Despite the season-long rumblings that former coach Mark Jackson's seat was blazing, it seems as if that's as far as the Golden State Warriors' thought process went.
If identifying Jackson's replacement was in fact part of their agenda, choosing an obtainable candidate apparently wasn't.
Fresh off a 51-win season (their best since 1991-92), the Warriors assumed coaching hopefuls would be chasing them—not the other way around. Golden State cast a wide net, but two names surfaced as early favorites: Stan Van Gundy and Steve Kerr. Those were the targets the team would pursue.
Both presented unique challenges.
Van Gundy had been out of coaching since 2011-12 and, with his time comfortably split between his family and an entertaining career in radio broadcasting, seemed in no rush to get back into the profession.
That was until the Detroit Pistons put something of a "Godfather Offer" in front of him: five years, $35 million to become the team's coach and president of basketball operations.
Intrigued by both that level of control and the talent already in place with the Warriors, Van Gundy sought the same type of power with Golden State. He was denied that request and, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, accepted Detroit's offer shortly thereafter:
NBA source: Stan Van Gundy told the Warriors he wanted total control of basketball decisions. They declined. He could get that in DET.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) May 13, 2014
Pistons & SVG reach agreement in principle on five-year deal worth estimated $35 mil and are on course for official announcement this week— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 14, 2014
That put the Warriors back all-in on Kerr, a pursuit they had all but abandoned just days before. The TNT analyst has had lengthy discussions with the New York Knicks, a franchise now run by Kerr's former coach Phil Jackson, and is "getting closer" to finalizing a deal with them, a source told ESPN New York's Ian Begley.
Nevertheless, Golden State has tried to force its way back into that discussion. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the team's executives flew to Oklahoma City for a last-ditch attempt at luring Kerr away from the Zen Master:
Golden State's management group is headed to Oklahoma City to make a final push for Steve Kerr, sources tell Yahoo. Kerr has TNT game there.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 13, 2014
"The Warriors left more convinced of Kerr's readiness to coach the franchise," sources told Wojnarowski, "and Kerr had a chance to further familiarize himself with the entire Warriors front office."
Perhaps that's progress in Golden State's eyes, but it seems more like lateral movement.
They're putting all their eggs in the Kerr basket, which by all accounts is already packaged, processed and ready to ship to the Empire State at any minute:
A source with knowledge of the negotiations tells @ramonashelburne that they would be "shocked" if Kerr ended up anywhere but in New York.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) May 13, 2014
Barely more than a week removed from dismissing Jackson, who led the franchise to consecutive playoff berths for the first time in more than two decades, the Dubs are in full-on desperation mode.
They're fighting (and apparently losing) for the chance to give Kerr his first ever coaching gig, rolling the dice with a roster too talented, too expensive and, perhaps, too old for that type of gambling.
The problem is the inexperienced Kerr might be the best available on the open market. That's terrifying in itself considering there's no way to tell if he'd be any good at the gig.
"One must ask, why Kerr?" ESPN New York's Stephen A. Smith wrote. "Does anyone know if he can coach? Not necessarily for the Knicks' job, but more so for the several jobs apparently at his disposal?"
Well, I think the Warriors were always going to talk to former NBA head coaches Lionel Hollins and Nate McMillan, and I’d assume those discussions occur very soon (formally or informally–McMillan is Indiana’s top assistant, so his availability could be delayed).
I also think Clippers assistants Alvin Gentry (also a former HC) and Tyronn Lue might get a look from the Warriors whenever their playoff run ends, if the timing works.
The Warriors probably can invest some time and thought in Mike D’Antoni, Mike Brown, George Karl and a few others.
And I’m still suggesting Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, UConn’s Kevin Ollie or Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau as very intriguing candidates, but again, those have to be under-the-radar contacts and may never actually go through the official process if they remain where they are.
Lionel Hollins, Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports previously reported, is already scheduled for an interview.
The former Memphis Grizzlies coach has a history of delivering results. After taking over midway through the 2008-09 campaign, Hollins lifted the team's winning percentage in each of the next four seasons, culminating with a franchise-record 56 wins during the 2012-13 campaign.
Hollins, though, would be a puzzling choice for these executives. His strengths (defense, relating to players) and weaknesses (offensive creativity, front-office clashes) mirror those of Jackson to an uncomfortable degree.
Nate McMillan is a good-not-great option (career 478-452 record), which should take him out of the running for a team with visions of being great, not good.
"Going forward there may be a different task or a different goal than there was in the last three years," Warriors owner Joe Lacob said after Jackson's dismissal, via Kawakami.
Lacob also initially hired Jackson in part to break the trend of cycling through retread coaches. That would seem to bury these candidates along with Alvin Gentry (who holds a career .475 winning percentage), Mike D'Antoni (.516), Mike Brown (.616) and George Karl (.599).
Suddenly, that laundry list is really thinning out.
Tyronn Lue would certainly break that mold. The 37-year-old is just five seasons removed from an 11-year playing career and has been working under Doc Rivers (first with the Boston Celtics, now with the Los Angeles Clippers) since calling it quits.
Lue is an interesting combination of fresh and experienced, exciting but perhaps less risky than someone with no taste of a coach's life. Still, he's unproven as a head coach. He might develop into the next coaching great, but the Warriors have too much invested in their win-now core to wait.
Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is by far the most appealing name on that list:
If Kerr is out, let's get the Thibs campaign going.— Jordan Ramirez (@JRAM_91) May 14, 2014
He's also perhaps the least obtainable, which is saying something considering the hurdles Golden State would have to clear to pry Fred Hoiberg or Kevin Ollie away from the college game.
Thibodeau has three years left on his current contract, and despite having a somewhat rocky relationship with the Bulls front office, he won't get out of his deal easily (assuming he even wants to). The Bulls would surely want some compensation for their coach, and the Warriors have none to offer, unless Chicago is high on a 2015 first-round pick (that can't be moved before June 27) or a 2019 first-round selection.
If the Warriors can't get Kerr, which candidate should they go after?
Golden State wouldn't even necessarily have a better-roster argument against Chicago. If Derrick Rose gets healthy and the Bulls find a way to land Carmelo Anthony in free agency, the Warriors simply couldn't offer that type of superstar talent.
Expect the Warriors to pursue this avenue, though, just as they're chasing Kerr now. Long-shot candidates are all that is left—at least in terms of desirable targets—so Golden State will approach the market with crossed fingers and hope for a miracle.
By firing someone who had enjoyed as much success as Jackson, the Warriors set an extremely high bar for his replacement. They should have figured out if such a candidate (a) existed and (b) would be interested before making that move.
The lack of careful planning then has removed any chance at being cautious now. The Warriors are left swinging for the fences, and they're already down in the count.