Biggest Winners and Losers from NBA's Wild Offseason Coaching Carousel

Mo DakhilFeatured Columnist INovember 14, 2020

FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2020, file photo, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers watches during the second quarter of the team's NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets in Denver. The Philadelphia 76ers have reached an agreement with Rivers to become their new coach. Rivers reached a deal Thursday to become the latest coach to try to lead the Sixers to their first NBA championship since 1983, a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke to the AP on Thursday on condition of anonymity because the Sixers had not formally announced the move. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Every NBA offseason, the coaching carousel goes around with multiple openings. Nine jobs were available after the 2019-20 season ended. Now that the Oklahoma City Thunder have finalized their hire, the carousel has come to a stop—until next offseason, that is.

Of the nine teams that were looking for a new head coach, some have gone through multiple rebuilds without finding success. Two or three have championship expectations. Some are looking for success to break through into the playoffs or get off the treadmill of mediocrity. 

Some teams opted to bring in coaches who have been out of the game, while others gave assistant coaches their first shot at the top job. Two coaches went from one team to another. A former championship coach slid over from the lead assistant position to the head coaching job. And a Hall of Fame player is taking a stab at coaching with very limited experience.

Some of these coaching hires were no-brainers, while a few were head-scratching decisions.


Loser: New York Knicks—Tom Thibodeau

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

The New York Knicks have tapped Tom Thibodeau to become their sixth full-time coach in 10 years. It was widely assumed he would be the coach after Leon Rose, his former agent, was named team president. 

They still conducted a long and exhaustive search with several different types of candidates. Former coaches, potential first-time coaches and coaches with a development focus were all interviewed, but ultimately the Knicks hired Thibodeau.

Thibs' previous stops were with teams in Chicago and Minnesota that had playoff aspirations. The Bulls even had championship expectations with a young Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer. In Minnesota, he was expected to take the up-and-coming Wolves to the playoffs with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

As the Knicks roster currently stands, the playoffs are a pipe dream. This roster begs for a development coach. The hiring of Thibodeau means the Knicks have plans for taking a big swing in free agency and the trade market.

They've been linked to Chris Paul, another former Rose client. Is a player on the downslope of their career worth giving up assets for? Even if they get Paul, would he be able to withstand playing for Thibodeau, who has a history of wearing his players down physically?

Thibodeau is a good coach and will improve the Knicks, but if the roster stays the way it is, he is not the right coach for this job. New York hired a win-now coach for a development project.


Winner: Chicago Bulls—Billy Donovan

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls are automatic winners for dismissing Jim Boylen, whose style did not vibe with the players. They nearly staged a mutiny early in his tenure. On that alone, they've put themselves in the winner's circle of the coaching carousel. Then they went on to hire a solid coach.

Billy Donovan parted ways with the Thunder, who are heading for a rebuild. In five years in the NBA, Donovan has coached Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Chris Paul while making the playoffs all five years. He has a 60.8 win percentage and has plenty of experience.

This Bulls team has a lot of young talent with Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White. They just need some direction and leadership from the sideline. With a new front office and a new coach, the Bulls are pushing to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

This is Donovan's chance to really put his imprint on a team. Every Thunder team he coached had dominant personalities. Now he can mold the Bulls in his vision and philosophy without having to worry about catering to a franchise player.

With the Boylen era in the rearview mirror and Donovan in the fold, things are looking up in the Windy City.


Loser: Brooklyn Nets—Steve Nash

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Brooklyn Nets' hiring of Steve Nash came as a shock to everyone. Prior to the announcement, there were no indications of desire to coach from Nash. He served as a consultant for the Golden State Warriors and fostered a great relationship with Durant. 

Nash was a Hall of Fame point guard and not only had a great feel for the game but was also an amazing communicator. Brooklyn is hoping he'll carry that over to the sidelines. Plenty of former NBA players have jumped right into coaching and had success, with Steve Kerr the shining example.

The big difference is none of those players were taking over a team that had championship expectations. Even though the Warriors won the championship in Kerr's first year, they did not enter the season as contenders.

This Nets team, fair or unfair, has true championship expectations. Armed with Kyrie Irving and Durant (coming off an Achilles injury), Brooklyn is supposed to challenge in the Eastern Conference. It will compete for the championship with a coach who will be learning on the job.

The good news is Nash has assembled a great coaching staff, with Jacque Vaughn, Mike D'Antoni and Ime Udoka as his front-of-the-bench assistant coaches. 

This may not age well, but it is boom or bust for the Nets, and they will be judged on their playoff performance.


Winner: Los Angeles Clippers—Tyronn Lue

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

After the Los Angeles Clippers blew a 3-1 playoff series lead for the second time under Doc Rivers, Steve Ballmer decided it was time for a change. In a surprising move, he let Rivers go. This is not the easiest job for any coach to take over.

With a championship-or-bust mentality—and following an embarrassing exit in the playoffs—the Clippers needed an experienced hand at the helm. This is not the type of job to hand over to a first-year coach. Ballmer and his front office promoted Tyronn Lue after interviewing a few candidates.

Lue is one of the few coaches with experience of taking over a team under such high pressure. He helped lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first championship in 2016. His experience coaching LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will prove invaluable to coaching Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and crew.

Having been with the team last season, Lue has inside knowledge on what this team needs. Sliding over from the assistant coaching chair to the head coach slot means he is no longer making suggestions but decisions. 

Lue was a hot commodity. He nearly became the Los Angeles Lakers' head coach last season and had interviewed for several of this offseason's openings. From the moment Rivers was let go, it always seemed like Lue was destined for this role. For the Clippers, this is a slam-dunk hire. Lue is the right man for the job with all his experience.  


Winner: Philadelphia 76ers—Doc Rivers

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

It was not a surprise when the Philadelphia 76ers let go of Brett Brown after they underachieved all season. It was time for a change after seven years. Brown's message had gone stale. Despite the issues with the roster, the Sixers job was a coveted one.

It seemed inevitable that former Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni was heading to Philadelphia. There were already rumors of trades that might be made should he become the coach. Then the Clippers let Doc Rivers go. 

As soon as that happened, the Sixers shifted their attention to Rivers. In a span of a few days, he went from being let go in Los Angeles to being hired in Philly. This is a big win for the Sixers. Only a few coaches have a championship on their resumes, and he is one of them.

This is a huge job for Rivers' reputation. He left the Boston Celtics as a champion and a players' coach. But in seven seasons with two different iterations of the Clippers, they never got out of the second round.

There were a ton of issues in Philly last season with a mismatched roster and a lack of chemistry. This might be the perfect job for Rivers to remind everyone why he earned a reputation as one of the best coaches in the NBA.


Winner: Houston Rockets—Stephen Silas

Duane Burleson/Associated Press

It has been a wild two months for the Houston Rockets. Mike D'Antoni said he was leaving as the team was flying home from Orlando, Florida. Then a few weeks later, Daryl Morey resigned after 13 years in Houston. The Rockets promoted Rafael Stone to general manager almost immediately.

The coaching search came to an end with the selection of Stephen Silas from the Dallas Mavericks. Silas has been an assistant coach for nearly 20 years with the Cavaliers, Warriors and Charlotte Hornets. Under Steve Clifford in Charlotte, he stepped in as head coach for 21 games, going 9-12 while earning a lot of respect from his players. He also had a big hand in the Mavericks' historically great offense.

Silas' experience with Luka Doncic puts him in a good position to coach James Harden. There are a lot of similarities in their games. It is safe to assume a lot of those actions that worked for Doncic could also work for Harden. Silas preached in his press conference that he aims for the Rockets offense to "be a little more versatile."

The roster still has some holes that need to be filled, especially a big man. All of that good feeling lasted just a few days as Russell Westbrook reportedly wants to be traded. Regardless of who is on the roster at the start of the season, Silas has been waiting for this chance for a long time, and he won't let it pass him by.


Incomplete: Oklahoma City ThunderMark Daigneault

OKC THUNDER @okcthunder

Thunder Names Mark Daigneault Head Coach. https://t.co/IBSdtubsVb https://t.co/h5VD2nskB8

As soon as the Thunder were eliminated in the playoffs, it seemed they were headed to a rebuild. It started with a Chris Paul tribute video to Oklahoma City before they even left the bubble and continued when Billy Donovan left his coaching post.

While it seems clear the rebuild is beginning, GM Sam Presti has promoted assistant coach Mark Daigneault to take over as head coach. Most people's reaction was, who?

Daigneault is a basketball lifer, starting as a student manager at the University of Connecticut and later working as a graduate manager and then an assistant coach for Donovan at Florida. He coached the Thunder's G League team for five years and became an assistant under Donovan this past season.

There are still a lot of questions as to what type of coach he will be in the NBA. He has been a member of the Thunder organization for the past six years, so they know what they are getting. The focus for the team next season will be development, starting with promising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.


Winner: New Orleans Pelicans—Stan Van Gundy

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

This hiring was crucial for the New Orleans Pelicans. This coach was going to be in charge of the development of the face of the franchise, Zion Williamson, along with Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, who are both just 23 years old. The Pelicans roster is also filled with veterans like JJ Redick and Jrue Holiday (who might be on the move).

For this all-important job, David Griffin tapped Stan Van Gundy to guide the Pelicans into the future. After a two-year hiatus, Van Gundy is back in the coaching ranks. In his last stop, he only got the Detroit Pistons to the playoffs once in four years. There he had the titles of both coach and team president, which over the years has proved to not work out often. 

Van Gundy's last coaching stop might suggest the Pelicans are a loser for this hire, but it is easy to overlook what he did with the Orlando Magic. Their last run of success was with him at the helm. He led them to the 2009 Finals with an innovative offense. He was one of the first coaches to embrace playing four out and one in. He also welcomed the three-point revolution, as the Magic finished no lower than second in three-point attempts under him.

Van Gundy is a tough-minded coach and will demand a lot from these young players, which might just be what the Pelicans need as they make a run at the playoffs. 


Incomplete: Indiana PacersNate Bjorkgren

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

OFFICIAL: We have hired Nate Bjorkgren as our new head coach. Bjorkgren most recently served as an assistant on the Toronto Raptors, who won the NBA Championship during the 2018-19 season. Welcome to Indiana, Coach Bjorkgren! More info >> https://t.co/Ol4LiOzMcM https://t.co/LnNF4wy79P

The Indiana Pacers are going from one Nate to another. After letting go of Nate McMillan, and after a search that included some flirting with Mike D'Antoni, the Pacers poached a coach off Nick Nurse's Toronto Raptors staff.

Nate Bjorkgren served as an assistant under Nurse in both the G League and the NBA. Earning the respect of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, Bjorkgren is considered a creative thinker, which might just be what the Pacers need.

This past season, Indiana was a one-option offensive team. If opponents were able to stop the first action of a play, it turned into a one-on-one with Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren and Victor Oladipo. 

With Bjorkgren running the show, the hope is he will be able to bring some innovation to the offensive end. Besides finding a way for Oladipo and Brogdon to coexist, he'll also have to help solidify the roles for Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.

Bjorkgren's time and close relationship with Nurse should open the door for change in Indiana.


Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA