It’s time to dust off the NBA coaching rumor mill as two recent mid-season firings have created vacancies in New York and Portland at season's end.
The Knicks and Mike D’Antoni decided to part ways a week ago after a very underwhelming three-and-a half years together. New York was a fun team to watch at times under the offensive- minded coach, but struggles on the defensive end (and zero playoff wins) will define his time at Madison Square Garden.
Meanwhile, a tough decision was made to end Nate McMillan’s tenure as head coach in Portland after a string of puzzling blowouts made it clear that he had lost touch with his players.
Both teams have named assistants as interim coaches for the remainder of this season; former Hawks coach Mike Woodson in New York and Kaleb Canales in Portland.
Here’s a ranking of the 10 best available (and realistic) head coaches the Knicks and Trail Blazers have to choose from for next year, with the final five candidates shown in slideshow format.
9. Mike Dunleavy: Led Portland to four straight playoff seasons between 1998 and 2001 and is considered to be on the market after seven mostly disappointing seasons with the Clippers.
8. John Calipari: Says he’s happy in Kentucky but might be tempted to give the NBA another try, especially if the stage is Madison Square Garden.
7. Flip Saunders: He deserves another chance as a head coach after two-plus disastrous seasons in Washington. Could the Trail Blazers be his next landing point?
6. Pat Riley: Big names will always be linked to big job openings, but Riley looks like he could be in it for the long run with his gig in Miami.
Don’t recognize this name? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Mike Budenholzer either, but with all the “experienced” coaches constantly being recycled around the league, it’s nice to hear someone new being mentioned for head-coaching vacancies.
Here’s the background info on Budenholzer: He was hired by Gregg Popovich in 1994 as San Antonio’s video coordinator and quickly rose through the ranks within the organization. Budenholzer has spent the last 18 years with the Spurs—the last five as Popovich’s top assistant.
Anyone who has spent nearly two decades working alongside Popovich should be well prepared to lead an NBA team into battle. It’s unlikely that the Knicks will hand the franchise over to someone with no NBA head-coaching experience, but maybe the Trail Blazers will try to bring some of that winning tradition from San Antonio up north to Portland.
Can you figure out what the following list of numbers represent?: 13, 26, 30, 37, 47, 53.
No it’s not some high-school SAT math question. Those numbers are the win totals for the Atlanta Hawks from 2005-2010—the six seasons Mike Woodson spent there as head coach.
Woodson, a no-nonsense type of coach who is well-liked by his players, transformed the Hawks from a league doormat into a legitimate playoff team during his tenure in Atlanta. The front office, however, chose not to give Woodson a raise once his contract expired, so he joined the Knicks staff as an assistant in the offseason.
Now, with D’Antoni out of the picture, Woodson has the rest of the season to prove he deserves to lead an NBA team again. So far, so good. The Knicks are 5-0 since Woodson has taken over.
If the Knicks decide to pursue a bigger name to lead the team instead of promoting Woodson to head coach, the Blazers would surely be wise to give him a call.
Recently, we’ve already seen one former coach leave the ESPN/ABC announcing team and head back to lead an NBA team again in Mark Jackson.
Could Jeff Van Gundy be next?
He’s already a fan favorite at the Garden. Knicks fans have fond memories of Van Gundy leading New York to six consecutive playoff appearances and one trip to the finals between 1995 and 2001. Who could forget the lasting image of Van Gundy running onto the court and grabbing hold of Alonzo Mourning’s leg at the end of a ’98 playoff game against the Heat?
Van Gundy seems content with his TV role for now, but one thing’s for sure: the Knicks could definitely use a big dose of Van Gundy’s tough defensive mentality and attitude back on the sidelines at MSG.
During Jerry Sloan’s 23 seasons in Utah, the Jazz finished below .500 just once and failed to reach the postseason only three times. Those are numbers that would leave any owner and general manager salivating at the opportunity to coax Sloan out of retirement.
Sloan would bring instant credibility and respect to the home sideline at Madison Square Garden, not to mention the immediate impact he’ll make in the locker room. Bottom line: If Melo and Stoudemire won’t play hard for Sloan, they won’t play hard for anyone.
There haven’t been any rumors linking Sloan to the Portland job, at least not yet, but keep in mind that Sloan spent more than two decades coaching in the Northwest Division against the Trail Blazers, so if there’s one team that knows what Sloan brings to the table as an NBA head coach, it’s Portland.
It certainly didn’t take long after D’Antoni’s resignation for the Phil Jackson-to-New-York rumors to start heating up.
Of course, the Zen Master’s career coaching accomplishments border on the absurd: 20 years, 13 finals appearances, 11 championships. More than half of his seasons behind the bench resulted in a title.
It seems like a perfect fit: The most successful head coach in NBA history, recharged after taking a year off, heading to the league’s biggest stage, Madison Square Garden, where he’ll have the talent in place to continue to build his legacy (and his ring count).
Also factor in that Jackson spent a decade wearing a Knicks uniform as a player and there’s every reason to believe that Jackson is the favorite to return to the NBA as New York’s newest head coach next season.