NBA AM: Coaching Carousel Begins To Spin


On The Way Out

With 14 NBA teams calling it a season today, a large number are going to begin the process of reviewing their campaign and making some changes. Some of those changes will be to the roster – and those technically can happen today for those teams whose season is now over. For the most part, teams usually wait until closer to the NBA draft before consummating trades, but as for firing head coaches and executives that can happen immediately and, in some cases, it already has. Let’s take a look at who has been fired and who may be next to go.

Randy Wittman Out

The Washington Wizards made it official this morning, announcing that they would not be picking up the contract option on head coach Randy Wittman.

Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld issued a statement on the decision, pointing to high expectations that were not met.

“There were high internal and external expectations for this team coming into this season based on the momentum we had generated over the previous two years,” Grunfeld said. “Unfortunately, the inconsistency of the team’s performance and effort, particularly on our home court, did not allow us to meet those expectations and we decided a coaching change was needed.”

The Wizards, according to league sources, already have something of a short-list of guys they would like to talk with and former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said to be at the top of the wish list.

The Wizards have had eyes on Thunder star Kevin Durant for more than two years and made deals to ensure they had the cap space to have a chance if Durant decides to explore his options. Having Brooks at the helm would not hurt the Wizards’ cause at all.

The Wizards are expected to start the interview process quickly and would like to have a new coach in place before the NBA Draft combine in mid-May.

Wizards sources cautioned that there will not be an artificial deadline if it for some reason takes longer than expected to find the right coach.

While Brooks is considered by many to the be the top name, former Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, current Philadelpha 76ers assistant coach Mike D’Antoni and even Boston Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga have all come up in conversations with league sources.

Sam Mitchell Out

The Minnesota Timberwolves announced that the team would be looking for a new head of basketball operations. The organization has retained an executive search firm to identify potential candidates for that job and potentially their coaching job.

Current Wolves head coach Sam Mitchell was relieved of his duties last night, and the team announced that current general manager Milt Newton would continue to run the draft process for the team until a new leader is found.

Two names that have been linked fairly prominently to the Wolves are former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and former Houston Rockets coach and current ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy. Both are said to be looking for situations where they can sort of run the show and it seems that owner Glen Taylor is willing to entertain that scenario.

Van Gundy’s brother got a similar package in Detroit, where he serves as both team president and head coach, having hired several people underneath him to run the day to day.

Coincidentally, the search firm (Korn Ferry) that Taylor hired to find his next head of basketball operations also helped place Stan Van Gundy in Detroit.

The Timberwolves job is very appealing given the construct of their roster. The right head coach could see immediate success not only next season but in term of really competing at the top of the Western Conference if this young core develops as expected.

George Karl Out

The Sacramento Kings have officially relieved George Karl of his coaching duties and will begin the process of finding a new head coach immediately.

League sources say the Kings have had some initial conversations on this front and have something of a short list that they will be working from.

The Kings have eyes for both former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and former Thunder coach Scott Brooks. Both are considered long-shots to consider the Kings job seriously.

The next tier of names is pretty interesting, as it includes former Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, former Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale, former Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and current Charlotte Hornets assistant coach Patrick Ewing.

The Kings are also expected to announce the hiring of a more traditional day-to-day general manager to help support Vlade Divac, who is the current vice president of basketball operations. The Kings have been looking at a number of candidates and may have settled in on former Bucks and Pacers executive David Morway for that job.

The Kings have had four head coaches since Vivek Ranadive took control of the team in 2013 (and five head coaches in the last four years).

As much as the Kings would like a shot at a top-flight coaching name, there continues to be a sense among league insiders that the instability of the franchise is not overly appealing to guys who may have better options in front of them.

Last summer the Kings tried aggressively to get Kentucky coach John Calipari to consider their job, offering with what some said was more than an $80 million offer.

If the Kings want to get serious on the coaching front, they have illustrated a willingness to swing with the check book.

Is Byron Scott Back?

With the Los Angeles Lakers’ 17-65 season mercifully over, the team is expected to consider changes across the board and that likely will include head coach Byron Scott.

It’s important to note that sources close to the Lakers say that the team leadership was actually pretty happy with the job Scott did this season given all the chaos.

Fans in L.A. have been calling for Scott’s head for months, but the narrative coming out of the Lakers is that Scott never had a chance to be successful given the state of the roster and his management of things (including the rookies) was part of the Lakers’ plan organizationally.

It’s hard to imagine the Lakers luring in a marquee free agent with Scott remaining at the helm.

Sources close to the situation say it’s likely a 50/50 call on Scott coming back next season and there has been enough noise about this leaked to the media to make sure if they do decide to keep Scott, it won’t be a huge shock.

The Lakers are another team that has been linked to Thibodeau and Brooks, although league sources say that the Lakers may also entertain former Golden State Warriors coach and current broadcaster Mark Jackson.

Some believe Jackson may be a better fit for the youth movement the Lakers are undergoing, and that Jackson may have more creditably with free agents.

Another name that’s been mentioned is former Laker player and current Warriors assistant Luke Walton. Sources say Walton will listen to offers and opportunities to be a head coach this summer, but as things stand he is just as likely to stay with the Warriors as leaving. There continues to be some concern that Steve Kerr’s health situation may limit his long-term future on the bench, leaving Walton as the heir apparent in Golden State should a change be necessary.

Sources say the Warriors are prepared to increase Walton’s deal to keep him on the bench.

The Lakers are expected to start their offseason program this week and could make a decision on Scott fairly soon.

Does Brett Brown Survive The Recent Changes?

To say the Philadelphia 76ers franchise was upended last week is putting it mildly. League sources are saying they do not expect much of the 76ers staff to be retained under Bryan Colangelo and that a lot of new faces are likely coming into the organization.

Colangelo has been on record saying he believes in current 76ers coach Brett Brown, but that everything is going to be looked at.

Brown inked a two-year contract extension in December just after Jerry Colangelo was brought on board with the team. Reports have already surfaced that Brown’s extension was basically done before the first Colangelo hire and that Colangelo wasn’t a fan of the idea, but signed off on it regardless.

Brown’s salary is said to be just north of $2 million per season, so eating his extended deal wouldn’t be crazy for a 76ers team that’s been running on the lean side financially for the last three seasons.

The 76ers are expected to make some changes fairly quickly and there is a belief that Brown will know his fate in pretty short order, especially if Philadelphia is going to pursue some of the top names in the market.

The End Of An Era

In case you missed it, and it’s unlikely that you did if you are reading this, Lakers star Kobe Bryant reminded everyone last night why he will be remembered as one of the greatest to have ever played the game. In his career finale, Bryant put on an unbelievable show dropping 60 points on the Utah Jazz, showing the entire arsenal of move: the turnaround, the step back, the up and under, etc. As career finales go, Kobe may have outdone even John Elway.

Last night marked Bryant’s 1,346th regular season game, which is 11th all-time in NBA history. Bryant is ending his career with 48,637 regular season minutes, which is sixth all-time in NBA history. For those of you who aren’t fans of math, that’s 810.6 hours worth of basketball greatness. Said differently: If you re-watched every minute of Kobe’s career, it would take you more than 33 days. And that doesn’t include his preseason or postseason minutes, his Olympic minutes or all of the hours of practice time he spent putting in work behind the scenes.

Kobe finishes his career having notched 33,643 points, which is third all-time behind Karl Malone’s 36,928 and top overall career scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387.

With his career now in the books, the Bryant resume reads five-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, NBA regular season MVP, 18-time NBA All-Star, four-time All-Star MVP, 11-time NBA All-First team, two-time NBA scoring champion, dunk contest winner, two-time Olympic gold medal winner and Lakers all-time leading scorer.

Oh, and for those that care, $328.23 million in NBA career earnings, which is second all-time behind Kevin Garnett’s $335.87 million.

Bryant said last night that he would not play again, but revealed that he would be helping some of the young guys in his spare time. Kobe’s next adventure will be as a filmmaker and story teller.

Kobe fell in love with the movie making process with his documentary The Muse that was made for Showtime. He has had a film crew with him all season documenting his final year. Kobe has plans to branch out into movies and television and anyone who has seen his commercials knows he has the wit and charisma to be a pretty interesting actor if wanted to be.

In the end Kobe, who has not looked like Kobe in a very long-time, put the stamp on his career with a showing that could not have been scripted any better.

The end of era was everything fans of Bryant could have hoped for and a fitting exit for one the best players to have ever played the game.

Setting The Record

On a night when Kobe Bryant shut the door in dramatic fashion on his NBA career, the Golden State Warriors did the impossible. They set a new NBA regular season wins record, breaking the Chicago Bulls’ long standing 72-win mark.

The fact that the Warriors did it wasn’t all that surprising because they were on course for this milestone for more than a month. But what made the milestone all the more impressive was they won the final game in much the same way they have won so many of the games before it. No player logged more than 30 minutes and likely MVP Steph Curry was incredible, notching 46 points.

As a team, the Warriors shot 52.9 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from the three-point line. Their bench contributed 33 points.

Ironically, all season long the Warriors have pointed to the regular-season record as something that would validate the greatness of their team in ways that winning a championship couldn’t.

There was a real sense of disrespect within the Warriors’ locker room after they won the championship last year. The popular narrative was that had the Cleveland Cavaliers been healthy or had they had to face the San Antonio Spurs, things might have played differently. The quest to get to 73 wins was very real for the Warriors players, especially as the chance to get there got closer and closer.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, on the night they expected to put an end to the debate about their greatness, Kobe Bryant reminded the world of his – in many ways overshadowing how impressive the milestone is.

In the end, the Bulls’ 72-win record stood for 20 years. The odds that anyone can get to 73 wins again seem nearly impossible in the modern era.

The next goal for the Warriors is the 2016 NBA championship because failing to achieve that might overshadow the new 73-win record even more than Bryant did last night.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.