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Head-to-Head: Best Coach Available

With five head coaching openings around the NBA, Eric Pincus, Moke Hamilton and Jessica Camerato debate over who the top candidate on the market is:

Basketball Insiders



With five head coaching openings around the NBA, we asked Eric Pincus, Moke Hamilton and Jessica Camerato to debate over who the top candidate on the market is:

Jeff Van Gundy

Since his latest foray into the coaching profession ended back in 2007, Jeff Van Gundy has been linked to almost any and every job opening that has materialized.

And the main reason why is because Van Gundy is renowned both amongst some of his former players and front office executives as a coach who is authentic, intelligent and both a great communicator and motivator. Those are assets that any successful NBA head coach must possess.

With a 430-318 regular season win record, Van Gundy boasts a very respectable .575 win percentage. He is 44-44 in the playoffs, including an improbable run to the 1999 NBA Finals after his eighth-seed New York Knicks shocked the top-seeded Miami HEAT in the first round of that year’s playoffs.

Although Van Gundy couldn’t lead his Knicks all the way to being NBA Champions, the way he led the team in the aftermath of Don Nelson’s abrupt firing in 1996, his building a successful offense around Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston and the way he unified his locker room after disharmony engulfed it in the wake of the trade that saw franchise mainstay Charles Oakley dealt for a neophyte by the name of Marcus Camby, it all left quite an impression on those who observed the way that Van Gundy kept his troops together.

Although he failed to have the same sort of success as head coach of the Houston Rockets, Van Gundy maximized the pieces that he was given and helped most of his players elevate their games, including both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady.

In a brief conversation with one of his former players, he lit up at the mere mention of Van Gundy. Eyes wide and nodding his head, Shane Battier did not hold his tongue when asked to share a few words on his former coach.

“I loved playing for him,” Battier said. “There was no situation that I have faced in a game that I wasn’t prepared for.

“Our teams were always prepared, always played hard and if you wanted a winning culture, he was your guy.”

That’s a sentiment that all of Van Gundy’s former players would agree with, even those who he had a tough time motivating, including, at times, the aforementioned McGrady. The same can be said about Steve Francis. Francis and Van Gundy had a major falling out in Houston immediately prior to Francis’ trade to the Orlando Magic back in June 2004, but Francis is on record as saying that he never doubted that the changes that Van Gundy requested of him were all done in the name of winning.

Hard-nosed defense, offensive synergy and counter-attacking: Van Gundy’s core beliefs. He utilized them over his 11-year head coaching career, and to much success.

Now, even seven years after he left the profession, the impression that Van Gundy left on the league and on his former players is experienced by basketball watching Americans on a daily basis: honesty, rationality and fairness.

Van Gundy, though he did not interview, was widely believed to be high on the wish list of Mikhail Prokhorov last summer when the Brooklyn Nets had a coaching vacancy. Van Gundy exchanged text messages with New York-based TV Network SportsNet New York, intimating that he did not have serious interest in the job.

Still, that has not stopped he and his agent from being asked questions about job openings.

Even as the league has become a culture that has fallen in love with the idea of hiring young and fresh first-time head coaches, Van Gundy’s name always ends up being thrown around when a coach is on the brink of losing his job.

After leaving the coaching ranks seven years ago, that has been a constant—much like his being the object of affection across many front offices.

– Moke Hamilton

Alvin Gentry

There are several former head coaches who are out of work, itching to get back on the sidelines. Losing a head coaching job, though, doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the bench. There are former head coaches who are still on a staff and are qualified to return to that lead role.

Alvin Gentry’s head coaching experience began nearly 20 years ago. Since then, he has assumed that role during more than 10 seasons. Most recently he was head coach of the Phoenix Suns before parting ways with the team in January of 2013.

Gentry wasn’t out of work for long. Last summer Doc Rivers remodeled the Los Angeles Clippers coaching staff when he was hired as head coach. He brought Gentry, who had previously been head coach of the team, on board as the associate head coach.

While some former head coaches were away from the league this season, Gentry was in the thick of it. Not only was he on the staff of an NBA team, he helped coached a contender. The Clippers earned a 57-25 regular season record and reached the Western Conference Semifinals, where they fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6.

As the coaching carousel continues to turn, Gentry’s name has been in the mix to fill vacancies for teams including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Utah Jazz. Given his time spent around the game, he has ties with several organizations and players who know his work firsthand.

Gentry already had enough previous coaching experience of his own to make him a candidate for a head coaching position. Compile that now with a season working alongside a championship-winning coach in Rivers (as well as assistant coaches from the 2008 Boston Celtics title team) and he is primed to return to the helm with added knowledge and experience to lead a new team.

– Jessica Camerato

Mark Jackson

“Mama there goes that man,” is one of Mark Jackson’s many catch phrases.  He’s back on the sidelines, working for ESPN after three seasons as head coach of the Golden State Warriors.

Jackson was let go by the Warriors, despite compiling a 121-109 regular-season record, including 51 wins this past season.

Before his arrival, Golden State had averaged just over 30 wins a season for three years.  Jackson’s rookie campaign wasn’t much to look at (23 wins) but the Warriors quickly made the jump to 47 (followed by a first-round win over the Denver Nuggets and a six-game loss in the second round to the San Antonio Spurs).

The Los Angeles Clippers knocked the Warriors out in the first round in a hard-fought seven-game battle.  Jackson helped is team challenge the Clippers despite losing center Andrew Bogut to a rib injury.  Power forward David Lee was out a year ago for almost the entire postseason with a hip issue.

So why was Jackson let go exactly?

Behind the scenes, Jackson didn’t have the same philosophy as the Warriors’ ownership/management team.  What exactly transpired may not ever be 100% certain, but Jackson is currently the best NBA coach without a job.

He took a defense-less Warriors squad and got them to prioritize both sides of the ball.  He found a combination of players that worked against the Clippers, with undersized forward Draymond Green giving All-Star forward Blake Griffin a difficult time.

The Warriors finished the 2012-13 postseason with high expectations after their second-round appearance, but roster changes (Andre Iguodala in with Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry out) and a difficult Western Conference gave the impression the Warriors under-performed.

They didn’t – 51 wins in the West with the personnel and in-season injuries was an accomplishment.

Jackson was loved by his players.  They struggled to understand why their coach was embattled by the front office.

If Jackson needs to improve, perhaps he needs to learn how to be a better politician to the executives above him – but he’s a great leader who understands how to communicate to the young players in today’s game.

NBA analyst is a much easier job than head coach.  The hours are better and your night’s sleep isn’t based on the scoreboard.

Jackson can afford to wait until the next, right opportunity presents itself.  His competitiveness will land him on an NBA bench soon enough.

– Eric Pincus

Who do you think is the top coach on the market and where would they fit in the best? Leave your thoughts below!




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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



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

“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.

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