that Portland is waiting out the Playoffs in order to speak with a few assistants that would then become available. Marc Iavaroni of Phoenix, Keith Askins of Miami, and Dwane Casey of Seattle seem like the prime candidates to be interviewed by Portland Owner Paul Allen and GM John Nash (Allen has been overseas for some time in case you’re wondering why Casey hasn’t been interviewed already). The Blazers have supposedly already interviewed Paul Silas, Eric Musselman, and Lionel Hollins, but if the team was going to hire one of those three guys, it probably would have happened already. I’m guessing they choose between Iavaroni and Casey, two highly respected and experienced assistants, to become their next coach. Both are known for being offensive-oriented coaches which is apparently what Portland is looking for. I think Casey has the edge because of his familiarity with the Pacific Northwest and his penchant for working well with point guards (Payton, Ridnour), which has to be considered a major factor if the team plans on building around Sebastian Telfair.
-The Maloofs exercised their option on Rick Adelman for next season, but I’m guessing that he will be the first coach to receive a pink slip next season. With the Kings almost certainly losing Cuttino Mobley this summer and possibly looking to trade away Peja Stojakovic, it’s beginning to look like the organization is attempting to give its team a new look. With the Kings likely taking a step back heading into the 2005-06 season, all it will take is a rough start for the Maloofs to decide that they need to complete the club’s transition by bringing in some fresh meat to coach the team.
-Greg Popovich is entering rarified Jerry Sloan-like territory in San Antonio where a divorce from coaching the Spurs would only come from his doing. With a team slated to make championship runs for years to come, I can’t imagine Pop has any intention of stepping aside.
-Howard Schultz and Wally Walker have now refused to grant other team’s permission to speak with Nate McMillan until July 1st, a sign that they are intent on hacking out a deal with their current head coach. Damn straight. Even with the way the organization has handled McMillan’s contract situation, I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t want to come back to the city that he spent nearly his entire career in and to the team that he helped build into the one that gave San Antonio a scare in the Playoffs this season. Of course Seattle has a number of other contractual situations to deal with, namely Ray Allen’s, so the team may indeed have a different look next season. If a deal can’t be reached and Nate decides to flee elsewhere, the Sonics will probably look to promote Dwane Casey to head coach if he hasn’t already taken the head coaching job in Portland.
-Sam Mitchell will be retained as head coach despite a debut season that resulted in an overwhelming amount of turmoil and disappointment. The Raptors’ problems however, rest on the shoulders of GM Rob Babcock’s as much, if not more, than Mitchell’s and both will be performing their jobs under fire next season. The prospect for a successful 2005-06 season isn’t exactly looking bright in Toronto– look for Mitchell to be the 2nd coach fired during the year.
-I’ll admit that I was a little surprised that Jerry Sloan agreed to come back and coach the Jazz for 3 more seasons despite much speculation that he may retire after his most difficult season coaching in the NBA. However, Sloan recently lost his wife thus leaving him very little with which to enjoy his retirement. On the bright side, things can’t get any worse for the Jazz and the team will absolutely make significant strides towards improvement next season.
-Eddie Jordan did a fine job in turning around Washington this season and leading the club to their first Playoff series win in 23 years. It will be tough for him to improve upon the team’s success this season, but you can bet that Owner Abe Pollin will give Jordan the benefit of the doubt for at least a couple of years.