If the Boston Celtics and Doc Rivers part ways over the next few days, with both sides getting what they want from the breakup, the team will have an important question hanging over its head: Who's the Celtics' next head coach?
Replacing someone whose nine season tenure was wildly successful is nearly impossible. What the Celtics need to do is pick someone who matches up nicely with the team's adjusted expectations and renovated roster.
Big-name retreads, even ones that are otherwise fantastic such as George Karl, shouldn't be on Boston's radar. Their dream candidate should be young, forward-thinking and able to grow from the ground up in a tough process that will have more downs than ups at first.
Here are five coaching options, ranked in order of how well they fit in with where Boston is right now and where the Celtics are headed.
We'll start with a candidate who goes entirely against everything Boston should be looking for in Lionel Hollins.
Hollins is a fantastic basketball coach who got all he could out of a Memphis Grizzlies' roster that's heaviest offensive weaponry was limited and inconsistent.
He's good enough to be coaching one of the NBA's 30 teams should he desire, and if president of basketball operations Danny Ainge tapped him to lead the Celtics, defense would still be a priority, which is important. Hollins' ability to connect with Rajon Rondo, a star who's also a tough nut to crack in teacher-student relationships, seems likely too. That's another plus.
But Hollins has two traits that don't make him a good fit in Boston. For starters, he's impatient. He's also a defiant twig standing in the face of advanced analytics, a flowing river of thinking that is washing over the sport.
The Celtics are a team that values information highly and they're willing to do whatever it takes to obtain it, including usage of statistics to weigh various on-court probabilities. As for that whole impatient thing? A major reason the Memphis Grizzlies were swept by the San Antonio Spurs (though two games spilled into overtime) was Zach Randolph's disappearing act.
Hollins stuck to his man though, instead of giving Ed Davis a try. Even if Davis played significantly more minutes and excelled in his floor time, Memphis still wouldn't have been the better basketball team, but Hollins' actions show a man who views risk-taking as more hazardous than propitious.
You know what could help turn that way of thinking around? Numbers, but Hollins isn't interested in looking at those.
If reaching Rondo is the priority, Hollins is great, but at this point, it probably isn't.
In 1991, Robert Pack was a rookie point guard on the Western Conference champ Portland Trail Blazers. In front of him on the depth chart was a 32-year-old Danny Ainge. These two have a connection, and that's a start.
Pack has spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers, teaching Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan. Those could be two more meaningful connections in a business where who you know means everything.
Before bruising his knee badly as an All-Star caliber point guard for the Washington Bullets in 1996, Pack was what most project Bledsoe to become—a score-first point guard whose athletic limitations are nonexistent to the naked eye.
If Bledsoe is included in the package to Boston, and the Celtics are interested in re-building around him as opposed to Rondo—who they could eventually exchange for a nice package of options, Pack might be the best man for the job.
It's risky to hire someone with no head coaching experience, especially when they just assisted a team that had little coordination on offense, but we don't know how much, if any, of that blame should be allocated to Pack.
It'd be an outside the box hire, but that's exactly the type of move Boston needs to make.
The Houston Rockets had one of the best offenses in basketball last season, despite rolling out a super-young roster with individuals that had zero experience playing with one another before the year started (no training camp, either).
They went to the playoffs by implementing a freestyle offense, the type every player in the league would love to be in on with lots of running and lots of shooting early in the shot clock.
J.B. Bickerstaff was an assistant coach for Kevin McHale on Houston's sideline last year and his presence was a reason why they overachieved as well as they did.
Imagine the Celtics adopting Houston's offense with Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan (or maybe Eric Bledsoe too) instead of James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik. Not only would it be fun to watch, it'd pique the interest of free agents looking for a system that fosters scoring.
Bickerstaff has been an assistant coach in the NBA since he was 25 years old and on the Charlotte staff coached by his father, Bernie. He's 34 now, and would have time to grow coaching a team in Boston that's ready for a gradual climb up the mountain.
Given the bad blood that lingers between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics, this selection will probably raise a few eyebrows. Still, stranger things have happened (see Ray Allen) and from Boston's perspective, it makes a ton of sense.
Not many people know the ins and outs of the Heat better than Erik Spoelstra's top assistant, and gaining his insight on all of that organization's strengths and weaknesses could be fruitful.
This line of thinking doesn't always work across professional sports (just ask the New York Jets about Eric Mangini), especially after factoring in how a lot of what makes Miami successful centers around dynamics that are immune to game plans when they're firing on all cylinders.
But Fizdale is young and smart, which are two boxes the Celtics will be looking to check off should they go searching for a new coach. The 39-year-old Fizdale has been on Miami's sideline for five seasons (including three straight appearances in the finals) and before that, held stints with the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors.
Similar to Spoelstra and Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, Fizdale worked his way from the ground up, churning through Miami's film room when he was just 23 years old. He's the prototypical candidate Boston should set their sights on if the spot opens up, and as a first time head coach with very little leverage in contract negotiations, he'd cost a mere fraction of the $7 million tag that Rivers draws.
In addition to being an assistant coach in Miami, Fizdale also serves as the team's director of player development, which looks fantastic on his resume. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are what they are, but Fizdale's work with young role players like Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole is evident.
He'd be wonderful in leading a newer, younger roster in Boston.
Simply going off the law of averages, Brian Shaw should already be a head coach in the NBA.
He has spent countless hours interviewing with a stable of teams over the past few years—most recently conducting a five-hour conversation with the Brooklyn Nets that went for naught, according to The Sporting News—but was passed over by them all.
Why? Apart from his association with the triangle offense, a system that has failed miserably throughout the NBA when not run by Phil Jackson and a bunch of Hall of Fame talent, it's very difficult to say.
Shaw is a winner. He participated in the elusive, mentally draining task of taking three championships in a row as a role player with the Los Angeles Lakers, then won two more titles as Jackson's assistant half a decade later.
He just spent two years as the lead assistant coach for an Indiana Pacers team that has arguably the best defense in basketball, and made noticeable developmental improvements since he got there. It's unclear what offensive system Shaw would implement as a head coach, but hopefully, he's smart enough to let his personnel answer that question.
Also, know who drafted Shaw into the NBA? That would be the Boston Celtics, with the 24th pick in 1988. How's that for a homecoming, yes? (We'll throw that little tidbit in the "irrelevant but kind of cool" bin in terms of evaluating his ability to do the job.)
Shaw is only four years younger than Rivers and just hoping somebody opens the door. Boston would be wise to let him in.