Burning Questions for Each New NBA Head Coach
The burning questions for each new NBA head coach highlight the biggest challenges facing them in the first season with their new teams.
These questions include how coaches will replicate success they've achieved in previous stops along with whether or not they'll command the respect of their new locker rooms.
The burning questions also surround expectations for winning, the type of offensive system that coaches intend to implement and how much improvement can be expected from young superstars they will be leading.
This list includes rookie NBA coaches along with those in their first season with a new team heading into 2013-14.
Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
Burning Question: Can the"Spurs Model" travel?
Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry was once a member of the San Antonio Spurs' front office.
He recently replaced former coach Larry Drew with longtime Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer in hopes of replicating the success of their former team.
For Budenholzer, though, his ability to infuse the Hawks with the winning strategy he learned for 17 years under Gregg Popovich will depend on the players he's able to coach.
At the moment, Al Horford remains as a cornerstone All-Star while free agent Josh Smith explores his options.
Though fellow free agent Kyle Korver and the 10.9 points he averaged in 2012-13 will return, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Hawks project to have a hole of 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game with the likely departure of Smith.
The ability to fill that void will go a long way toward helping the Hawks back to the postseason in Budenholzer's debut on the sidelines.
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
Burning Question: Will Brad Stevens be able to handle a locker room filled with NBA egos?
Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward were not top recruits coming out of high school.
If they were, Mack and Hayward may have played with other stars at Kentucky instead of taking a chance on Brad Stevens and Butler University.
As the new head coach of the Boston Celtics, Stevens will manage a collection of egos he's never had to contend with before at Butler.
While he projects to excel schematically as an innovative young mind, Stevens will be most challenged by the personalities he must now bring together as a collective unit.
The veteran presence of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will not be available in Boston to help in that effort after both Celtics were shipped to the Brooklyn Nets.
That leadership void in Boston will only increase the challenges for Stevens during his NBA debut in 2013-14.
Jason Kidd, Brooklyn Nets
Burning Question: Is Jason Kidd far enough removed from his playing days to command the respect of his players?
Jason Kidd was a member of the New York Knicks in 2012-13. Now, immediately after retiring as a player, Kidd will be coaching the crosstown Brooklyn Nets.
While I expect Kidd to be successful, the questions surrounding his NBA debut will include his ability to develop new relationships with the players he's now coaching.
Kidd must transition from being a friend and peer of players like Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, for example, to now being their boss despite having no previous coaching experience.
Bringing in veterans like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce should only help that transition for Kidd, who will look to Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson as a model for success in his new position.
Steve Clifford, Charlotte Bobcats
Burning Question: How many wins are possible now with Al Jefferson?
Marc Stein of ESPN reported on Sunday that Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson "has verbally agreed to a three-year contract with the Charlotte Bobcats worth an estimated $41 million."
By acquiring Jefferson, who averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in 2012-13, the Bobcats dramatically improved their ability to score in the frontcourt.
For first-year head coach Steve Clifford, this signing also increases his chance of winning next season.
After the Bobcats finished with a 21-61 record a year ago and a 7-59 mark before that, the question for Clifford now is just how many wins are expected in 2013-14.
With Kemba Walker entering his third year, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist starting his second season and Cody Zeller making his NBA debut, it would seem on paper that 30 wins is a real possibility. After investing over $13 million annually in Jefferson, it seems that a step forward like that in the win column would be required.
Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers
Burning Question: Can Mike Brown help Kyrie Irving and the Cavs improve defensively?
LeBron James would not be the premier NBA defender he is today without spending time under the direction of Mike Brown as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In his return to Cleveland, Brown will now be tasked with turning around a defense that ranked last in the NBA during the 2012-13 campaign by allowing opponents to shoot 47.6 percent from the floor.
At the point of attack, specifically, he must also help Kyrie Irving take a similar step defensively to the one that James took under Brown before him.
While Irving is way ahead of schedule offensively in his third season and already a top-15 NBA player, he could stand to improve defensively.
A critical part of the rebuilding process for Brown and the Cavaliers will be helping Irving make those strides as quickly as possible. Once the best player is contributing on a consistent basis defensively, it only becomes natural for everyone else to follow suit behind him.
Brian Shaw, Denver Nuggets
Burning Question: How will Brian Shaw structure the offense in Denver?
Brian Shaw spent considerable time under Phil Jackson as a player and coach engaged in the triangle offense.
After joining the Denver Nuggets, however, Shaw said that he does not intend to bring the triangle with him to Denver, according to Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:
Although I played in the triangle and coached the triangle, I also played in a lot of systems, so that's not something I'm looking to bring to the Nuggets and try to implement. I'm going to look at a lot of film of things the team did well, running was one of them. And I'll continue to build on things they did well and get more of a feel for the personnel and what I think will be conducive to everybody's ability.
Shaw's decisions on how he plans to run and structure the attack offensively will be critical to maintaining the success previously achieved under George Karl.
Maurice Cheeks, Detroit Pistons
Burning Question: How will Maurice Cheeks use Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe together?
Former Detroit Pistons coach Lawrence Frank was slow to insert rookie Andre Drummond into the starting lineup alongside Greg Monroe last season.
A back injury that cost Drummond 22 games on the sidelines further delayed a steady dose of the frontcourt pairing. But as the 2012-13 season neared completion, Frank went to his young tandem up front, and the results were encouraging.
Heading into the 2013-14 campaign, the question for new Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks will be how he decides to use Drummond and Monroe together from Day 1.
Those questions won't end with the decision of whether or not to start them together, but will also include how to maximize their potential from a schematic standpoint to become most effective.
Based on what we saw in spurts last season, the possibilities for the young duo appear limitless.
Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
Burning Question: How quickly can Rivers help the Clippers contend for an NBA championship?
With Chris Paul agreeing to a five-year, $107 million deal to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers, Doc Rivers has the elite point guard needed to compete for a Western Conference championship.
But how soon will the Clippers be capable of legitimately contending for an NBA title under Rivers?
After Rivers led the Boston Celtics to an NBA championship in 2008, a title run will be expected from him and Paul moving forward
How soon they will be able to accomplish it depends on how free agency concludes after coming to terms with Paul. The other factor will be how Rivers is able to help Blake Griffin develop after he averaged 18 points and 8.3 rebounds a season ago.
For Paul and Griffin, the Vinny Del Negro excuse is now gone. Rivers will be expected to take this organization to new heights as quickly as possible.
Dave Joerger, Memphis Grizzlies
Burning Question: Can Dave Joerger build on what Lionel Hollins started in Memphis?
After advancing to the 2013 Western Conference Finals, the Memphis Grizzlies parted ways with head coach Lionel Hollins.
Hollins was not under contract for 2013-14 despite leading Memphis to its best season in franchise history. Memphis eventually promoted Grizzlies assistant coach Dave Joerger instead of offering Hollins an extension.
But will Joerger be able to continue what Hollins started and lead the Grizzlies even further?
As opposed to other rookie head coaches around the league, Joerger is taking over a roster with multiple All-Stars in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
Unlike those other opportunities, however, anything less than playing for a Western Conference championship is a step backward for the Grizzlies.
Larry Drew, Milwaukee Bucks
Burning Question: How successful will Larry Drew be at establishing an identity for the Milwaukee Bucks?
Scott Skiles is an old-school NBA coach who preaches defense and accountability.
Prior to his departure from the Milwaukee Bucks last season, he had to manage a roster led by free-wheeling offensive guards Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings.
The philosophical fit wasn't there, and by January 9, Skiles was out and interim coach Jim Boylan was in. Following a trip to the first round of the playoffs, Milwaukee relieved Boylan of his duties in favor of Larry Drew on a permanent basis.
For Drew to achieve sustainable success in Milwaukee, however, he must first develop an identity of who the Bucks are and what they are trying to become.
As a traditionally tough-minded coach who also preaches defense, Drew will attempt to establish that identity on the defensive end of the floor. His success in accomplishing as much will determine how long he stays in the position.
Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
Burning Question: How much will be asked of rookie Alex Len?
The Phoenix Suns now have a new general manager, coach and franchise center.
First-year head coach Jeff Hornacek's team invested the No. 5 overall pick in Alex Len from Maryland, whom many experts had being selected as early as No. 1 overall.
With Len, in the wake of Steve Nash's departure last summer, the Suns have identified a new direction for the organization.
Phoenix will also assist Len's on-court development by pairing him with point guard Eric Bledsoe, whom it recently acquired through a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, according to Sam Amick of USA Today.
The question for Hornacek in this phase of the rebuilding process, however, is finding a balance between challenging Len during his rookie season and pushing him too far in terms of minutes and expectations.
Len is coming off a sophomore campaign with Maryland where he played only 1,004 minutes for the Terrapins on the year while averaging 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Michael Malone, Sacramento Kings
Burning Question: How will Michael Malone be able to help DeMarcus Cousins maximize his ability?
Tyreke Evans is on his way to becoming a member of the New Orleans Pelicans.
According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Evans will be heading to the Pelicans in exchange for point guard Greivis Vasquez. The Kings will also receive two second-round picks from the Portland Trail Blazers in the three-team trade.
This leaves DeMarcus Cousins as the primary focal point of the Kings offense for first-year coach Michael Malone. Cousins has averaged 16.3 points and 9.8 rebounds for his career and is coming off a season in 2012-13 where he posted 17.1 and 9.9.
What Cousins has not yet been able to demonstrate, however, is a consistent approach to the game that maximizes his ability as a basketball player.
Although two were later rescinded, he was assessed 17 technical fouls last year. Cousins was also ejected from four games and suspended three times during the season.
Malone will need to communicate the importance of approaching the game with professionalism on a daily basis to his young center. How to specifically accomplish as much, however, is easier said than done.