Head to Head: Who Should Coach the Nets?


The Brooklyn Nets fired former head coach Lionel Hollins earlier this season and are now looking for a long-term replacement. While there has been a recent trend towards hiring young college and assistant coaches, there will be some notable veteran coaches available this upcoming offseason. In today’s Head to Head, Alex Kennedy, Moke Hamilton and Ben Dowsett debate who the Nets should hire to be their next head coach.

Alex Kennedy: Scott Brooks

As the Brooklyn Nets look to fill their head coaching vacancy, I think they should consider Scott Brooks. 

The former Oklahoma City Thunder head coach has been one of the more successful floor generals in recent years, finishing with a .610 winning percentage or better every season from 2009 to 2014. His best season was the 2011–12 campaign, when the Thunder advanced to the NBA Finals but lost to the Miami HEAT. 

Over the course of his head coaching career, Brooks is 545-338 in the regular season and 39-34 in the playoffs. The 50-year-old did a great job creating a winning culture in Oklahoma City and uniting everyone in the locker room. 

The only reason he was let go over the offseason – and replaced with Billy Donovan – was because the Thunder organization felt he wasn’t a championship-caliber coach and the front office went all-in on this season with Kevin Durant approaching unrestricted free agency this summer.

Still, despite his flaws, there’s no question that Brooks did a good job helping Oklahoma City make the leap from perennial lottery team to contender. He also created strong bonds with his star players and seemed to get along with everyone in the organization, from top to bottom. He and his staff also did a terrific job developing the organization’s young players – including guys like Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka among others.

He could be the coach that helps the Nets turn things around and get back into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. He would create a positive culture, unite everyone and help the team’s young players develop (since it seems they have a lengthy rebuild ahead of them, although they owe multiple first-round picks to the Boston Celtics).

Also, with the Nets looking to pursue Durant this summer (especially considering his ties to the organization and his recent praise of Brooklyn), it could make sense to hire the head coach he was very close with in OKC.

Brooks could be a very good long-term option for the Nets and he should be one of the candidates in the mix.

Moke Hamilton: Tom Thibodeau

Tom Thibodeau is very likely to emerge as the next Jeff Van Gundy. By that I mean he will be considered by most NBA front offices to be the top free agent coach out there. For that reason, you can expect to hear his name mentioned for most head coaching vacancies around the league, just like he was mentioned for the New Orleans Pelicans job prior to the franchise hiring Alvin Gentry.

The Nets will face a challenge in recruiting a high-caliber head coach, mainly because there doesn’t seem to be any way for the franchise to immediately improve. The Nets will not have control of their own first round pick until the 2019 draft and although the team has an owner willing to spend a lot of money, they probably wouldn’t be considered a premier free agent destination by the top-tier free agents.

Still, Thibodeau taking his talents to Brooklyn might make some sense for the head coach.

Recall that Thibodeau assumed the mantle in Chicago back in 2010. Back then, the franchise was coming off of a 41-41 season and had only advanced out of the first round once since the departure of Michael Jordan. Thibodeau took that team over and helped turn them into perennial contenders. It stands to reason that he has the poise and patience to help the Nets through a similar process.

More importantly, however, is Thibodeau’s ties to the area. After being born in Connecticut, Thibodeau spent many years in Massachusetts, both as a student and coach at Salem State University and then as a coach at Harvard University. He would eventually rise to prominence as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks and later, as an NBA Champion with the Boston Celtics.

Thibodeau obviously has ties to the New York City area and is very much an “East Coast guy.” That, and the fact that he has proven that he can make the most out of a less than ideal situation would make him a good fit for the Brooklyn Nets. Unfortunately for the franchise, the NBA’s 2011 Coach of the Year will be in high demand and could easily decide to sit out until the ideal situation presents itself.

For all we know, though, in Thibodeau’s mind, that could be Brooklyn.

Ben Dowsett: A Developmentally Aligned Coach

With a number of big coaching names on the market, including guys like Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks, the temptation will certainly be present for the Brooklyn Nets to make a splash with their next hire following the dismissal of Lionel Hollins. The Nets have viewed themselves as a powerhouse under owner Mikhail Prokhorov, whether or not that’s actually been the case, and the pressure could be on from above to bring in a big name as a face of a franchise that lacks one on the court and doesn’t seem likely to find one for several years without full ownership of their draft picks until 2019.

A word of caution to those in the full-speed-ahead camp, though: It would be wise to consider the long term implications of a flashy hire and a big name. Optimism is always good to have from a fan perspective, but those in charge need to be realistic about the situation – the Nets have no serious shot of being legitimately competitive again for at least three years. They don’t own their own picks, don’t have the assets to acquire more than one or two other minor draft assets, and worst of all don’t even seem willing to auction off those precious few assets (guys like Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young) as Prokhorov still seems intent on building a contender from nothing.

A less pressured management group would strongly consider a more developmentally aligned coach. A guy like Scott Skiles would have been perfect were he not already in Orlando, but there are other names out there. One of the league’s better assistants could be a good fit – someone like Milwaukee defensive guru Sean Sweeney or another in a similar mold comes to mind. There are also potential compromises available. The Nets could honestly do much worse than recently departed Cavaliers head man David Blatt, who was originally brought to Cleveland on the back of his developmental pedigree before LeBron James and Kevin Love turned them into overnight contenders. Even Brooks, a guy who was a great facilitator for the development of some of the league’s best players in Oklahoma City, could do fine as a placeholder option.

Whichever direction they go in, the Nets just need to be realistic about what this new coach will do for them. Red Auerbach himself wouldn’t bring this group close to contention in the next few seasons, and neither will any hire they could bring in. They’d do wise to retain someone who can usher in a bit more stability, even if ownership might not make this possible.

Do you agree with Alex, Moke or Ben? Do you have a different head coach in mind? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.


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