NBA

Filling The Open (Or Soon To Be Open) NBA Coaching Jobs

on

With many NBA teams beginning the process of finding their next head coach, or making a decision on replacing their current head coach, we asked of some our senior NBA writers and editors to take a stab at who they think would be the best choice for the job and why:

Minnesota Timberwolves

Jeff Van Gundy

The Wolves have hired a search firm to land not only a head coach but also a new head of basketball operations. Given that owner Glen Taylor seems ready to hand over the franchise to new leadership, this may be where Jeff Van Gundy finally finds his ideal situation. Like his brother, Stan, the younger Van Gundy has been sniffing around for a situation like the Wolves could be offering and he might be the best fit the long-term to build the Wolves into a serious contender.

– Steve Kyler

Jeff Van Gundy

Van Gundy has sort of become the Jon Gruden of the NBA. Both are constantly mentioned when coaching jobs open up, but they can afford to be picky since they have an excellent gig at ESPN. With Stan Van Gundy getting personnel control over the Detroit Pistons, I believe Jeff will pursue a similar situation. The Timberwolves are arguably the most attractive job available right now with their terrific young core led by Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Reports have indicated that Minnesota may be willing to turn their franchise over to Van Gundy, which could be the terrific offer that Jeff has been waiting for all these years. If the Timberwolves can land him, they will be in even better shape moving forward.

– Alex Kennedy

Tom Thibodeau

The Timberwolves have arguably the best core of young players in the NBA. With explosive athletes and scorers and an offense orchestrated by Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves could be a competitive team as soon as next season under the right head coach. But what would really make this collection of talent dangerous would be a coach that could turn them into a polished defensive team. Tom Thibodeau is on the market and is one of the top defensive coaches throughout the entire league. In addition, he runs a more creative offense than is credited for and has a track record for getting players to buy into his philosophies. As long as he doesn’t burn out his players and can sustain a better working relationship with management, he would be a great hire for Minnesota.

– Jesse Blancarte

Washington Wizards

Scott Brooks

The Wizards tried the gruff, tough-love approach with Randy Wittman and that did not work this year. Brooks is not only a heck of a basketball coach, he has a track record of getting young guys to meet their potential. With the Wizards looking toward free agency and having so many underachieving young guys, even if the Wizards don’t get the free agent fish they covet in Kevin Durant, Brooks might have the right mix of experience, demeanor and coaching style to get the Wizards on track.

– Steve Kyler

Scott Brooks

There are plenty of teams pursuing Brooks this offseason, but I think the Wizards job remains very attractive since they have a star (John Wall), a very good second option (Bradley Beal) and quality supporting cast members who are under contract (Marcin Gortat, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, etc.). This team was a huge disappointment this season, but their best basketball is almost certainly still ahead of them. And Washington has a ton of cap space to work with this summer, with just $45,091,855 in guaranteed salaries for next season. Brooks is very good at developing talent, creating a winning culture and helping a team become a contender – as he displayed in Oklahoma City. He makes a lot of sense for the Wizards, if they can land him. They are reportedly set to seriously pursue him.

– Alex Kennedy

Scott Brooks

The Wizards have made it no secret that they will pursue Kevin Durant this upcoming offseason. The best coach they could bring in to help with that recruiting process is Durant’s former head coach, Scott Brooks. However, even if Durant doesn’t sign with the Wizards, Brooks is still a solid hiring for the Wizards. He connected with his players in Oklahoma City, helped turn Russell Westbrook into one of the most dominant players in the NBA and created a strong team chemistry. The Wizards have talent, but need to create an identity and culture in which everyone is on the same page, working toward the same goals together. There is arguably no better coaching candidate to do this than Brooks.

– Jesse Blancarte

Phoenix Suns

Tom Thibodeau

While it seems the Suns might be giving serious consideration to hanging on to Earl Watson as their head coach, the right hire might be Thibodeau. With so much talent already in place and a ton of cap space to add to it, the Suns might be the best fit for Thibodeau, who is seeking a win-right-now situation. His defensive-minded style suits the construct of the roster and his track record in Chicago of getting the most out of his players could do wonders for the Suns.

– Steve Kyler

Earl Watson

The players have campaigned for Watson to keep the job and the front office has said that Watson will get the first interview when they start weighing their coaching options. I think Phoenix still has a ways to go before they can make significant noise in the Western Conference, so sticking with Watson makes sense. He can grow as a coach alongside Phoenix’s young players and potentially become a very good leader in the long run.

– Alex Kennedy

David Blatt

The Phoenix Suns have a nice collection of talent that could thrive under an experienced, creative head coach. David Blatt had a tough run with the Cleveland Cavaliers and lost some of the luster he had before coming over to the NBA. However, his coaching was undermined basically from the start with Cleveland and he never got a chance to implement his schemes and playbook. With young talent that may buy into his philosophies, Blatt may be able to create the pass-friendly, space-based offensive attack he wanted to with Cleveland, which could be explosive with guards like Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Devin Booker in the backcourt.

– Jesse Blancarte

Sacramento Kings

Patrick Ewing

The Kings job is going to be a tough sell because of all the chaos the organization has undergone. The super serious coaches likely won’t consider the job, which leaves them with the next tier. That might not cut it in the eyes of Kings star DeMarcus Cousins. This is why Ewing becomes an interesting fit – namely because he has the swagger, experience and credibility to demand more from Cousins and likely receive it. Ewing has not been considered a serious head coaching candidate but given Kings GM Vlade Divac’s history with Ewing when they both played, he fit might be too ideal not to consider seriously.

– Steve Kyler

Mark Jackson

This organization has been through nine coaches in the last 10 seasons, so they may have trouble attracting top candidates. But if they can get Jackson, he would make sense for them since he’s a players’ coach who gets his team to buy in. He could be a good fit with DeMarcus Cousins, and may help this team take the next step in their development (and break their 10-year postseason drought). Jackson is also a notable name, which lines up with the Kings’ desire to make a splashy hire that generates headlines. Hopefully Jackson learned from some of the mistakes he made with the Golden State Warriors and can do a better job in Sacramento.

– Alex Kennedy

Kevin McHale

The Sacramento Kings need a coach who first and foremost can connect with DeMarcus Cousins. McHale is one of the NBA’s great former big men and may be able to get Cousins to buy in to his coaching. Once that happens, the rest of the players may fall into line, which would allow this team to finally focus on playing the right way and not on the drama behind the scenes. It isn’t a perfect fit, but it could be a pretty solid hiring when you consider the difficulty the Kings will likely face in luring in a top-level head coach.

– Jesse Blancarte

Houston Rockets

Jeff Hornacek

Assuming Thibodeau comes off the board, the Rockets might be better suited sticking with current coach J.B. Bickerstaff. However, if it’s decided J.B. isn’t the guy, wouldn’t Jeff Hornacek be an interesting fit? Hornacek took a very guard-heavy Suns team and got them to be competitive for a stretch. If the Rockets are indeed moving away from Dwight Howard in free agency, Hornacek, who was said to be a big part of the appeal for LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency, might be the coach who helps sway a free agent or two Houston’s way. Hornacek may not be the ideal candidate, but if there is change, getting Hornacek would be better than an unproven assistant.

– Steve Kyler

Tom Thibodeau

Thibodeau may want nothing to do with the Rockets given all of the behind-the-scenes drama the team has dealt with and the uncertain future of players like Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones (restricted), Donatas Motiejunas (restricted) and Josh Smith among others. But if he’s willing to take this job, he would be a terrific hire for Houston. He should get the most out of the players and improve the Rockets’ defense, which ranked 20th in the NBA this season (allowing 105.6 points per 100 possessions). Houston wants to win now and Thibodeau has shown he can do that. If Thibs wants personnel control, he may go elsewhere.

– Alex Kennedy

Jeff Hornacek

It wasn’t so long ago that Jeff Hornacek was orchestrating one of the NBA’s most unique offenses, powered by lead guards like Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. It was a delicate balance to manage, especially when Isaiah Thomas was added into the mix. However, Hornacek made it work initially, which led to a surprisingly high level of success for the Suns. In Houston, James Harden handles the ball as a scorer and playmaker more than just about any other guard in the league. Hornacek may be as qualified as any coaching candidate to find a way to get Harden to share the playmaking responsibilities, creating a more pass-oriented offensive approach, which could be a big boost for the Rockets.

– Jesse Blancarte

New York Knicks

Mark Jackson

While it seems that Knicks president Phil Jackson (between piano solos) is leaning toward Kurt Rambis as his head coach going forward, there is a sense that retaining Rambis might not be the move Knicks star Carmelo Anthony was hoping for. If the goal is to turn the Knicks into a playoff contender next year, wouldn’t someone like Mark Jackson be a better fit? Jackson has some luggage around his name; namely that he did not like to develop young guys and that he was not easy to work with outside the locker room. Jackson as head coach would be more credible to free agents than Rambis and even with his flaws, Jackson would at least give the Knicks some identity. The question is would Phil Jackson hire a coach who’s not all about the Triangle Offense?

– Steve Kyler

Luke Walton

This is the best-case scenario for the Knicks, as Walton is going to be one of the most coveted coaches of this offseason after doing a terrific job leading the Golden State Warriors during Steve Kerr’s leave of absence. Walton played for Phil Jackson and is very familiar with the Triangle Offense. During Walton’s final season playing with the Lakers, he was injured for much of the year and Jackson treated him like an assistant coach. New York previously tried to sign Walton as an assistant. It remains to be seen if he would leave the Warriors’ coaching staff for the struggling Knicks, but he may want to take on the challenge.

– Alex Kennedy

Luke Walton

So long as Phil Jackson is running the New York Knicks, the Triangle Offense will be implemented. Luke Walton played in the Triangle with the Lakers and continues to use it, under head coach Steve Kerr, as part of the Golden State Warriors’ lethal offensive attack. Walton is a young coach who can connect with players and now has the coaching experience and reputation to command a team’s respect. Add in his familiarity with Jackson, the Triangle and the concepts he has learned in Golden State and it’s hard to imagine who would be a better fit for this position. The Triangle has its place in the modern NBA, it just needs to be integrated within the modern pace-and-space approach that is pervasive across the league. Walton has as good of a shot as anyone to make that happen in New York.

– Jesse Blancarte

L.A. Lakers

Jay Larranaga

The Lakers might have a serious shot at Tom Thibodeau or Scott Brooks, but assuming both take jobs before the Lakers get a final decision on Byron Scott, Boston assistant Jay Larranaga could be an interesting under-the-radar hire. As the Lakers look to invent the next generation of Lakers stars, bringing in a hot young assistant who can be something of a task master wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially if the plan is to rebuild through the draft. Larranaga has played a big role in turning the Celtics into a defense-focused team and doing it with young guys. Instead of swinging for a named guy, getting the best guy for the long-term development of the young players might make more sense.

– Steve Kyler

Ettore Messina

Messina would be a terrific hire for the Lakers, as he has been considered one of the best available coaches for quite some time. After experiencing a ton of success overseas, Messina’s first NBA gig was as an assistant on Mike Brown’s coaching staff with the Lakers in 2011. That means Mitch Kupchak and company are familiar with the 56-year-old, and he’s familiar with the franchise and city. Messina is now with the San Antonio Spurs, and he has stepped in for Gregg Popovich as head coach for three games this year (two in the regular season, one in the preseason) when Popovich had to leave due to a family emergency. Messina seems ready for a head coaching job, and the Lakers would be smart to bring him in to replace Byron Scott, who has left a lot to be desired. Another good option would be Jay Larranaga, who could develop this young core they have assembled.

– Alex Kennedy

Ettore Messina

The Kobe Bryant era is officially over in Los Angeles, which means the Lakers need to start building up a new approach to sustained success. The days of luring in superstars and outspending other teams are over. It’s time to develop the team’s young talent internally, draft responsibly, but creatively, and create sustainable offensive and defensive systems that players can plug into; an approach that has carried the Spurs to multiple championships over the last two decades. Ettore Messina is currently an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs and is one of the best coaches most fans have never heard of. His experience in San Antonio could be invaluable to a team like the Lakers, who are going to have to start looking toward team-building the way the rest of league does after years of getting by with transcendent talent in guys like Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

– Jesse Blancarte

The Brooklyn Nets already filled their open coaching job by hiring current Atlanta Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson. With so many jobs open or likely to be open, there is a sense that many teams are not going to waste time in a prolonged search so some of these jobs could get filled fairly quickly.

Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.


About Basketball Insiders

Basketball Insiders

The next evolution of basketball news, information and rumors.