If there's one overarching storyline that we can confirm without equivocation heading into the 2013 NBA Finals, it's that coaching matters.
Frank Vogel, Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich represented three of the four teams to make the conference finals. That's no coincidence. They're three of the league's six best coaches by my estimation, with Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle and Tom Thibodeau rounding out the order depending on the day—and their teams represented that in fine fashion.
As teams get smarter, especially with their defensive schemes, coaches who can make subtle adjustments from game to game thrive. Those whose entire system is predicated on "out-talenting" the opposition (I'm looking at you, Scott Brooks) haplessly watch as their team crumbles when the talent ceases to exist.
Vogel, Spoelstra and Popovich all navigated murky waters as their top players went through varying degrees of upheaval during these playoffs, and the results bore that out.
I failed to mention the other coach in this year's Final Four, Lionel Hollins, because he's not quite on the level of the aforementioned threesome and for an easy transitional point. The Heat, Pacers and Spurs would never even entertain the notion of their coach taking another job. Memphis, meanwhile, has given Hollins permission to look elsewhere for a new position, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
It was a semi-shocking turn of events, one that sent the already-intriguing coaching searches around the league into an even greater state of upheaval. There are now three playoff teams—the Clippers, Nets and Grizzlies—which are either very likely (Memphis) or guaranteed (Los Angeles, Brooklyn) of having a new coach next season.
With these teams almost certainly looking to land a coach before this month's NBA draft, the next couple of weeks should be interesting.
Here is a look at the latest update on Hollins and all of the remaining coaching rumblings around the league.
Rudy Gay Trade at Crux of Grizzlies-Hollins Dispute?
For those who follow these things, the first cracks in the Memphis-Hollins relationship showed up way before the two sides sat down to discuss a new contract.
Hollins, an old-school guy with ideals one would expect from someone approaching their 60th birthday, has never seemed too keen on the NBA's analytics movement. The Grizzlies, under new ownership and being run by the golden boy of ESPN's NBA analytics, John Hollinger, represent the polar opposite of that old-school ideals system.
That was never more the case than in the Grizzlies shopping and subsequently trading small forward and former franchise face Rudy Gay. During the initial, "rumors" phase of the Gay deal, Hollins made some semi-controversial comments on the new-found emphasis on stats, per The Commercial-Appeal's Ronald Tillery:
We get hung up on statistics a little too much, and I think that's a bad trait all over the league that's taken place. And the media has done it because it's easy to go to the stats to make a point or to build up a player or tear down a player. Just the analyzing, I see it every time listening to talk show radio. You've got guys spouting off stat after stat after stat. The bottom line is going out and contributing to your team for winning.
That sentiment screamed "get off my lawn, you kids," but in an endearing way—if that makes any sense. However, when Gay was actually traded to the Toronto Raptors later in the season, Hollins again was quick to deliver a quotable take, per the Oklahoman's John Rohde.
“When you have champagne taste, you can't be on a beer budget," Hollins said. "It's a small market and I understand the economics of being in a small market."
It seems that Grizzlies' management has taken note of this consistent undermining of their head coach. Not surprisingly, they're not exactly thrilled. Though Hollins has gone on record as saying he wants to stay in Memphis, sources told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports that Memphis management was still upset with the way Hollins handled the Gay situation.
Couple that with NESN's Ben Watanabe reporting that Hollins "just plain doesn’t like" Hollinger, and this had the potential to boil over. The result of this dispute will be especially interesting. A feel-good team throughout the playoffs, it's unclear how Hollinger and the remainder of Memphis management feels about bringing the band back together next season.
How Hollins' situation plays out could give the first indication of what the Grizzlies will look like for next season.
Clippers' Pursuits of George Karl, Jeff Van Gundy Going Nowhere; Brian Shaw the Target?
The Clippers, long renowned for skimping a bit when it comes to coaching hires, seem to be shifting course.
Their decision to part ways with Vinny Del Negro was expected, but the horde of names that have since been linked to the position are enthralling.
Luminaries like Jeff Van Gundy, George Karl and others have all been linked to the job at some point. Even Phil Jackson was asked about hopping aboard and saving the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin train, though he was quick to turn down that proposition publicly.
If recent reports prove true, it seems other big names aren't headed to Los Angeles either.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the discussion between the Clippers and Van Gundy has gone cold. Though the two sides have spoken multiple times about the vacancy, there seems to be no urgency from either side to make anything happen.
The reason for that is unclear, although Van Gundy did say that “the Clipper job in general is a great job," in a pre-NBA Finals conference call with media on Tuesday, per the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner.
Van Gundy coached parts of 11 seasons with the Rockets and Knicks, but has been out of coaching since being fired by Houston in 2007. He has since worked as a broadcaster with ESPN, though Wojnarowski notes Van Gundy is starting to get the coaching itch again.
Who should the Clippers Hire?
Karl, meanwhile, is already scratching his itch with the Denver Nuggets, but ESPN Los Angeles’ Ramona Shelburne reported early in the week that Karl had become "unsettled" following the departure of general manager Masai Ujiri. Sources told Shelburne that the Clippers made some cursory contact with the Nuggets about possibly taking Karl off the team's hands.
It's seemingly unlikely that Karl is the answer for the Clippers as well. According to Turner, Los Angeles' flirtation seems to be "going nowhere." Karl has one year left on his contract with Denver, and it's unclear what if any compensation the team would look for in return for the 62-year-old head coach.
That being said, we could have an answer as to why neither name has gotten much consideration. ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported late Tuesday night that Brian Shaw has become the team's No. 1 target.
Brian Shaw Also Brooklyn's Main Target?
It seems almost like forever ago that Kobe Bryant endorsed Shaw to replace Phil Jackson with the Lakers. Thought to merely be a rubber-stamping away after Bryant's kind words, the rug was pulled out from under Shaw, as the Lakers ultimately hired Mike Brown, which pretty much turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.
Shaw, scorned by the organization with which he cut his coaching teeth, joined Vogel's staff that summer and has been an integral member ever since. He has helped lead the the Pacers quite nearly to the mountain top of the NBA before falling each season to the monolith Heat.
The Pacers' ascent has only done more wonders for Shaw's reputation. Well-respected around the league under Jackson, Shaw has shown a versatility and consistent winning spirit under Vogel.
Which is a better job for Brian Shaw?
So it's no surprise that his name was back as a major possibility for the current top openings. Not only are the Clippers looking to make Shaw their next head coach, but the Brooklyn Nets have also reached out to the 47-year-old former NBA guard.
Sources told ESPN's Marc Stein and Chris Broussard that Shaw is a "serious" candidate for the Brooklyn job, though it was unclear how quickly the Nets wanted to move.
Broussard and Stein noted that team brass is in no hurry to hire the replacement for interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who was not retained after a first-round playoff loss. By not showing any urgency to make a move, the Nets appear that they are more likely to finish on the outside looking in on the Shaw chase.
That being said, Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star has reported that Brooklyn general manager Billy King has already done a ton of cursory research on Shaw:
Frank Vogel may need a new lead assistant cause Nets GM Billy King has done a lot of background checking on Brian Shaw, according to sources— Mike Wells (@MikeWellsNBA) June 4, 2013
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Odds are that Shaw lands the Clippers or Nets job, since both teams have been spurned by their most aspiring candidates who they targeted. Brooklyn might have to look even farther down its list with Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News reporting that Shaw is "holding out" for the Clippers job.
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