NBA: 10 Assistant Coaches Who Deserve a Shot at Head Coaching
With several NBA teams looking to potentially hire new head coaches—including Charlotte and Orlando—many are looking to the talents of current assistant coaches that could make the transition to leader of the pack.
Here are 10 NBA assistant coaches who deserve a shot at being Big Man.
Okay, I'll admit it—I may be a little biased on this one, since J.B. Bickerstaff spent four years as an assistant coach for the Timberwolves before transitioning to Houston to work with Kevin McHale's staff.
Regardless of whether or not you're a Minnesotan, however, you can't deny that Bickerstaff displays a high basketball I.Q. and a talent for coaching. Prior to working in Minnesota, the 33-year-old assisted his father Bernie in Charlotte, and he also wore the head coach hat for Charlotte's summer league in 2005 and 2006.
Bickerstaff took his first job at just 25 years old, making him the youngest assistant coach in the NBA.
Almost 10 years later, he's proven he's more than ready to take the reins and lead a team of his own.
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At 49 years old, Terry Porter is one of only two names on my list who holds previous head coaching experience in the league.
Even though he took a step down position-wise, however, the guy knows his stuff—with the right franchise, Porter could definitely find his groove.
Following a successful 17-year run as a player in the NBA, Porter took an assistant coaching job with the Sacramento Kings for the 2002-2003 season. In 2003 he became head coach in Milwaukee, and he was let go after his second season when the Bucks failed to make the playoffs.
The former guard found himself in an even bigger-market franchise in Phoenix, where he was allowed only a 51-game grace period before being fired again.
Now serving as an assistant coach for Minnesota, Porter connects effectively with the players, serving as a mentor for several of the younger guys on the team. Last season, he and head coach Rick Adelman already brought significant improvement to a sad-looking, patchwork quilt team.
Although I realize my opinion is a gutsy—and certainly controversial—one, I hold to my stance that, if given a longer period of time, Porter can prove himself in a head coaching position.
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Currenly serving as assistant coach to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Maurice Cheeks also holds previous head-coaching experience.
Cheeks had a good run with the 76ers, even leading them to a playoff berth during the 2007-2008 season. He held an assistant coach position in Philly prior to that time, and as an assistant the team appeared in the 2001 NBA Finals.
The former NBA star—Cheeks is one of seven Philadelphia players to have their jerseys retired—deserves a second shot at the head coaching seat.
Steve Clifford's coaching resume is more than impressive. Clifford has served in some sort of NBA coaching capacity since 2001; prior to joining the pros, he boasted more than 10 years of successful leadership in the NCAA.
For the past five years, Clifford has held the top assistant coach position with Orlando. In 2010-2011, the Magic surpassed the 50-win mark for the fourth consecutive season, setting a new franchise record. In each of his five seasons with the team, Clifford has helped lead Orlando to the playoffs.
In the wake of Van Gundy losing his job following this past season, this could prove the perfect transition time for Clifford to find a head-coaching position, whether in Orlando or elsewhere.
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Maybe he's just content staying out of the lime light, but I would absolutely love to see Bob McAdoo take a head coaching position in the league.
McAdoo has had an impressive 17-year run as an assistant for Miami, and it's hard to argue with that level of experience.
Especially if LeBron and his squad conquer the finals this year, McAdoo should shop around his expertise.
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Although Nate Tibbets has only been an assistant coach in the NBA since 2011, he holds an impressive amount of coaching experience prior to the big leagues.
Tibbets began coaching in 2001, when he served as an assistant for the University of Sioux Falls men's team.
He then moved on to the NBA D-League, where he assisted for two seasons with the Sioux Falls Skyforce before being promoted to head coach in 2007.
Tibbets led the Skyforce to two winning seasons before taking the head coaching job for the Tulsa 66ers. In two years spent in Tulsa, Tibbets led the 66ers to the D-League playoffs consecutive years.
Minor leagues or not, Tibbets success prior to joining Cleveland's staff shows he can take a squad and turn it into a winner. Given the right organization, he could add NBA head coach to his list of successes.
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Mike Budenholzer has spent 18 years as a San Antonio Spurs staff member, and 16 of those years have been as an assistant coach.
Hired by Gregg Popovich in 1994, Budenholzer has been the top assistant for the past five seasons.
The Arizona native has helped lead the Spurs to numerous successes over the years, and he holds experience lengthier than most assistants in the NBA. In addition, he has served as head coach for San Antonio's summer leagues on several occasions.
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Last June, the Golden State Warriors hired Mike Malone on as their assistant coach under Mark Jackson.
And less than a year later? Malone found himself voted the top assistant coach in the NBA by league general managers. Malone received 29.2 percent of the total votes.
When Malone joined Jackson's staff in 2011, he already held 10 years of coaching experience, including time as assistant coach for both the New Orleans Hornets and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Jackson said the following about Malone:
"I have known Michael for a long time and think he is one of the bright young minds in the sport. He’s a tireless worker and has a tremendous understanding of the game, which is a potent combination for any coach."
These factors make a solid head coach as well, and Malone is more than ready for the job.
(photo credit: msn.foxsports.com)
Currently serving as one of Indiana's assistant coaches, Brian Shaw played 14 seasons in the NBA before transitioning into coaching.
Shaw left his position with the L.A. Lakers when he was not promoted to head coach under Phil Jackson. After spending only one year in Indiana, Shaw received some credit for helping the Pacers advance to the second round of the playoffs.
According to the Orlando Sentinels' Mike Bianchi, Shaw finds himself one of the favorites to take the head coaching job for the Magic. If this transaction does happen, former Chicago Bull star Scottie Pippen looks slated to serve as Shaw's top assistant.
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My No. 1 pick for an assistant coach that could easily fill a head-coaching position is former NBA star Patrick Ewing.
Ewing has nine seasons of coaching experience under his belt, including assistant coaching in Orlando for the past five seasons. He has also held assisting positions on the coaching staffs in both Washington and Houston.
In an interview with NJ.com, Ewing stated the following:
I think I've paid my dues. I've been an assistant coach for eight, going on nine years, and I'd love to have an opportunity to get an interview. I've put in the work. I've learned from a lot of very good coaches in Stan (Van Gundy), Jeff (Van Gundy), and Doug Collins, and I've played for a lot of great coaches. All I need is an opportunity, and once I get that opportunity, hopefully I'll be successful.
Ewing displays confidence, asserting that he has what it takes to lead a team to success. I, for one, believe him. I'm expecting to see Ewing's name in a head coaching position by the season's start.
Now it's just time to see which teams will show confidence in assistant coaches around the league.