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Replacing Mike Woodson and Rick Adelman

With Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony’s teams losing their head coaches today, we take a look at the top three replacements for each.

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The NBA head coaching carousel took a couple of days after the end of the season to start up, but it’s moving full speed now as Mike Woodson was fired by the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman retired on Monday.

Neither move comes as a surprise. Woodson’s job security has shaky since the beginning of the season. In fact, there were multiple times in-season where reports surfaced that he could be fired any day. Even before Phil Jackson took over as president it was clear that his time as the Knicks coach would not extend beyond this season unless they won a championship.

Adelman was also rumored to be out before the start of the season, but due to personal reasons. As one of the most successful coaches in NBA history with 1,042 career victories, Adelman was not someone the Timberwolves were hoping to lose. His hiring was one of the franchise’s best moves since the end of the Kevin Garnett era, on par with trading for Kevin Love on draft night. Unfortunately, the team was plagued by injuries during his tenure and underachieved this year when he finally had enough talent to guide them to the postseason. Former Timberwolves head coach and now the team’s general manager Flip Saunders will be making the call on who replaces him.

With both of these vacancies being quite predictable, both franchises have had plenty of time to consider what direction they want to go in next. Several potential candidates have already surfaced for each position. Here’s a look at the top three for each:

New York Knicks coaching candidates: Steve Kerr, Derrick Fisher and Scottie Pippen.

Why Kerr: From all accounts Kerr appears to be the heavy favorite right now. He’s never been a head coach, or an assistant for that matter, but he did serve as the general manager of the Phoenix Suns for a couple of seasons. Kerr has voiced an interest in the job; last week a report stated that he’s expecting the offer and would accept. As someone who won three championships under Phil Jackson and five overall as a player, Kerr holds great potential in the eyes of Jackson to be groomed into the kind of coach he’s looking for: system oriented with the track record as a player to enforce his philosophies. If anyone else gets the position, it will be a surprise.

Why Fisher: The reasoning for Fisher is nearly the exact same as it is for Kerr. He’s currently playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, though, and recently voiced zero interest in coaching. His mind is still apparently set on playing. Even if he did want to make a run at the position, the timing works against him. The Thunder is poised to go on a deep playoff run and Jackson will likely want this process resolved well before their season comes to a close.

Why Pippen: You get the trend here. Jackson is going to go with someone who he is familiar with, has been through the rigors of winning a championship with and knows intimately. Pippen fits that mold even more so than Kerr and Fisher as someone who won six championships with him in Chicago and played for him in 11 seasons overall. Jackson tried to hire Pippen onto his staff the last time he took over the Los Angeles Lakers, but the timing wasn’t right as Pippen just had a baby and was only able to help during training camp. If things can line up this time around, expect Pippen to catch on with the Knicks in some capacity, if not as their head coach.

Note: Jackson’s longtime assistants Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen may warrant some consideration too, but they had their struggles as head coaches and don’t appear overly interested in a second run at it. However, they’re basically shoe-ins to be assistants for whoever Jackson hires as he’s going to need a lot of experience in support of what is likely going to be a first-year head coach taking over.


Minnesota Timberwolves coaching candidates: Fred Hoiberg, Tom Izzo and George Karl.

Why Hoiberg: He’s one of the hottest names in coaching circles right now based off the success that he’s had at his alma mater Iowa State where his ability to relate to players has really shined. There probably isn’t a job in college basketball that can take him away from there as he’s basically approaching sainthood, but the way his contract buyout is structured it seems like there is genuine interest in going to the NBA. Hoiberg’s buyout to coach in the NBA is only $500,000, far less than the couple million it would take for him to coach elsewhere in the NCAA. He’s beloved by Minnesota from his time as a player there and according to sources he’s been at the top of their list for potential Adelman replacements since the possibility of him retiring this season surfaced.

Why Izzo: Izzo is one of the most well respected coaches in all of college basketball. He’s built a powerhouse program at Michigan State, so strong that this wouldn’t be the first time a NBA team has tried to pluck him away if the Timberwolves are indeed interested. They may not be the only ones after him this summer either as the Detroit Pistons is also rumored to be considering making an offer. However, Izzo regularly maintains that he’s a Spartan for life and has a sizable buyout. The exact number isn’t known, but he classified it as “a couple million”. His contract is auto-renewed at the end of every season, so pulling him away is not going to be an easy task. It’s only because Izzo and Saunders have a close relationship that this possibility is even worth mentioning.

Why Karl: Keeping Kevin Love happy and believing that the team is positioned to be competitive is paramount in Minnesota. Of the three candidates listed, Karl comes with the most credentials at the NBA level and provides instant credibility on par Adelman’s. Karl was the NBA’s Coach of the Year last season, but had trouble getting along with Nuggets front office and they ended up parting ways. Could he work better with a former rival in Saunders? That’s probably going to be the determining factor in whether he gains consideration. Sources close to Karl last summer said that he’s eager and ready to coach again, but he doesn’t want to rebuild and prefers to stay in the Western Conference. The Timberwolves’ gig checks both those boxes.

Note: Although not in our top three, former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins also jumps out as a particularly good fit for the Timberwolves. He brings a similar set of pros and cons that Karl does and was coming off of the best year of his career before a new contract couldn’t be negotiated with the Grizzlies for this season. His stock is still very high, though, and he’s likely going to be in the mix for this and every other opening, except for in New York where he doesn’t really fit the criteria that Jackson has seemingly set. Shortly after this article was written ESPN’s Marc Stein tweeted that Florida head coach Billy Donovan is also gaining consideration in Minnesota.


Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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