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NBA AM: The Coaching Front-runners

Finding a new coach is never an easy process, but the Magic and Nuggets have no shortage of options to consider.

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The Front Runners:  While most of the basketball world is focused on the playoffs there are a few teams, namely the Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic, that are focused on a few other things, like identifying their next head coach. While it is unlikely that either team makes a hasty decision as some of the potential candidates are coaching in the playoffs, here is the list that both teams seem to be working from in terms of top-tier candidates.

Tom Thibodeau

If the Chicago Bulls genuinely want to end their relationship with Tom Thibodeau, both Denver and Orlando seem to be more than interested even though the price tag to land Thibodeau may be a first round draft pick. The Bulls owe Thibodeau two more fully guaranteed years, worth an estimated $8.6 million, so firing him outright might not be in the cards, but trading him like the Celtics did with Doc Rivers is a real possibility.

The problem with “trading” for Thibodeau is that unlike a player trade, all that the receiving team get is the right to negotiate a new deal with Thibodeau, not absorb his existing contract terms. The draft pick is simply compensation to the Bulls to let Thibodeau out of his deal. That means the new team has to reach a deal with Thibodeau and meet his new contract demands, which likely ups his salary to that of his peers ($6-$7 million a season) and Thibodeau likely seeks oversight of Basketball Operations to ensure he doesn’t find himself in the situation he’s in with Chicago again.

All of that begs the question of would Denver or Orlando pony up that kind of scenario to get arguably the best coaching option on the board?

Alvin Gentry

There is no doubting that Alvin Gentry helped his case this year in Golden State. He is credited by most around the situation as being the co-coach of the Warriors and that’s made him an attractive option specifically for the Orlando Magic.

The problem for Orlando is while they have assembled something of a short list of options, Gentry may be coaching the longest, given how well the Warriors are playing.

For the most part, teams in the playoffs do not allow their assistant coaches to interview for job openings until things get sorted out going into the Conference Finals when there are several days between games.

Gentry is considered a significant candidate, mainly because he has ample head coaching experience and has the personality to plug into an existing front office system without demanding a ton of control.

The Magic are far from ready to interview, but you can expect that Gentry will get serious consideration from the Magic and possibly the Nuggets.

Scott Skiles

Scott Skiles has been linked to the Magic since former head coach Jacque Vaughn was fired. Skiles remains close with a number of the Magic’s ownership and senior leadership personalities including Magic CEO Alex Martins.

It’s believed that Skiles has already had informal conversations about the Magic job, with some close to the situation saying Skiles not only would take the job if offered, he’s tried to campaign a little.

The problem with Skiles as a hire, is that those close to the process say he’d want final say over personnel decisions, after a couple of rough front office situations in his past. Skiles doesn’t necessarily want current Magic GM Rob Hennigan out; sources say he simply wants approval over roster moves, something that Martins is currently doing now.

More and more experienced coaches are getting oversight of Basketball Operations in their agreements, so it’s not surprising to hear that Skiles seeks something similar in his next deal. The question is will the Magic insert Skiles in the role he is likely seeking or do they explore other options?

Skiles is considered a serious candidate and likely interviews in a formal capacity. It’s unclear if the Magic are willing to meet the expected demands of roster control and how current Magic management would handle such a move, especially with many of them having just one year left on their contracts.

Mike D’Antoni

As crazy as it may seem, former Knicks and Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni is a legitimate candidate for the Denver Nuggets head coaching job. While D’Antoni gets crushed for his lack of interest on the defensive end of the floor, he is credited with the current state of the NBA in terms of offense. D’Antoni’s infamous “six seconds or less” offense is becoming more common as teams embrace the realities that three-point shooting and a faster pace leads to easier offense.

The Nuggets are interested in exploring an up-tempo system and the appeal of D’Antoni is real under the right circumstances, part of that would be pairing him with a serious defensive minded assistant staff.

The Nuggets have said they are in no hurry to make a decision, but feel like having a new coach in place in advance of the NBA draft is ideal.

Mike Malone

Former Kings head coach Mike Malone is considered a viable candidate for both the Nuggets and the Magic, but according to sources may be a little lower on the list than some of the other names.

Malone had interviewed for the Magic job before they hired Vaughn, and there is a sense that his style might not be as attractive as some of the others. There is no doubting that Malone was a solid hire for the Kings, but there is a sense that his process might not work elsewhere.

Malone is likely going to get interviews for both openings, the question is with some coaching experience under his belt will he interview better? Given that both front offices understand their team needs a little better, will either see Malone as a viable solution, especially considering he may come a cheaper price tag than many of this list?

There have been a few other names linked to both teams such as Florida head coach Billy Donovan and former head coach Vinny Del Negro; neither are expected to get serious consideration.

Equally, both teams have said their current interim head coaches, James Borrego in Orlando and Melvin Hunt in Denver, will get consideration although neither is expected to be retained as the full time head coach at this point in the process.

Teams with an opening usually begin the interview process in and around the NBA Draft Combine, which is scheduled to open May 12th, so you can expect things to heat up over the next few weeks, even more so as some of the playoff teams get eliminated.

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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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