NBA AM: Time To Start The NBA Coaching Search?


Starting The Search Early

The Brooklyn Nets opted to fire their head coach, Lionel Hollins, in part to change up the day-to-day routine of the team. This yielded a win last night, but the move was also made as a means to get started on their coaching and management search early. There have already been reports of the Nets reaching out to former Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo, who could be the early leader in the race, as well as former Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

The Nets are not the only NBA team that is likely to have a new head coach next season. There are several other teams and jobs to watch, which may make getting a commitment from a coach a little harder than it may seem on the surface in Brooklyn.

Here are some of the situations to keep an eye on:

Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets already fired their head coach once this season and current acting head coach J.B. Bickerstaff is still considered a candidate to keep the job beyond this season. However, with so many proven names available in the field, there is an above average chance the Rockets go shopping for their championship coach while their window to compete is still open.

There have been several names mentioned as possibilities for the Rockets, including Thibodeau. Sources close to a team that pursued Thibodeau this past summer said they were told that Thibodeau was looking for a winning situation more so than a rebuilding situation, which would make Houston a prime candidate to get serious consideration. The other thing to keep in mind with Thibodeau and the Rockets is that he was an assistant coach there under Jeff Van Gundy and is a known commodity within the organization.

If the Rockets decide to explore other options after the season, Thibodeau won’t be the only coach they look at.

Sources close to the Rockets’ thinking said that how the current season plays out will shape the plan for the summer and that the Rockets are mindful that their pursuit of a top free agent in July will require a solid and proven answer to the coaching question, so no expense will be spared to make sure the right coach is in place.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Current Wolves coach Sam Mitchell was never viewed as the long-term answer in Minnesota. When he was named the interim coach, it was under the belief that Flip Saunders would make a full recovery and a decision on the future would be made after this season. With the unexpected and tragic passing of Saunders, the Wolves’ plan got upended and sources close to the process say that everything will be re-evaluated at the end of the season.

Mitchell has not done a bad job with the Wolves, but there is a growing sense that Mitchell might not be the right guy to skipper the team’s young core.

Wolves sources said that it was agreed at the start of the campaign that Mitchell’s situation would be reviewed after a full season and if he is to be retained, they would negotiate a proper contract. The questions for the Wolves is, do they want to make a market-based commitment to Mitchell or do they want to look at other options who might fit the next three to four years of the Wolves’ game plan a little better?

Wolves sources have been fairly adamant that no decisions either way have been reached at this point, but if the Wolves are going to weigh their options, they have the flexibility to do it.

Washington Wizards

The Wizards’ leadership likes head coach Randy Wittman and most of the roster does too. However, with four and a half seasons of Wittman in charge, the Wizards haven’t exactly hit their potential and with a huge offseason on the horizon, there is a growing belief that a change in leadership may be necessary.

The Wizards are one of the situations that could appeal to a coach like Thibodeau or even former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks. A dark-horse name that has been mentioned in NBA circles is former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy; however, sources with knowledge of Van Gundy’s thinking say that he would require a similar situation similar to what his brother Stan got in Detroit, which is total franchise control. It’s doubtful that Wizards owner Ted Leonsis signs off on that.

How the Wizards’ season plays out could go a long way toward answering the coaching question. If the Wizards can finish strongly, Wittman, who signed a three-year extension in June of 2014, could see the team pick up their team option for the 2016 season.

If the Wizard regress, Wittman could be out, which seems more likely than not.

Los Angeles Lakers

There seems to be little doubt that the L.A. Lakers will be looking for a new head coach this summer, but it’s worth stating that management and ownership are not at all unhappy with how things are going with current head coach Byron Scott.

Lakers fans, on the other hand, are clamoring for a change and depending on how free agency starts to play out, a change on the bench in L.A. may be necessary to land the types of players the Lakers hope to acquire this summer.

It is important to state that Scott was retained as part of the Lakers’ plan to pursue proven NBA free agents last summer. Scott was never viewed as the guy to lead a ground-up rebuild based around rookies. The Lakers’ plan was to sign veterans and try to compete for the postseason this year, which is why Scott was retained.

The problem with immediately assuming that Scott will be gone is that the Lakers are again hoping to land proven NBA players and having a development coach in place may not be helpful to that goal.

That said, there is a sense the Lakers will be exploring options at head coach and one of the names that gets the most traction in NBA circles is Scott Brooks. Part of the appeal of Brooks is his ties and history with Kevin Durant, and his proven track record of developing star players – specifically backcourt players.

As the Lakers try to position themselves for a run at Durant this summer and possibly Russell Westbrook next summer, a change on the bench seems likely.

Phoenix Suns

The clock is ticking on Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek’s time in Phoenix. Management already forced out two of his lead assistant coaches and opted not to pick up his option year last summer.

With the Suns regressing massively over the last two seasons, it seems pretty clear that the Suns will be looking at coaches this offseason.

The Suns face a bigger issue than finding their next coach and that’s what to do with their roster. Trapped between youth and long-term veteran deals, the Suns may have to decide which direction they are really going before the right coaching candidate makes a lot of sense. But a name to watch in all of this is former New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams, who is currently working as a lead assistant in Oklahoma City.

If the Suns try and stay the course with the roster, bringing in a player-oriented leader who can bridge some of the gaps could be appealing.

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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.

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