Biggest Pro and Con of Each Golden State Warriors Head Coaching Candidate
No coach is perfect.
The Golden State Warriors are presumably aware of that fact, but they'll be looking to find the head coach who's perfect for their team all the same. In the wake of firing Mark Jackson on the heels of a 51-win season and a first-round exit in the playoffs, the Dubs aren't exactly lacking options.
Thus far, 12 names have stood out, via Rusty Simmons of SFGate.com, and they can be broken down into three overarching categories:
- The unemployed crop: Mike D'Antoni, Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Steve Kerr, Jerry Sloan and Stan Van Gundy
- The college guys: Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie
- The coaches currently employed by NBA teams: David Fizdale, Alvin Gentry, Nate McMillan and Tom Thibodeau
Of the dozen, we'll be breaking down 11 here. Karl is immediately being ruled out because his lack of success in the postseason is the antithesis of what Golden State owner Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers are looking for in their Jackson replacement.
Analyzing a coaching fit is essentially a process filled with weighing pros against cons. Every candidate has some of both, but we'll be focusing on the biggest of each throughout this article.
The Warriors are a long way from making a decision (unless there are some serious behind-the-scenes machinations going on), but you can make yours any time you want. So, who's it going to be? Who should Golden State hand the clipboard to this offseason?
Can you imagine what Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson could do under Mike D'Antoni's tutelage? The man lives to make offensive adjustments, ones that often result in extremely quick paces and plenty of three-point attempts.
Curry and Thompson sandwiched Damian Lillard in the top three for three-point attempts during the 2013-14 campaign, per Basketball-Reference, and that came while running with a pace that still trailed five teams across the Association. If MDA stepped onto the sidelines, you could bet on the pace getting even quicker and the aforementioned snipers finishing No. 1 and No. 2, health pending.
Even though the Dubs have far more stars and high-quality offensive players than D'Antoni is used to coaching at one time, he's still a good fit for their offensive schemes, simply because so many notable rotation members can handle the ball and loft up shots from all over the court.
Defense is half of basketball.
In many ways, Lionel Hollins is a more experienced and less extreme version of Mark Jackson when he's pacing the sidelines.
He's a defensive mastermind, one capable of milking every ounce of point-preventing potential out of each member of his roster, and his schemes tend to be elite. There's a reason that the Memphis Grizzlies were so good on the defensive end when he was running the show, even if he didn't rely on analytics in order to find success.
On top of that, Hollins tends to build great relationships with his players, which is great news for a team that just lost a coach who considered that his speciality. As strong as the feeling of togetherness is within the locker room at Oracle Arena, it would grow even stronger under Hollins' tutelage.
Remember, he helped Tony Allen and Zach Randolph get back on track with the Grizz, then managed to turn Mike Conley and Marc Gasol into star-caliber players. That happened both because of player development and the confidence he showed in them on a daily basis.
Can the Warriors afford to hire a coach who clashed with his last set of bosses?
That was the very public reason Hollins was let go of by Memphis, largely driven by this report from Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
During the Grizzlies' playoff run, tensions turned to a confrontation when Hollins exploded during a practice session upon finding Hollinger had walked onto the practice court and engaged forward Austin Daye during a shooting drill, multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports.
With the team watching – and with a motive to show his players that he was completely in charge on the floor, sources said – Hollins loudly questioned Hollinger about what he was doing, and why he believed it was appropriate for a management official to intrude on what's considered sacred territory for a coach and team, sources said.
Hollins is not a fan of analytics, and he simply couldn't deal with a new regime of Memphis front-office members who—led by Robert Pera, Jason Levien and John Hollinger—wanted a coach who would buy into those same philosophies.
The Warriors are another team that has chosen to dive head-first into the analytics movement.
Can Hollins handle that? Can the Dubs themselves risk an uncertain answer to the previous question?
It's all about that basketball mind.
Whether earning three rings as a player or becoming one of the best in the business while broadcasting games for TNT, Steve Kerr has left absolutely no doubt that he understands the sport inside and out. Whether that translates to making strategic decisions with the pressure on and drawing up plays when NBA studs are surrounding him in a huddle remains to be seen, but Kerr absolutely has the mental skills necessary for the job.
"He has been analyzing the game on TV for eight of the last 11 years, so his aptitude, insight and sharp mind have been on display for some time," writes Bleacher Report's Howard Beck. "He is immensely personable and well networked among team executives, coaches and players."
George Karl, speaking with Beck via telephone, agreed with the assessment, offering plenty of compliments of his own:
Steve Kerr, I think, is a very good basketball guy.
Very good. Very talented brain. Very good instincts. A championship pedigree. But every young player, and I really feel every young coach, has a growing-up period. Some guys will do it in a year. Some guys will take two.
Can the Warriors handle a "growing-up period?"
Going from 23 wins in Jackson's first season to 47 and 51 in the second and third, respectively, wasn't good enough. Not without a championship rather than a first-round exit against the Los Angeles Clippers.
With the way the current roster is constructed, the Dubs need a coach who can immediately maximize the talent and steer the team deep into the postseason proceedings. They don't need someone who will spend his first season learning on the job.
And that'll be the only place Kerr can learn, because he's the only coaching candidate for this job—right now, at least—that has absolutely no experience.
None. Not in any position. Not at any level.
Kerr, despite his years in the broadcast booth, is as green as Jason Kidd was when he took the Brooklyn Nets job. And while Kidd rebounded after a brutal adjustment period, he's still looking rather overmatched against Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat, despite have a roster littered with experienced veterans.
Hiring Jerry Sloan brings instant credibility to the coaching ranks for the Golden State Warriors.
The Hall of Famer is a legend in the business, and that's not in the least bit hyperbolic. Even though he never won Coach of the Year, Sloan compiled well over 1,000 victories during his time with the Utah Jazz, who even retired his number of wins on a jersey that hangs up in the rafters of their home arena.
Sloan's presence immediately commands respect. He went to the NBA Finals in both 1997 and 1998, establishing himself as a winner even if he wasn't able to get past the juggernauts that were the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
In many ways, he's the polar opposite of Mark Jackson—a coach who has been around for so long that he's seen and done practically everything.
Not only does Joe Lacob, the owner of the Dubs, not like retread coaches, per Rusty Simmons of SFGate.com, but Sloan might not be able to commit to a lengthy postseason run.
Back working for the Utah Jazz this season — after more than two years away following his abrupt resignation in February 2011 — Sloan isn’t about to make any long-term promises this time.
"I don’t think it’s a number of years thing," the Hall of Fame coach said Friday. "I think it’s just a day-to-day thing, as far as the way I look at the whole thing. I’m Utah Jazz, I think everybody knows that. But the light gets a little dimmer as time goes by because I’m 71 years old."
Who's to say he won't resign out of the blue once more?
Sloan turned 72 at the end of March, and it might be tough for him to dedicate this stage of his life to a team that doesn't call Salt Lake City home. Even though coaching is more high profile than his current gig as a senior basketball advisor, it also comes with far more stress and energy-eating demands.
At the very most, Sloan would be a temporary hire until a younger candidate emerged as a strong option. Is that really what the Warriors are looking for?
Stan Van Gundy
As Simmons makes clear, this is a stylistic match made in heaven:
Van Gundy has already turned down overtures from Minnesota and Los Angeles, but his ties to the Bay Area and his philosophical match with the Warriors could coax him out of a comfortable broadcasting gig.
He was born in Indio (Riverside County) and attended Alhambra High in Martinez. He was successful in Orlando with a roster that included good three-point shooters and a rim-protecting defensive anchor - a formula similar to the Warriors' roster.
The Warriors have their rim-protecting anchor (Andrew Bogut), and it's not exactly hard to find high-quality shooters who can space out the court. The only differences between these Warriors and the Orlando Magic from a few years ago are that A) the shooters are better and B) the center can't really score at a high level.
Nonetheless, this is the type of coach who could come in and improve the success of the team without changing all that much. After all, SVG is a good tactical coach who can also motivate his troops with the best of the them.
Instead of cringing when late-game situations required a play and not another stale isolation situation, Warriors fans could actually get excited about the possibilities of an offense that flows naturally and effectively.
Van Gundy can be quite gruff, and he doesn't always get along with his players when there are philosophical differences.
Dwight Howard worked for years to lighten up his head coach, and the end result was an unsolvable tiff that led to the departure of both figures. Van Gundy left the coaching ranks, and D12 went to the Los Angles Lakers...then the Houston Rockets.
As B/R's Zach Buckley wrote, "He's a little rough around the edges, which could scare off this regime given the canyon that existed between it and Jackson."
But all things considered, this is the coaching candidate who puts the greatest separation between his pros and his cons. Given this particular Golden State roster, he should be viewed as the most desirable candidate.
The College Guys
Pro: Hoiberg thrives with ball movement and spacing. He's exactly the type of tactically brilliant head coach who would stand in stark contrast to Jackson's limitations with X's and O's.
Con: By now, you can guess that coaches with no experience are suddenly en vogue. And while they're still desirable, that applies to rebuilding teams, not ones looking to push over the playoff hump. At least he's sat on the Minnesota Timberwolves bench and been a part of their front office.
Pro: Ollie gives Lacob the type of fresh face he's looking for while trying to discover a head coach, not hire a retread one. And fresh off a victory in the NCAA tournament, it's clear that he's both a hot commodity and a winner who can motivate his team in the face of adversity.
Con: With no NBA experience whatsoever, Ollie could be in for a difficult learning curve while trying to make the jump from Connecticut to the Warriors.
The Coaches Currently Employed by NBA Teams
Pro: Plenty of experience as a winner, particularly as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, and his skills as a developer of talent could help the Golden State bench—particularly Harrison Barnes—grow into a more talented bunch rather than the anchor they've been in the past.
Con: His tactical skills are completely unknown, which could hold back a Golden State offense that already struggled during late-game situations. This franchise can't afford to put too much creative pressure on the players and assistants when the head coach doesn't offer anything in that department, which is a risk with Fizdale.
Pro: With a good defensive mind, he could help build upon the strides the Warriors made under the tutelage of Jackson. Despite the presence of Curry at the point, this was still a team with a defensive identity, and maximizing that identity is always a good idea.
Con: His offensive philosophy doesn't mesh with how the Dubs play. Gentry spent his time in charge of the Phoenix Suns playing fast but still trying to milk the shot clock, and it's in Golden State's interest to do the exact opposite, encouraging the Splash Brothers to fire away as soon as they have even the slightest opening.
Pro: It's all about success and experience. Even though he was given relatively limited talent to work with, McMillan steered his teams into the postseason during five of his 12 seasons as a head coach with either the Seattle SuperSonics or the Portland Trail Blazers.
Con: Looking past the whole retread thing, the Warriors would have to be cautious with McMillan's lack of postseason runs. His teams appeared in the playoffs, but only the 2004-05 Sonics were able to win even a single series. The rest bowed out during the first round.
Pro: Thibodeau may be clashing with the Chicago Bulls management, but he's one of the absolute best coaches in the Association. A defensive mastermind with a flair for sideline histrionics, Thibs is an incredible motivator who has the scheming mind necessary to push Golden State from "very good" to "very best" on the defensive end.
Con: Do you really want an offensively limited head coach teaching a team with so many offensive weapons but so many offensive flaws? Beyond that, he's been criticized for his willingness to play star players at all times, which is problematic for an injury-prone roster.