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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.
Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”
Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.
The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.
Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.
With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.
One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.
“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”
Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.
“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”
In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.
“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”
Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.
While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.
Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.
“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”
The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.
Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.
“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”
Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.
NBA Daily: The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. is an elite prospect, but questions surrounding his back will determine his landing spot in the NBA.
The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
While some of the highly thought of college players have made their intentions on declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft known, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr still hasn’t made his proclamation. Most people in NBA circles believe he’ll be in the 2018 NBA Draft class—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think he’s in.
Back in November, the Missouri staff was somewhat vague and guarded about Porter’s condition until it was announced that he’d have back surgery on a couple of problematic discs in the lumbar area of his spine. The procedure is called a microdiscectomy and by all accounts was a success.
Porter missed virtually all of his college season but opted to play in the post-season for Missouri, who got eliminated fairly quickly.
There were certainly a lot of ugly things about Porter’s game. He looked out of shape, and certainly wasn’t the overwhelming dominating force he’d been in high school. Some executives applauded his decision to play, even though he wasn’t at a 100 percent. Some pointed to that fact that too many college players play it safe and that’s not always viewed positively. Almost no one Basketball Insiders spoke with was holding the less than stellar outing against him. In fact, most had far more positive things to say than negative. There was one resounding theme from the NBA executives who spoke about this situation—none of it matters until they see his medical.
Assuming Porter does as expected and hires an agent and enters the draft, the next challenge he’ll face is how open he wants to be to teams looking at drafting him.
In recent years, NBA teams have not shied away from using high draft picks on injured or recently injured players. Once a team can get a sense of how the player is recovering, they can make a value judgment.
Agents often use this information and access to the player to help steer their client to the situation they deem most favorable. While fans and outsiders often get caught up in the pick number a player ultimately lands at, more and more agents are concerned with fit, especially for a player that may need time to get back to 100 percent.
Most agents would want to steer their client to a team with favorable medical staff, a team with a proven track record of patience or more importantly, a team with the best chance at a long and fruitful career.
This won’t be good news for some team that could end up in the top 10, as it’s more likely that Porter isn’t made available to everyone. NBA executives will tell you, they can certainly draft him if they wanted to, but most teams won’t draft a player if their medical staff doesn’t sign off, and without information and access how can they do that?
There is a significant financial difference in going third in the draft ($5.47 million) and 10th ($2.964 million) – but several agents commented that the short-term money shouldn’t drive the long-term decision, especially if the player isn’t 100 percent. The fit and situation typically trump everything in these situations.
Another concept to consider is while Porter did play, there are questions about whether he’ll host a pro-day, take part in private team workouts or simply let his body of work drive his draft value.
Almost no one who spoke about this situation believed Porter would take part in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, as he’d have to subject himself to the medical testing that’s part of that event.
The common perception on Porter is he’s a top-five talent, although it seems more likely that his camp is going to try and work the process to ensure he lands in a favorable situation. That could mean he falls out of top-five selections, simply because he and his agents choose to.
There is still a lot that needs to play out for Porter, including his announcement that he will enter the draft. But given where things stand with him, it’s more likely than not he’s coming into the draft, and it’s more likely than not he’ll have a lot of questions NBA teams will want to understand before his real draft position is clear.
The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago this year and is scheduled for May 15th. The annual Draft Combine, also in Chicago, gets underway on May 16th.
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