Change Is Coming
With the NBA season now down to two or fewer games for most teams, there is an inevitability for some franchises that coaches and possibly executives are going to be fired in the coming weeks. Here are some of the situations we are keeping an eye on, and what is being said about the direction each seems to be headed.
The Washington Wizards are officially out of the NBA playoffs and while they have been looming around the elimination mark for weeks, failing to reach the postseason is likely going to mean the end of the road for current head coach Randy Wittman.
Not everything in Washington can be blamed on Wittman, but it was clear from the start of training camp that Wittman and his players were working from very different scripts – and the constant injuries didn’t help either.
Wittman is the prime candidate for an early dismissal, with some speculating it could happen as soon as Thursday.
The remaining question is what happens with the front office? Current team president Ernie Grunfeld has one more year left on his deal, but league sources peg the situation as 50-50 that Wizards owner Ted Leonsis stays the course with Grunfeld, who has been at the helm of the Wizards since 2003.
Wizards senior vice president of operations Tommy Sheppard is a common name linked to general manager openings every year and was one of the candidates interviewed for the Brooklyn Nets job, so he could be a logical in-house replacement if Washington decides to make a leadership change.
Current Wizards vice president of scouting Marc Eversley is believed to be leaving to join newly appointed Bryan Colangelo in Philadelphia.
Assuming the Wizards stay the course in the front office and indeed fire Wittman, they will start a coaching search that could include Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks.
League sources peg the Wizards job as an ideal spot for Thibodeau, who turned away rebuilding jobs last summer because he was looking for a would-be playoff contender.
The Wizards present an interesting situation for the likes of Thibodeau, as they project to have close to $39 million in useable capspace in July, a couple of younger star-caliber players and the means to build a team around Thibodeau’s style of play.
It is far from decided where the Wizards will go at head coach, but it does seem like Wittman’s days at the helm in DC are soon to be over.
New Orleans Pelicans
There has been rampant speculation around the Pelicans for the better part of two years that a change was going to be made at the top of the franchise. There has been a long-running narrative in NBA circles that Mickey Loomis, who oversees both the basketball and the football operations for the Benson family, would be taking a larger role in the running of both businesses.
Loomis has a deep rooted friendship with former Detroit Pistons executive Joe Dumars, with many around the NBA saying Dumars has acted as an informal consultant to Loomis for some time and that Loomis has been trying to get Dumars to take on the role of team president for the Pelicans.
There is a belief that this could be the summer that happens.
A change at the top may not signal the end for current vice president of basketball and general manager Dell Demps, but rather changing who he answers to at the top. Demps has been on the job in New Orleans since 2010 and has amassed a 203-272 record in that span and just two playoff appearances, although most of that span was during a rebuild of the franchise after trading away Chris Paul.
League sources say it’s highly unlikely that Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, who signed a four-year deal worth $13.7 million last summer, is in any real jeopardy this summer because of all the injuries. But if there is meaningful change at the top, it is a remote possibility.
The Pelicans could have somewhere in the neighborhood of $22.9 million to spend under the salary cap in July, so there is a chance for the Pelicans to have a splashy offseason.
The question is, will Demps be the key decision maker or will the Pelicans re-shape their front office at season’s end?
As we have covered in this space a few times, the Suns are expected to undergo a top-down review of the operation when their season concludes.
Current team president Lon Babby is expected to step down and take an advisory role with ownership after this season, leaving the fate of current general manager Ryan McDonough a little bit up in the air. However, sources close to the Suns say McDonough is viewed positively by ownership and that the work he has done as GM has been stellar.
The Suns will be in the market for a new head coach, and while the Suns are saying that current interim head coach Earl Watson is a real candidate to keep the job, not many around the league believe he will actually get a chance to do that.
The Suns have a boatload of very tradable assets and should be able to flip some of their excess into some better fitting pieces. Also, they are poised to have what could be as much as $31.9 million in usable cap space this summer.
Considering what is on the roster with guards Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe, promising rookie guard Devin Booker and a lot of depth on the bench, the Suns could be one of the better coaching jobs in the NBA this offseason and they have the means to add a top-tier free agent if they play their cards right.
Last year, the Suns were a serious candidate to land LaMarcus Aldridge so believing that another top flight player might take them seriously is not a stretch, especially if they lock down their next head coach fairly quickly.
Yesterday, Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times reported that not only could current Bucks general manager John Hammond be exiting the organization in Milwaukee, but that head coach Jason Kidd could be facing some scrutiny this offseason from ownership.
There has been a long running narrative in NBA circles that Kidd, when hired to coach the Bucks, was going to have a tremendous amount of influence over the direction of the team, with many close to the situation saying he was making the final call on personnel decisions with Hammond doing the day-to-day GM work.
League insiders often joked that it wasn’t a case of “if” rather than “when” Kidd would dump the coaching job all together to take over the front office.
According to Woelfel’s report, how Kidd handled his recent hip surgery, opting to have it mid-season rather than waiting for the offseason, did not sit well with many inside the Bucks’ power structure and there are real concerns about Kidd as head coach going forward.
Given the number of highly qualified head coaches that are going to be on the market this offseason, changing the head coach in Milwaukee might not be a bad decision – especially if Kidd is not fully committed to being the coach.
The narrative around Hammond is that he may opt to leave under mutual conditions and join his long-time friend Joe Dumars in New Orleans (if Dumars does indeed land there). If Hammond is headed to the Pelicans, that likely signals the end of the road for Demps.
The Bucks were supposed to be a franchise headed in a new and positive direction; however, after a ho-hum season in which many things did not pan out, there is a sense that ownership may step in and make some significant changes.
The Timberwolves were a makeshift organization from almost the beginning of the season. With the tragic and untimely passing of team president Flip Saunders, the message from the Timberwolves was, “Let’s get through the season.”
Current Wolves GM Milton Newton had been running the day to day under Saunders, so taking full control was not a huge leap, especially with how much was already in place under Saunders’ watch.
Current head coach Sam Mitchell was not promised anything more than this season, although there was a sense that he was put in the head coach position as a season-long audition with the idea that he could be retained long-term if things went well.
As the Wolves’ season comes to a close, there is a belief around the NBA that Mitchell may not be retained. Sources close to the process say there will likely be a full and complete search for a new head coach, which Mitchell may be a part of if he wants to remain in consideration.
Wolves sources are quick to point to comments by Wolves owner Glen Taylor saying that no decisions have been made yet on anyone in the organization and that Newton would be running the offseason for the team including the draft and free agency.
There have been a number of “named” coaches linked to the Wolves, but one name that gaining steam around the NBA is former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt. He’s been linked to the Wolves, Suns and New York Knicks. Sources close to Blatt say his camp has not engaged in any conversations with teams at this point, but expressed that Blatt does indeed want to coach in the NBA again and that he’ll wait for the right situation.
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