NBA

NBA Daily: The Coaching Carousel Spins On

With both new and old faces in the mix for the remaining head coaching vacancies, the carousel remains undefeated, writes Ben Nadeau

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Updated 1 year ago on

6 min read

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Like clockwork, as soon as the regular season concludes, head coaches are dismissed.

More often than not, these metaphorical guillotines fall on those that have cartoonishly underperformed. But sometimes these removals can be shocking and or even the last act in an already-determined journey. For teams that aren’t perennial powers, the final weeks of April are always nervy with potential era-ending anticipation. Ultimately, the goal is to find a significant long-term answer — whether after one year or once that head coach has taken that roster as far as possible.

Still, the revolving door of coach hires, fires and inevitable rehires appears slower this springtime around — if not for a number of reasons. Franchises that ditched their head coach mid-season have already committed to the interim replacement — hello, Chicago — or many of last year’s first-timers are allowing for a second attempt before making any substantial decisions.

Both Lloyd Pierce and James Borrego — Atlanta and Charlotte, respectively — have done enough to secure their futures through the offseason while Steve Clifford, Dwane Casey, Mike Budenholzer and Nick Nurse all led their respecetive rosters to postseason births.

Of course, playcallers like Steve Kerr, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle and Mike D’Antoni, among others, were never going anywhere — most of whom were still coaching into May as usual. This leaves us with a very select group of franchises that either has a vacant spot or remain undecided about that head coach’s destiny at the club.

Last week, notably, the Phoenix Suns reached an agreement with current Philadelphia assistant Monty Williams. After the unforeseeable exit of Igor Kokoskov, Williams — who will stay with the 76ers until the end of their current postseason run — is a great get ahead of the NBA Draft Lottery. The Sacramento Kings, likewise, let go of Dave Joerger after nearly leading the franchise to their first playoff appearance in over a decade, but quickly replaced him with Luke Walton.

Despite their best effort, the Lakers — who have barrelled headlong into drama at every possible turn this season — hit another snag when Tyronn Lue declined Los Angeles’ contract offer and then pulled out of negotiations. Following the development, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted that Lue, unsurprisingly, wasn’t down with the Lakers’ insistence on adding Jason Kidd to the staff. Kidd, of course, unsuccessfully tried to usurp then-general manager Billy King for front office power back in Brooklyn — when that failed, the Nets had no choice but to trade the former franchise star to Milwaukee. The Lakers ultimately came to an agreement with Frank Vogel to become the team’s next head coach. Notably, Kidd will be Vogel’s lead assistant coach.

As always, the coaching carousel stays undefeated.

Then there’s Scott Brooks, the Washington Wizards’ head coach that has been on a rollercoaster-worthy ride since he was hired in 2016. Despite the litany of drama and season-defining injuries, Brooks currently holds a 124-122 record in Washington. As of now, Brooks expects to stick around, although the topic has remained unresolved since the regular season ended. With two years and $14 million left on his contract, the Wizards may be committed to seeing things out, particularly so following the news of John Wall’s terrible Achilles injury back in February.

After parting ways with the aforementioned Lue, the Cavaliers embarked on their worst season since 2010-11, the year that they fatefully ended up with Kyrie Irving at No. 1 overall. Without James, the plucky Cleveland side competed each night but won just 19 games, led by Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman and one of the league’s youngest rosters. There are some solid building blocks already in place, a status that’ll only grow larger should they land Zion Williamson or Ja Morant in June’s draft.

Should the new head coach dictate a monumental change in direction, the Cavaliers still have the ever-reliable Kevin Love under contract until 2022-23, an All-Star caliber player that could net a decent return on the trading block. In their search, Cleveland has understandably left no stone unturned and have or will interview — wait, take a deep breath — Ettore Messina, Ime Udoka, Wes Unseld, Jordi Fernandez, J.B. Bickerstaff, Alex Jensen, David Vanterpool, Nate Tibbetts, Juwan Howard and Jamahl Mosley.

If anything, the Cavaliers are being extra-diligent in their search — a refreshing strategy compared to the typical race to hire a well-known name as fast as possible. With Cleveland still far from contending, they’ll need a forward-thinking coach with an eye for development, not dissimilar to the Nets’ hiring of Kenny Atkinson following their sharp plummet into basketball purgatory.

Finally, the Memphis Grizzlies still remain coachless and without too much news floating around about their current process either. Given his mid-season takeover for the previously-fired David Fizdale, Bickerstaff was gifted with a full campaign in charge of the franchise. Although the Grizzlies briefly flirted with a postseason berth, they fell off the earth, almost traded Mike Conley Jr., moved Marc Gasol instead and then finished with a 33-49 record.

Since then the Grizzlies have chatted with Alex Jensen, a highly-regarded Utah Jazz assistant, and Sarunas Jasikevicius, a former NBA veteran turned Euroleague coach. Just this week, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne added a third name to the mix, Warriors’ assistant Jarron Collins. Like the Cavaliers, the Grizzlies likely must get worse before things will get better, so it’s smart for them to invest in a newer potential longterm fit at head coach instead of a bandaid quick-fix attempt.

Still, the playoffs aren’t even close to concluding and most of the coaching gigs have been all filled up. But outside of the Lakers’ strange negotiating strategies, tons of unique names have begun to pop up. Whatever direction these teams go in, they’ll have their work cut out for them. The Lakers’ next head coach must help James salvage the franchise’s sinking public image, while the Grizzlies and Cavaliers’ appointments will lead the charge into a new chapter altogether.

In whatever way this eventually shakes out, one constant remains the same — that never-ending coaching carousel just keeps on spinnin’.

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Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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