Cheap Seats: Best NBA Coaching Move

There have already been a number of coaching moves in the NBA this offseason. Which move was the best?

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In this week’s Cheap Seats, the Basketball Insiders interns Jesse Blancarte, John Zitzler and Cody Taylor debate the best coaching move to take place in the NBA in recent weeks.

Pistons Hiring Stan Van Gundy

The Detroit Pistons have been aimless since the 2007-08 season when they went 59-23 and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics. Back then, players like Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace were still in Detroit, and Flip Saunders was the coach.

After that season, the Pistons fired Flip Saunders and team president Joe Dumars traded Billups and Antonio McDyess to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson. Michael Curry took over as coach, and in the 2008-09 season, the Pistons went 39-43 and lost in the first round of the playoffs after three years of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Since removing Saunders, the Pistons have gone through coaches on what seems like a yearly basis. The list includes Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer. Between the coaching carousel and the confusing roster moves, there has been little stability in Detroit.

The team seems to have acknowledged this and are now moving in a new direction. Dumars was removed, and the team hired Stan Van Gundy as both the new head coach and president of basketball operations.

Van Gundy last coached the Orlando Magic in 2011-12. Van Gundy was let go by the organization after five seasons as the team attempted to appease Dwight Howard and prevent him from leaving, which he eventually did anyway.

Van Gundy brings strong leadership and a no-nonsense approach to Detroit. He does not shy away from telling players or the media his opinions and holds players accountable. While Van Gundy is a proven coach, the Pistons are entrusting him with running the organization on an executive level as well, something which he has no prior experience with. However, Van Gundy is confident that he can turn things around in Detroit.

“I’ve had a lot of time in the last two years so I’ve had a lot of thoughts on the organizational part of it, the basketball operations, how I would want to structure it, how I would put the pieces in place,” Van Gundy said earlier this month, while also acknowledging his limitations and admitting he would only be successful by adding great people to help him.

Van Gundy has already begun that process, hiring Brendan Malone, Bob Beyer and Charles Klask as assistant coaches and Adam Glessner as a team scout. Van Gundy said he brought in these coaches because of their past experience and because they understand the system and style of basketball the team wants to implement.

Looking at Van Gundy’s past, it appears that he will implement an offense that spreads the floor and surrounds a post player with knock down shooters. In Orlando, Van Gundy used Howard as the focal point of the offense. When Howard was doubled-teamed, players like J.J. Redick, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter were ready to swing the ball around the perimeter until someone got a wide open three-pointer. It was an efficient offensive system, often ranking in the top-10 of the league. It also yielded the best production out of Howard, who is finally rounding back into his old form with the Houston Rockets, another team which spreads the floor. Unlike other efficient offensive systems, Orlando’s offense was not about running in transition each opportunity, but moving the ball quickly in search of the best shot available.

Now in Detroit, Van Gundy has a young center in Andre Drummond, who is still very raw, but is the closest thing to a young Howard as there is in the league. Drummond will continue to improve his post-game, and this will provide Van Gundy with a focal point through which to run his spread offense, as he did in Orlando. However, Van Gundy will have to add more shooters in free agency or via trade as the Pistons ranked 26th in three pointers made as a team last year (507), and made only 32.1 percent from beyond the arc (29th in the league). Fortunately, it is harder to come by a talent like Drummond, and even Greg Monroe, than it is perimeter shooters. It probably won’t happen this season, but in the near future, under Van Gundy, the Pistons will likely be a top-10 offensive team with Drummond in the middle, and shooters spreading the court around him. The difference from past years is Van Gundy has a philosophy to build around and can add players that fit his system, which will hopefully avoid signings that make little sense, like Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Josh Smith.

What is often overlooked about Van Gundy is how good of a defensive team he made the Magic each season. In every season under Van Gundy, with the exception of 2011-12, the Magic were a top-10 defensive team, and in 2008-09 they were the number one rated defense in the league. While a lot of the credit for those rankings go to Howard, who won Defensive Player of the Year three years in a row, it was Van Gundy who managed to orchestrate the entire team into a formidable defense. Players like Nelson, Turkoglu, Lewis and Carter were never really lock down players, but they knew how to funnel players to Howard so he could disrupt them on their way to the basket. With more experience and time under Van Gundy, Drummond could one day fill the role Howard once did, perhaps even better than Howard did.

Most importantly, Van Gundy has the type of personality that can grab the attention of his players, and get them to buy in to his system and philosophy. It has been many years of aimless basketball in Detroit, but things are set to turn around behind the strong leadership and philosophy Van Gundy brings with him to the Pistons.

– Jesse Blancarte

Blazers Extending Terry Stotts

The NBA offseason has been relatively busy for coaches thus far. The Detroit Pistons lured Stan Van Gundy out of his home in Central Florida and Steve Kerr opted for the Golden State Warriors over the New York Knicks, which were two of the major moves. But one of best under-the-radar moves happened in Portland with the Trail Blazers opting to extend head coach Terry Stotts’ contract a couple of weeks ago.

The Trail Blazers were a surprise team this year after jumping out to the league’s best record two months into the season in the competitive Western Conference. The Trail Blazers leveled off a bit and finished as the fifth seed, picking up a first-round matchup against the Houston Rockets. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers finished off the Rockets in six games for their first playoff series win since 2000.

The series against the Rockets illustrated how crucial Stotts is to the Trail Blazers. Stotts worked under Rick Carlisle in Dallas in 2008 and was often tasked with getting Dirk Nowitzki open looks and he faced a similar scenario with Aldridge against the Rockets. Aldridge had his way with the Rockets in the first two games of the series, scoring 46 and 43 points, which led Rockets head coach Kevin McHale to change the way Aldridge was guarded. The move somewhat paid off with Aldridge shooting just 8-of-22 from the field and scoring 23 points in the next game. But Stotts created a variety of different pick-and-roll situations where Aldridge could get the ball or create an opportunity for another player to get open. In Game 4, Aldridge turned in an efficient 12-of-23 performance to help the Trail Blazers take a 3-2 series lead.

The Trail Blazers’ decision to keep Stotts around for at least three more years will have a tremendous impact on the team moving forward. The series against the San Antonio Spurs showed the team’s weaknesses, but they are a work in progress and with the extension Stotts will be able to continue to see his work progress in the next couple of seasons.

The Trail Blazers are a young team that returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. One glaring weakness the Trail Blazers had all season was the bench and lack of depth. Stotts and general manager Neil Olshey will have their hands full this summer to improve the Blazers’ dead-last bench production in the league. It’s looking more and more likely that backup point guard Mo Williams will opt out of his contract and he could elect to sign elsewhere, leaving the Trail Blazers with an important position to fill. Olshey will have to decide if their bench help will come from outside or if their answers are already on the roster. Another thing missing from the team’s roster is the lack of veteran leadership, which could have a huge impact on the younger players.

It’s clear that the Blazers will have some work to do before they can compete with teams like the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami HEAT, but a couple of moves here and there and the Trail Blazers could find themselves in a position to compete.

– Cody Taylor

Grizzlies Retaining Dave Joerger

The Memphis Grizzlies surprised many people following the 2012-13 season, when they chose to not to renew the contract of former head coach Lionel Hollins. He had led the team to a franchise record 56 wins and an appearance in the Western Conference Finals before being bounced by the San Antonio Spurs. Despite the Grizzlies’ impressive season, opposing viewpoints between Hollins and upper management, specifically majority owner Robert Pera and former CEO Jason Levien, was the catalyst for his departure.

With Hollins out of the picture, long-time Grizzlies assistant Dave Joerger was promoted to fill the team’s vacant head coaching position.

Joerger picked up right where Hollins left off. In his first season as an NBA head coach, the Grizzlies adhered to the same blueprint laid out by Hollins during his tenure. The team’s identity continued to be centered on their stingy defense, controlled pace and strength down low.

The team got off to a slow start under Joerger; the Grizzlies had a record of just 13-17 through 30 games with their new head coach. Wins were tough to come by early on, and the absence of star center Marc Gasol played a major factor in the team’s difficult start. Gasol was sideline for nearly a month and a half, missing a total of 23 games with a knee injury. The slow start surprisingly had Joerger on the hot seat and there were even reports that Pera strongly considered firing Joerger mid-way through his first season. Pera never did pull the trigger on that move and in hindsight that looks to be a wise decision.

The Grizzlies got back on the right track shortly after Gasol returned to from injury on January 14. To no one’s surprise, the return of the former Defensive Player of the Year had a very positive effect. The team finished the season in strong fashion, going 37-15 in their remaining 52 games and ending the year with a record of 50-32 – a remarkable turnaround for a team that appeared bound for the lottery prior to Gasol’s return.

Joerger orchestrated a group that was again one of the premier defensive units in the league. Memphis finished third in points allowed per game, giving up just 94.6 a night, and ranked seventh in defensive rating at 104.6. The numbers were slightly down from the team’s league-best defense in 2012-13, but still more than respectable for the first-year coach. It was that great defense that helped the Grizzlies secure the seventh seed in the tough Western Conference and a first-round matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Grizzlies were considerable underdogs going into the series but quickly proved they belonged. Going into Game 6, the Grizzlies held a 3-2 series lead and had a chance to close out the Thunder at home. It was in that Game 6 six when everything that could go wrong seemingly did. Not only did the team get blown out, losing 104-84, but Zach Randolph got into it with Steven Adams and took a swing at his face as the two ran down the court. That incident resulted in Randolph being suspended for Game 7. On top of that, Mike Conley, who had one of the best seasons of his career, suffered a hamstring injury late in Game 6. Conley was able to play in Game 7, but even so the undermanned Grizzlies didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with the Thunder and were eliminated.

After 50 wins and an admirable effort in the playoffs against one of best in the West, you would think Pera would be happy with his new coach. However, that was not the case. Like Hollins the year before, despite a strong season Joerger was again on the hot seat due to Pera’s concern regarding their relationship. The team even allowed Joerger to interview with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves thought highly enough of Joerger following their interview to offer him the head coaching position, which he would later reject. After his visit with the Timberwolves, Joerger met with Pera and it was during that meeting the two seemed to hash out their differences and get on the same page. Joerger described it as a “really good, heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation.” Shortly after their get-together, the team and Joerger came to terms on a three-year contract extension, ensuring his position with the organization.

It was a tumultuous few weeks following the Grizzlies’ elimination and front office changes. Pera has obviously not been afraid to shake things up and will still have some work to do to fill out the front office, but bringing Joerger back is a step in the right direction. Joerger is young and very familiar with the roster and playing style that has led the team to heights previously unseen. There is no reason why the Grizzlies shouldn’t find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt again next season under the leadership of Joerger.

– John Zitzler


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