As Steve Kerr stood on the stage with flashing lights and eyeballs aplenty on him, he beamed.
The seat was hot, the questions were cold and the reception was lukewarm.
A five-year contract for a first-time head coach was almost unheard of, much less one to the tune of $25 million. What made matters even worse for Kerr, was that his predecessor, Mark Jackson, had helped lead the franchise to forgotten success.
He left big shoes to fill, despite being unceremoniously fired.
But Kerr will look at the examples set by Larry Brown in Detroit and Rick Carlisle in Dallas and know what he is attempting to do is quite possible.
In the NBA, especially over the course of the past 15 years, we have witnessed the head coach become increasingly disposable. As it currently stands, only four coaches in the entire league have been with their current team for at least five years: Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs), Erik Spoelstra (Miami HEAT), Rick Carlisle (Dallas Mavericks) and Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City Thunder).
Since January 2012, a whopping 21 NBA teams have changed head coaches, and it was with that knowledge that Kerr took the helm of a team that many felt was on the cusp of greatness.
Guiding them now is his responsibility.
Today, six months after he stood in front of the assembled media in Oakland with a beaming smile, a giddy demeanor and a nicely tailored charcoal grey suit, his Golden State Warriors have fully captured the imaginations of the NBA’s viewing public.
In the early going, Klay Thompson appears to be worth the four-year, $70 million contract he was awarded and the Warriors seem to be fulfilling the promise that enamored Kerr in the first place.
The edict from Kerr has been simple: work harder on defense and share the ball more on offense. It is impossible to argue with the early results.
Regarded mostly as offensive weapons, Thompson and Stephen Curry have been, at least in the early going, pesky defenders. On the perimeter, the Warriors fight over screens and do their best to disrupt opposing ball handlers. Kerr has also committed to giving minutes to Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston— strong defenders in each of their own rights.
The early results have been amazing. The Warriors enter play on November 9 allowing just 92.4 points per game, which is third best in the league. That is about a full eight points less than they allowed last season (100.3).
On the offensive end, Kerr has been a proponent of more off-ball movement from his shooters, more backdoor cuts and more passing overall. As a result, an already potent offensive team has gotten even better. At 107.2 points per game, the Warriors are the top scoring team in the league, showing much more scoring prowess than they did last season when they scored 101.2 points per game.
Yes, it is early, but there is nothing wrong with reading early returns, especially in a day and age when we collectively expect expediency.
In Cleveland, after five games, the ridiculous idea of trading Kyrie Irving has been floated, so conversely, we should stop and collectively credit Kerr for leading his Warriors off to a good start.
They will go down as the final unbeaten team of the 2014-15 season, and if that is an omen of what Kerr is capable of as a head coach, we may see some history repeat itself.
Clearly, this is just the beginning, but if it all ends well, he may eventually find himself being mentioned along the likes of Brown and Carlisle—two coaching legends.
The man that helped install him in Oakland, Warriors general manager Bob Myers, may be looked upon as a prophet who made the correct decision under tremendous pressure. In that regard, he may be mentioned alongside both Joe Dumars and Mark Cuban, because once upon a time, both of those men made shocking decisions to remove successful head coaches.
And in the long run, they proved to be correct.
Ultimately, the decision to oust Jackson and install Kerr could go down as similarly stellar.
Way back in 1999, way before the Detroit Pistons became one of the dominant powerhouses in the Eastern Conference, Grant Hill had grown frustrated with the direction of the franchise.
With the ink still wet on his retirement papers, Joe Dumars began working in the front office of the Pistons and quickly ascended as the voice that late former owner Bill Davidson would trust with his franchise.
Quietly, from his office, Dumars made difficult decisions that included trading Hill, the team’s franchise player.
Dumars, the executive, quickly made a home for himself at the Palace at Auburn Hills, and so did Rick Carlisle.
Carlisle had spent three years on the bench of the Indiana Pacers as the understudy to Larry Bird. By Bird’s side, the Pacers pushed Michael Jordan’s 1998 Chicago Bulls to seven games and would eventually win the conference in 2000, falling short to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals that year.
But when Bird decided to retire from the ranks of coaching, it was not Carlisle who Pacers president Donnie Walsh tapped to replace Bird—it was Isiah Thomas.
Dumars, seemingly aware of the potential that Carlisle had, pounced on him and made him the 27th head coach in franchise history.
Carlisle would sign a three-year deal with the Pistons and in his very first season, led a roster featuring Jerry Steakhouse and Clifford Robinson to an 18-win improvement. The 50-32 record helped Carlisle win the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award after his first season. Their season ended in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, where they lost to the Boston Celtics.
The following year, in 2002, with new, younger faces, Carlisle again led the Pistons to 50 wins. And although the team advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1991, the Pistons were swept by the New Jersey Nets.
Still, Carlisle seemed to be the correct choice for Dumars, helping to lead the franchise from the doldrums and winning the league’s Coach of the Year Award along the way.
Clearly, then, you could imagine Carlisle’s surprise when he got the phone call telling him that the Pistons were deciding to end his employment one year early. And clearly, you can imagine everyone else’s surprise when it was revealed that Larry Brown would be named Carlisle’s successor in Detroit.
At the time, the move was considered questionable at best and asinine at worst.
But by the time Brown’s tenure in Detroit ended, a different word was most associated with Dumar’s decision to install Brown: “Brilliant.”
Brown’s mantra of systematic defense and “playing the right way” caught on with his Pistons team that featured no standout superstar, only a well-oiled basketball playing machine. With the acquisition of Rasheed Wallace during the 2003-04 season, the team had its final piece and would eventually go on to pull off one of the biggest NBA Finals upsets in history, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals, 4-1.
Brown would lead the Pistons back to the NBA Finals the following season, before falling short to the San Antonio Spurs in a seventh and deciding game.
It is impossible to argue with results, and that is why history will ultimately forget the apparent raw deal that Carlisle received from Dumars, just like it has forgotten that the same thing happened to Avery Johnson in Dallas.
In 1997, Don Nelson took over as the head coach and general manager of the Dallas Mavericks and with Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban eventually joining forces with him, he began the revival of the franchise.
After seven years with the franchise, as Nelson and Cuban began to butt heads, Avery Johnson was tapped as Nelson’s successor in Dallas. Johnson had played for Nelson for two years and had served as an apprentice under the coach before eventually being handed the reins of the team in 2005.
Under Johnson, the Mavericks had unprecedented success. In 2006, he led the Mavericks to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. The next season, the Mavericks won a franchise-record 67 games.
In that 67-win season, however, the Mavericks became just the third number one seed to be ousted by a number eight seed in the playoffs. Ironically, it was the Don Nelson-coached Golden State Warriors who would defeat Johnson’s Mavericks in six games.
Perhaps even more ironic, though, was that after the Mavericks saw their 67-win season result in a first round exit, they followed it up with another first round exit the following season, this time, it was the New Orleans Hornets who did them in.
Cuban made the decision to replace Johnson on the bench. Like the aforementioned Carlisle, Johnson won the NBA Coach of the Year Award in his first season as the man in charge for the Mavericks (2006).
So yes, it was especially ironic that it was Carlisle who would replace Johnson in Dallas. And just like Larry Brown did with Carlisle’s team in Detroit, it was Carlisle who would eventually lead the Mavericks to pull off what was perhaps the biggest NBA Finals upset since Brown’s Pistons defeated the Lakers in 2004, when Dallas beat the Miami HEAT in seven games in the 2011 NBA Finals.
You’ve simply gotta love how history repeats itself.
By hiring Mark Jackson in Oakland, owner Joe Lacob took a chance on a former player who had no prior coaching experience. Although Jackson fell short of fulfilling his promise of qualifying for the playoffs in his first year on the job, the Warriors experienced appreciable growth with him in charge.
He helped to teach Monta Ellis a thing or two about what it meant to be a team player—gifts that Ellis has since used to help find success for the teams he has since played for.
He assisted some of his younger players—Charles Jenkins, David Lee, Brandon Rush and Dorell Wright—that putting team before all else was the true hallmark of a great and sustained NBA career.
He led the franchise to its first 50-win season since 1994.
And yes, he helped both Curry and Thompson develop into the players that they are today—a backcourt duo that many believe is the most gifted in the NBA.
Yet, in the end, all Jackson got for it was a pink slip and in his wake, he has left some lofty expectations that Kerr must now fight to reach.
Thus far, the returns have been good.
Fortunately for Kerr, there is a precedent for success in such a situation.
Unfortunately for him, he has no prior head coaching experience upon which he can rely to help steer his team through the rugged terrain that they will, no doubt, traverse.
Thus far, it does not seem to have been an issue for the Warriors.
Yes, the journey is long and the road will be topsy-turvy, but, I’m sure those were warnings that Brown and Carlisle got, as well.
In the end, in the NBA, the cream always rises to the top.
And if the early returns on Kerr’s debut are any indication of what is to come, in May 2015, one year after he sat in front of the media in Oakland and introduced himself, Kerr may again find himself in front of the flashing lights and eyeballs aplenty.
Only this time, instead of him discussing the potential of his Warriors team and the obstacles he will face as a head coach, he may be discussing how he conquered them.
Yes, for the Warriors, the long road is just beginning. But in Kerr, without question, the team has itself a capable conductor.
NBA Daily: A New Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?
The Toronto Raptors made some bold moves this off-season, but will those moves be the beginning of something new or the beginning of the end of Raptors run in the East?
A New Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?
The Toronto Raptors were clearly at a crossroads after being swept unceremoniously by the Cleveland Cavaliers in May. It was a microcosm of their situation – good enough to win the East in the regular season, but not good enough to win in big playoff games.
The Raptors went on to fire Dwane Casey as head coach, despite him ultimately being named Coach of The Year. The idea behind the firing wasn’t an emotional reaction to the swept; it was the acceptance of the reality that Casey wasn’t going to evolve as a coach, at least not the way management had hoped.
Casey’s ouster wasn’t the only change; the Raptors also traded away franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan in a “dare to be great” trade with San Antonio for forward Kawhi Leonard.
From a pure talent standpoint, Leonard is an upgrade in almost every way to DeRozan, a multi-time All-Star in his own right. The problem with Leonard isn’t what he is as a player, its what he’s become as a person. No one saw the divorce in San Antonio coming, nor the lengths his camp would go to force an exit and leave countless millions on the table for a new start.
The problem for Toronto is the new start Leonard was seeking never included them. So, much like the Oklahoma City Thunder did a year ago with Paul George, the Raptors are hopeful that a long and successful courtship of Leonard could win him over and into a new long-term deal. If that sounds like a pipe dream, it probably is.
Let’s be real about a few things.
Toronto is a beautiful and passionate basketball city, but is that enough to sway a kid from Southern California to stay? The Raptor faithful will point to DeRozan as an example of yes; he did exactly that when he signed his current deal. But is the situation ideal for Leonard, again the answer might be yes, especially if he is fully recovered from the quad injury that sidelined him for most of last season.
There is no doubting that the Raptors are built to win right now. They won 59 games with arguably the same roster and will enter an Eastern Conference that no longer has LeBron James in Cleveland.
Sure, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are formidable challengers for supremacy in the East and let’s not forget about the Indiana Pacers, who could be in that same pack of teams vying for the top spot. But are any of them far and away better than the Raptors in terms of proven in their prime players?
The script seems to be written for the Raptors to either explode and cement themselves at the top of the East or implode on their own decisions.
New Raptors coach Nick Nurse is as a good as they come from the assistant ranks. He is a bright basketball mind, and he knows his players and has relationships with most of them. The question is will he be as good as advertised? If he not, this dance could be over before it starts.
Leonard has so much to prove after orchestrating his exit from San Antonio. If he gets back to MVP form in Toronto how can the Raptors not be considered the front-runner for the East? Yes, Boston is going to be really good too, but if you were betting on two players – MVP version of Kyrie Irving or MVP version of Leonard, who are you taking?
The problem for the Raptors is what if Leonard isn’t that guy again? What if all the negativity becomes too much? What if not being coddled and sheltered by the Spurs is a problem? No, Leonard isn’t a baby that needs mothering, but if you have followed anything about Leonard, he’s not this rock of a person that can handle anything. It’s a real question only he can answer with his play on the floor.
Equally, what if the quad isn’t fully healed or he goes Isaiah Thomas and tries to come back on to make it worse and needs surgery?
These are not easy questions to answer.
If the Raptors come out on top of most of these decisions – Nurse and Leonard are what people hope them to be — then things could swing in a very interesting direction for the Raptor franchise.
That’s what makes the “dare to be great” move interesting.
Thunder GM Sam Presti made news when he was quoted in Paul George’s ESPN docu-series, saying one of his favorite Lyrics was from Tribe Called Quest – “Scared money don’t make none” — in rationalizing his all-in approach to George.
It seems like Raptor president Masai Ujiri may have stolen a play from the Thunder playbook, because the franchise is now all the way in on the make or break moves of this off-season.
This could be the beginning of a new chapter for the Raptors, or it could end being the moves that cratered something special.
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .
NBA Daily: Why Teams Should Think Twice Before Tanking
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry, writes Spencer Davies.
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry affair.
If it happens, ownership and management have to choose between two options.
1) Attempt to stay competitive
2) Blow everything up and go for a high draft pick
The second choice seems to be the favorite path for executives to take as of late. After all, just look at the job the Philadelphia 76ers have done with perfecting the art of the aptly named process, “tanking.”
Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s three ultra-quotable words have turned NBA fans on to see the bigger picture. Who cares if a team has to suffer through multiple seasons of losing? If it takes a couple of years, so be it. In the end, we’ll reset with younger talent to build around. Trust The Process.
Philadelphia lost a lot of games between the 2013 and 2017 seasons. It was flat out brutal to watch. With that said, it did give the organization the opportunity to draft the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and acquire a young international talent like Dario Saric.
They were extremely patient throughout this whole operation. Brett Brown remained the head coach through thick and thin. Players swore on buying into what was being preached.
Last season was a breakthrough for the Sixers. They won 52 games and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. Two of the guys they drafted turned into recognizable names with their play and have sky-high potential to break through in this upcoming season.
But is this really what it takes to achieve relevancy and perpetual competition in the NBA now? Do you really have to wipe the slate clean entirely and put out an unacceptable product year-in and year-out for half a decade so that there’s a possibility of one day becoming a winning franchise?
It’s obvious that Philadelphia did its homework, but who’s to say that other front offices can function like that? The Sacramento Kings have been in the doldrums for 12 years. The Orlando Magic have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and the New York Knicks haven’t made an appearance in five.
What it comes down to is hitting on draft picks, plain and simple. You don’t hear often about the missteps of the process. Nerlens Noel was supposed to be a key piece of the Sixers core, as was Jahlil Okafor. Both of those players were top six selections in their respective drafts.
In order to acquire Noel (along with New Orleans’ 2014 first-round pick), Philadelphia sent Jrue Holiday, Pierre Jackson and the 42nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to the newly branded New Orleans Pelicans.
In hindsight, this was an awful move—no bones about it. Holiday had been coming off an All-Star season. He stood a head above the rest on a roster mixed with veterans and middle-of-their-career players. Most impressive of all, it was only his third year in the league.
The Sixers picked a gamble that did not return the results they were hoping for. Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year and Noel had his moments, but there’s no way it was worth losing a player the caliber of Holiday. But they had to abide by the process by any means necessary, right?
Philadelphia hasn’t won a championship, yet they’re heading in the right direction. They were able to overcome those bumps in the road. The three teams in Sacramento, Orlando and New York to this point have not.
Tanking may not be the wrong answer. It’s not always the right one, though. It all depends on timing. Take a different approach of re-tooling in lieu of rebuilding.
A prime example of this viewpoint is the Utah Jazz last season. After Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics, many pundits stuck a dead duck label on the Utah Jazz. Those people said that in spite of the fact that the organization was on the rise with a brilliant head coach and an up-and-coming center bordering on best defensive player in the league status.
General manager Dennis Lindsey made a few moves here or there, but did not even think about giving up on the overall progress the Jazz had attained. He kept Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert, drafted Donovan Mitchell and began a new chapter in the same book instead of writing a different novel.
Utah opened a ton of eyes last season, not only making the playoffs—competing until the very end. And even that was fluky when injuries came into the picture.
They never had to go into the gutter. In the four straight years the Jazz missed the playoffs, it wasn’t because of a set strategy to take a nosedive. They had the wrong coach the first two and were learning how to play winning basketball under the right leader the next two.
It seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers are taking that route instead of the usual cry to “blow it up.” This isn’t comparing the impact of losing Hayward to LeBron James. That would be irresponsible. But they’ve clearly formed a strategy for all of this and were much more prepared the second time around.
Their true plans were revealed on July 24 when Kevin Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stick around with the wine and gold. Confusion surfaced all around. Nearly everybody in the NBA world expected general manager Koby Altman to trade him and stock up on future assets. After all, the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick next season only conveys if they finish as a bottom 10 team in the league. If they do not, the selection goes to the Atlanta Hawks.
While that’s a true statement, nothing is guaranteed. Anything that happens in a season can be unpredictable. Anything that goes on in a draft is unpredictable.
In one timeline, Cleveland could be as bad of a team as some are predicting with Love. In another, they could make the playoffs and shock their doubters.
We don’t know what Collin Sexton will be in this league yet. We do know that experience is irreplaceable. Why not surround the young man with talent for him to breed confidence in himself and others? It’s better than losing a ton of games because the front office is waiting for the next guy to pair him with, right?
The Cavaliers are keeping their head coach. They’re acquiring players aching for an opportunity. They’re altering their direction, but keeping the same focus.
With LeBron James, Cleveland made four straight NBA Finals. In doing so, they’ve set a standard for the organization. Even with The King going west, why would it make any sense to change that message?
Considering the talent this league already has and the “super teams” that are being built among them, there is a difference between a ball club that wins 20 games and one that wins 35. They both miss out on the postseason and have a lottery pick, however, Team A silently creates losing habits while Team B tries to instill a culture of winning.
There is no perfect method for filling a void left by losing a superstar player. Nobody is a psychic.
Maybe it’s naïve to criticize “The Process” for not wanting to be in NBA purgatory—usually somewhere stuck between a seven seed in the playoffs and the 10th team in the conference standings—but tanking is a tricky game. Precision is necessary to pull it off. If it isn’t there, you’ll be in a world of hurt.
At least when you’re in NBA purgatory, you can add to what you have or try a different coach. Championship or bust is a dangerous mentality in the current landscape of sports.
Of course, that’s always the goal, but very few understand what it takes to get to that point. It all starts with a winning attitude, a quality of most teams that have tanked do not possess.
NBA Daily: The Summer’s Most Impactful Coaching Hires
There have been a lot of coaching swaps this offseason, but there are only a select few that should impact what happens next year.
Building a successful team is like cooking a meal. The players serve as the ingredients, while the coach serves as the cook who stirs the ingredients. A championship team requires the right ingredients just as much as it requires an adept cook.
Take the Warriors for example. Mark Jackson played an important role in putting Golden State back on the map in 2013. However, after it was clear that he wasn’t capable of pushing them much further the following year, they replaced him with Steve Kerr.
That made all the difference. The Dubs went from pseudo-contender to legitimate contender, thanks to their new coach revolutionizing the team’s offense. The team went from the league’s 12th-ranked offense in the league the previous season (107.5 points per 100 possessions) to its second (111.6). Stephen Curry’s evolution into a basketball supernova led the way of course, but it was Kerr’s revisions to the team that pushed them to another level.
It all started with how he handled his rotation. Making Draymond Green a full-time starter while also transitioning Andre Iguodala into the sixth man made the Dubs all the more lethal as a team. The final touch was forming the “Death Lineup”, which consisted of Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, that made Golden State nearly impossible to stop.
Golden State had a roster built for a title. All they needed was a coach who could get them the best results. Kerr was the man for the job.
That goes to show how vital a coach is to a franchise that has high aspirations.
Because of success stories like Golden State, we saw quite a few coaching changes this summer from teams hoping to have a Hollywood ending much like the Warriors.
Milwaukee Bucks – Mike Budenholzer
Poor Coach Bud. It’s not his fault that the Hawks team that he guided to 60 wins in 2015 slowly disintegrated over the last three years. Luckily he got out of there to avoid having to take on a rebuild. So now, he gets a fresh start in Wisconsin.
Budenholzer’s stock has gone down considerably since winning the Coach of the Year three years ago. That being said, he’s shown that when he has lemons, he can make lemonade. Now that he is running the show in Milwaukee, he is coaching one of the more unique situations in the league. Coach Bud now has a superstar at his arsenal in Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is something he never had in Atlanta.
It’s true that Milwaukee has been one of the league’s frequent underachievers since they kicked the tires of the Greek Freek era, but their talent cannot be understated. Remember that Coach Bud once made the likes of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver All-Stars, statuses that they’ve never come close to regaining since. If he can do that with guys like Teague and Korver, imagine what he can do with Giannis and Co.
Milwaukee has also done a solid job building a team that fits Budenholzer’s emphasis on floor stretching. Adding Brook Lopez and bringing back Ersan Ilyasova should give a team that ranked 21st in three-point percentage more spacing. That’s quite impressive since Milwaukee had the ninth-best offensive rating in the league (109.8).
Milwaukee’s been trying to find their big break for a while now. They may have found theirs in Coach Bud.
Detroit Pistons – Dwane Casey
Nobody had a harder spring than Casey. Usually, winning Coach of the Year would be a moment worth treasuring, but in Casey’s case, it was far from it. Leading up to getting the award, Casey and the Raptors were swept by the Cavs for the second consecutive time, then he got fired shortly afterward. Casey getting Coach of the Year this season was pretty much like Dirk Nowitzki getting the MVP in 2007 after getting upset by the Warriors in the first round.
Thankfully, Casey’s illustrious resume was good enough for him to land on his feet just about anywhere. That anywhere happens to be Motown, where he’s replacing Stan Van Gundy as head coach. Detroit also has not had the most success since they’ve turned to Andre Drummond. That could be attributed to the unfortunate injuries that they’ve had to deal with in the last two years.
Despite having the persistent monkey on his back come playoff time, Casey has improved his craft in response to his failures. The Raptors saw improvement every year when Casey ran the show, and now Casey has the chance to show he can do the same in Detroit.
It will be an interesting transition going from the Raptors to the Pistons. Though not as talented as Toronto’s, Detroit’s strength should primarily come from their frontcourt. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should be one of the league’s best frontcourt pairings on paper. Casey has a reputation for making things work, so now that they will have a full season together, they may shine more than they did last season.
One particular question that should be answered is if Toronto’s problem was Casey or his roster. That may be answered by how Detroit does this season. Oh hey, speaking of Toronto…
Toronto Raptors – Nick Nurse
There seems to be a fair amount of optimism surrounding Nurse. Supposedly, he was the reason why the Raptors’ offense improved so much last season. Casey executed it to perfection, but Nurse was the one who designed it. Now, he’s at the forefront on a team that is desperate for success now more than ever.
This is Nurse’s first gig as a head coach, and the pressure is going to be on. It’s not just that Toronto’s been trying to get past its playoff demons. Now that they have Kawhi Leonard, they have to do everything in their power to keep him around — tall order given he seems hellbent on going to L.A.
Still, Leonard is an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan. Acquiring him, along with promoting Nurse, shows that the Raptors aren’t playing around. Being the head coach for one of the league’s powerhouses is a big break for Nurse. This may be his only to chance to prove he deserves a spot in this league.
James Borrego – Charlotte Hornets
Another Popovich protegee moving up through the ranks! Borrego has had some head coaching experience, though it was with the Orlando Magic, who were not going anywhere, three years ago. Now he’s going to Charlotte, a team that’s in a pretty tough situation right now.
Right now, Charlotte is hard-capped on a roster that does not have much room for improvement. The team has not made the playoffs in two years, and it’s hard to imagine how they improve from where they currently are. However, that might be why they hired Borrego.
Instead of going for a known name like Stan Van Gundy or Jeff Hornacek, they went with a guy who has learned under the NBA’s best coach for several years. Coach Bud became a great coach after learning from Pop, so perhaps Borrego may follow in his footsteps. This is a pivotal year for Charlotte since Kemba Walker’s bargain contract is expiring. If Borrego can help Charlotte return to the playoffs, then that could do wonders for them.
Note that David Fizdale, Lloyd Pierce, and Igor Kokoskov weren’t named. It isn’t fair to include them because the teams they are running are currently in the rebuilding phase with little expectation. They could be very impactful hires down the line. Just don’t expect a lot from them right away.
Same goes for J.B. Bickerstaff, but that’s because he already was the Grizzlies’ head coach. Now he’s full-time instead of interim. Call it cheating if you want to.
As for those who have been named, these hires should have a significant impact on what happens in the Eastern Conference playoff race this season. One of these hires could very well put their team in the finals, while another could put them in the NBA lottery.