The old saying that coaches are hired to be fired has never been truer than this year. With Sam Mitchell’s ouster from Toronto , two of the past three NBA Coaches of the Year are currently unemployed as Mitchell joins former Dallas head man Avery Johnson as award-winning coaches now collecting unemployment checks.
Sometimes firing a coach is perfectly justified, as in the case of Oklahoma City canning P.J. Carlesimo. It was clear that Carlesimo’s brusque personality was neither motivating nor teaching his young Thunder, who had no concept of team defense, didn’t execute well, and had a habit of giving up when falling behind.
Other times, general managers let coaches take the fall because they can’t fire themselves, and it’s easier to change coaches than it is to change players. Washington ’s Eddie Jordan got the soft, defenseless Wizards to overcome a lack of big men and a lack of toughness for years before injuries to Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood finally did him in.
Jordan even got his team to play its best basketball last year after losing Arenas for the majority of the season.
Canning Jordan won’t bring Haywood back, it won’t make Antawn Jamison a better defender, and it won’t alleviate Washington ’s lack of power in the paint. Oh well, I guess Washington ’s President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld has a goldfish-spanned memory.
So even though the season is barely a month old, coaches’ hot seats are blazing up, pink slips will be handed out, and different faces will be needed to lead different teams.
Here’s a short list of potential coaching candidates, ranging from recycled clip board carriers to current color commentators, that can get the most out of whatever hand they’re dealt.
Jeff Van Gundy
Anyone familiar with JVG’s resume and work on ABC/ESPN knows the man can coach. His attention to detail, particularly on the defensive end, makes sure that his players are in the best possible positions for a team to succeed. His sharp wit and his coaching experience give him instant credibility for players to respect, and no team would be more prepared for a game than the one Van Gundy’s coaching.
Better for nurturing young teams than taking an experienced squad to the next level, Bickerstaff is a wonderful teacher and developer of young talent. He gets young teams to play hard, he gets them to play smart, he’s patient, but he doesn’t tolerate a lack of effort. If he’s still interested in being a head coach, a team in a rebuilding process can accelerate the process by hiring Bickerstaff.
A defensive guru, a disciple of Van Gundy’s, and Doc Rivers’ right hand man in Boston , Thibodeau is a defensive prodigy who helped coordinate Boston ’s championship defense last season. Thibodeau knows how to stop opponents from scoring, and his pedigree would bring instant respect. However, there’s a question of whether or not he’s simply a glorified defensive coordinator, or if he has the personality to succeed as a head coach.
Washington ’s trash should be another team’s treasure. Jordan ’ Princeton offense has proved that it can succeed in the league, and Jordan got the most out of a Wizards team lacking any inside scoring. Most impressively, while Gilbert Arenas was out last year, Jordan got the team to buckle down defensively, and to trust the halfcourt offense more. The result was a Wizards team much more efficient with Caron Butler spearheading the offense, than with Arenas running the show.
Jordan knows how to draw up offenses, and he knows how to adapt to different situations, two qualities that make him a quality head coach.
Smith would be a risk, considering he has no coaching experience, but he paid his dues as a player with a decade-long career, and knows the ins and outs of the game, both from his playing days, and from his studio work on TNT. Working with the outspoken Charles Barkley gives Smith a sense of handling egos and personalities, which is one of the most important aspects of being a professional coach. He’d definitely need a high-quality assistant, but Smith has the personality to coach in the league.
Johnson knows how to motivate and push buttons, as he was the man who morphed the Dallas Mavericks from a gimmicky run-and-gun team into a championship contender. The fact that Dallas essentially mutinied towards the end of his campaign implies that his shtick is short-lasting, but if a team needs an immediate kick in the pants, Johnson may be the perfect hire.
Jackson was on the short list for nearly all of last offseason’s coaching vacancies. He has a high basketball IQ and if he can manage being partnered with Jeff Van Gundy at ABC/ESPN, he can manage any of the personalities he’d face in the NBA. Like with Kenny Smith, the lack of experience is a concern, and is the main thing holding him back.
Budenholzer’s been in the Spurs organization for 14 years, the first two as a video coordinator, the last 12 of them as an assistant coach. Anybody who’s worked with Gregg Popovich will be responsible, meticulous, and well versed in x’s and o’, and the up-and-coming Budenholzer is no exception. So many successful coaches and general managers have come out of San Antonio’s family tree, it would be wise to go back to the well one more time.
Turner has been Houston Head Coach Rick Adelman’s right hand man the past season-plus in Houston. He’s a strong communicator who’s managed to relate to and get the most out of a roster filled with multiple personas. He’ll join Budenholzer, and Thibodeaux as the most sought after assistants lacking head coaching experience.
Though not an elite motivator, Saunders works great with stable veteran ball clubs who know how to handle their own business. He’s detailed in his offensive and defensive approaches, knows how to manage rotations, and keeps an even keel through rough patches. He may not be able to push a great team over the top, but he’ll be the difference in taking a very good team and bringing them to the cusp.
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