Time For Change: 10 Guys Who Could Be NBA Head Coaches Next Season
This offseason there will be a rich pool of head coaching candidates available for all those teams who already have an opening or for those that are seriously considering a changing of the guard.
Chicago, New Jersey, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and the L.A. Clippers all have vacancies and will be pursuing most of the big names out there.
In Atlanta, Mike Woodson is on the last leg of his contract and while most feel he deserves an extension, he hasn't received it yet; making a second consecutive second-round exit from the playoffs won't help is case either.
There's no telling what will happen in Denver with George Karl. He's in the middle of his second bout with cancer, this time dealing with a treatable yet still serious neck and throat form of the disease.
His health comes before basketball, plain and simple; there's a chance he won't be back next season.
In Miami, there are quiet rumblings of a return of the master yet again. In Lakerland, there are worries of the master leaving yet again. Could we see Pat Riley in with the Heat and Phil Jackson out with L.A.?
Riley said he would do whatever it took to create a dynasty in Miami, even if that meant returning to the bench. Jeannie Buss told reporters in Los Angeles that she though Jackson would be back next season, but wasn't sure.
Jackson later said there's a 90 percent chance he comes back; that other 10 percent is still troubling though.
These are a few of the situations out there that will headline the coaching debates this offseason in a backdrop to the greater story of free agency. Having a reliable skipper on the bench is almost as important as talent on the court though.
Let's take a look at the top 10 names out there who should be considered for head coaching positions next season.
After the Mavericks were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round for a second consecutive year in the 2007-08 season, Dallas decided to part ways with Avery Johnson after a successful but frustrating three and half year run.
When he took over the reins from Don Nelson in March of 2005, Johnson led the Mavs to a 16-2 finish to the season. He then lad them to back-to-back 60-plus win seasons before going 51-31 in his final year with the team.
It all went downhill after Dallas lost to the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals though; the franchise just never seemed to recover from the blow and slowly slipped out of the elite.
Johnson took the lion's share of the blame, but there's no doubt he can be a successful coach in this league. Very few coaches have nearly the amount of success he had in his first run as the head honcho.
Philly met with him last March and appear to be interesting in bringing him out of the studio and back to the bench. They're one of several teams that will pursue him this offseason.
Jeff Van Gundy
Jeff Van Gundy has 10 full seasons of NBA head coaching experience under his belt and one resignation-shortened season to forget back in 2002.
As the head coach of the Knicks and Rockets, Van Gundy lead his team to the postseason nine times, including a Cinderella run to the NBA Finals in 1998. The problem was he never got that close again and later failed to get the Rockets out of the first round on in his four years with Houston.
Still, Van Gundy is a fiery guy with a lot of respect league-wide. He'll be one of the hot names out there this offseason. He's been away from the sidelines for three years, but there aren't many names available with more experience or consistency than him.
In 2009, Van Gundy expressed his interest to return to coaching at some point and even said he would be willing to take on a role as an assistant. That isn't going to happen though, as there's a very good chance a number of teams offer him the chance to be a head coach.
Every year Mark Jackson's name is thrown into the discussion whenever a coaching vacancy is brought up, but until now, no one has been able to pry him loose of his place in the Studio.
After a very successful career from 1987 to 2004, Jackson moved on to a career as an analyst and has always been close to the game. He's very well respected an has long been thought to be a great candidate for coaching.
As a player he always demanded the respect of his teammates and since then that respect has carried over into his post-NBA career. There's a reason he's always filling the rumor mill when someone needs a head coach—a lot of people want him.
This time it's another round of speculation that Jackson will be replacing Mike D'Antoni in New York when LeBron, Chris Bosh and Amar'e Stoudemire all decide to take a pay-cut to play together next season (kidding about that last part, I think).
Pat Riley's recent comments about possibly returning to the bench raised more than a few eyebrows this past week as South Florida quietly considered the possibility.
When asked whether he would definitely would not return to the bench next season, Riley responded to reporters by saying, "I'll do whatever is in the best interest of building a team here. Period. Whatever it takes, OK? I'll let you fill in the blanks.
"If some free agent were to say, 'I will come here but you must do this,' well, hell, if that happens that day, then i might have to give it some thought."
That seems like a message to any potential free agent star that he's available to coach the team next season if anyone is worried that Eric Spoelstra can't get it done with a contender.
That isn't a knock on Spo, but realistically who would you rather have as the head coach on a championship-caliber team, the youngest head coach in the NBA with only two years of experience or a Hall of Fame head coach with five championship rings on his fingers?
Mike Fratello has bounced between coaching and television for years and currently works as the main color commentator for TNT. He's had stints with the Hawks, Cavs, and Grizzlies, with varying levels of success.
In his 16 years on the sidelines, Fratello collected a record of 667-552, but went just 20-42 in the postseason. That's generally what gets coaches fired every time.
The truth is he never really had the most talented rosters to work with, and expectations of late postseason runs or even championships were usually misguided notions.
Fratello is a smart, defensive-minded coach he also tends to rub owners and players the wrong way at times, but that doesn't take away from his value. There aren't a whole lot of options out there with more knowledge of the game and willingness to enter practically any situation.
Byron Scott had a long run of success as an NBA player before becoming the head coach of the Nets and later the New Orleans Hornets. Both of those coaching jobs ended on a sour note as he was fired from New Jersey 64 games into the 2003-04 season and let go in New Orleans only 12 games into the schedule this past season.
There are mixed feelings on the man who took the Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances only to lose both times. Some feel he is an excellent coach that can be a difference-maker, while others feel he just doesn't have what it takes to get his team over the hump.
You can't deny his ability to coach up young talent though; just look at what he did helping Chris Paul bloom into the star he's become.
That's one of the main reasons Scott has been linked heavily to the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose. They are one of several teams that are believed to have interest in acquiring him this offseason.
Doug Collins was a four-time All-Star in his playing days, has eight years of head coaching experience under his belt, and is one of the most recognizable television broadcasters for the NBA.
Like Mark Jackson, practically every time a head coaching job becomes available his name is thrown into the hat.
He hasn't been on the sidelines since 2003 though, and that was in a very unsuccessful run with the Washington Wizards. Each time he's stepped away from coaching it's taken about five to six years for him to return, so Collins is overdue for a fourth tour at the helm.
He knows this game about as well as anyone and would demand a lot of respect from his players right from day one. A young, budding team could sorely use a guy like him leading the way.
It'll be interesting to see who he's connected to this offseason.
Dwane Casey had one run as an NBA head coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves back in the 2005-06 season, but he was fired halfway through his second season after the team seriously struggled to find any success on the court.
Since then he returned to assistant coaching, this time with the Dallas Mavericks. He's also served as an assistant under George Karl and Nate McMillan with the Seattle Supersonics.
He's become one of the hot names out there for a number of teams looking for replacement coaches and it appears his second chance to be a head coach is immanent.
Casey has been linked to the Clippers as well as the Bulls and 76ers. He's a well-respected guy who's put in his due and should have a lot more success with any of these teams—it's hard for anyone to coach the Timberwolves.
Keith Smart has been an assistant coach under Don Nelson in Golden State for several years now and it appears he's being groomed to replace Nelly when he eventually calls it quits, which just may be this offseason.
Smart is best known for hitting the game-winner in the 1987 NCAA Championship game to give Indiana a 74-73 victory over Syracuse, in case you're wondering why the name sounds familiar.
He served as an interim head coach with the Cavs in 2002, roaming the sidelines for 40 games and finishing with a 9-31 record.
Other than that his experience has been solely as an assistant, but that should change soon. Smart is an intelligent guy that is long overdue for his chance to run the show as more than just an interim.
Bill Cartwright is currently an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns, but also served under Phil Jackson in Chicago during the Jordan Era. He later went on to coach the Bulls himself from halfway through the 2001-02 season to a few games into the 2003-04 season.
His record of 51-100 inspired little confidence that he should have been kept around longer than that, but the truth is he took a lot of the blame for a situation that would have been bad for any head coach.
Cartwright has been around this game for a very, very long time and he has a lot of respect around the league. This may not be the year he gets the chance to return to head coaching, but he'll be in the mix regardless and eventually will head up a ball club down the line.
Phoenix's postseason success has only helped his cause as well; teams love to jump on the hot commodities and Cartwright may become that now that the Suns have a good shot of reaching the Conference Finals.