Part 3. The Wrap: NBA Head Coaches: From where do they come?
Currently, there are five NBA Head Coaching positions open. There is speculation that a sixth, the Atlanta Hawks, might also open. There is also speculation that Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers, could lose his job if the Cavs fail to win a chapionship this year. Replacing Brown would give LeBron James the opportunity to select his own Head coach, keeping him with the Cavs.
This is the third part of our series and will look at the “unemployed” former NBA Head Coaches that are candidates, then offer up four “hiring scenarios”, giving my choice for each of those scenarios. This is in no way an attempt to push our current Head Coach, Larry Brown, out the door. It is well known that coach Brown works in Charlotte but his family lives in Philadelphia, which is a strain for Brown and his family. If Coach Brown decides to leave I would certainly understand, given his work/family constraints. So I’ll also go out on a limb and offer my candidate as the Bobcats next Head Coach, should Larry Brown choose to leave us.
The former Head Coaches I’ll talk about (some very briefly) are Avery Johnson, Jeff Van Gundy, Byron Scott, Sam Mitchell, Paul Silas, Maurice Cheeks, Mike Fratello, Doug Collins, and Del Harris. I’ll group these candidates in three groups for discussion.
Avery Johnson (.735), Jeff Van Gundy (.574), and Byron Scott (.498) are the three “name” (or probably well-known) candidates I’ve listed. I’ve listed each candidate’s winning percentage during their tenures as an NBA Head Coach. These three will be brief since Jeff Van Gundy has given every indication he is not ready to return to the bench. Avery Johnson, who has an impressive winning percentage with an established play-off-caliber team, has made known his price will be high. Johnson is reportedly seeking a salary in the four million per year range. Johnson has also been criticised by the owner of his former team, Mark Cuban, as falling into an attitude of listening to no-one but himself. Byron Scott was released fron the Hornets for being “unwilling” to play (and develop) the team’s younger players. These three will all coach again in the NBA and Johnson may well get one of the current vacancies available this year, but I don’t see any of them in Charlotte.
Our next three candidates, Sam Mitchell (.452), Paul Silas (.470), and Maurice Cheeks (.498) all have had records less than .500 as NBA Head Coaches. I’m not going to spend much time with these three because of their losing records. This is not an indictment against any of the three as Head Coaches – teams and coaches oftentimes make poor job decisions. Part of any hiring process should be a match of philosophy and approach to the game. Too many times Head Coaching hires are made for reasons other than those. When problems flare within franchises and you hear “philosophical or approach differances” between a General Manager and a Head Coach, it makes you wonder why that was not caught when the coach was hired. I think any of these former Head Coaches could be successful, matched with the right team.
The third group of unemployed men consist of three former NBA Head Coaches that have winning percentages during their tenures – Mike Fratello (.549), Doug Collins (.536), and Del Harris (.549). Each of these candidates has certain strenghs and weaknesses, but all three have proven they are winning NBA Head Coaches.
Mike Fratello has a reputation as a “defensive minded” Head Coach. He also seems to get the most from his players, taking teams (think the Grizzlies) to the play-offs that others fail to do with the same talent level.
Doug Collins, arguably, was successful with more veteran-established teams – Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons. I’d argue that it is difficult for any Head Coach to win without talent. Collins has a winning record in the NBA and the Bobcats have established themselves as a play-off team, so any new Head Coach brought into the organization would inherit that team.
Del Harris is the oldest of these three candidates. Harris has been successful as a head Coach but has not held that position in the NBA since 1999. Recent years have seen Harris as an “establish coach” working as a mentor with younger Head Coaches. Harris most recently worked in this capacity with the New Jersey Nets, but left when the organization made clear that he would not be considered for the Head Coaching position when this season ended.
Three other candidates are Mike Woodson (.419), Eric Spoelstra (.549) , and Vinny Del Negro (.500). Speculation concerning Spoelstra are that Pat Riley, the team president of the Miami Heat, might return to the bench to help “recruit” one of the star free agents. Woodson is under fire for not meeting high expectations that the Hawks set. These three could affect hiring decisions by other organizations, particularly if Woodson and Spoelstra become available.
Let me lead into the “Scenario” sections with a few caveats. First, I’m not pushing Larry Brown out the door and as a matter of fact, despite my quibbles with Brown over rotations and player development, I’d rather see him return. My second caveat is this – my job is not on the line, as Rod Higgins would be with a coaching change. The second leads to the third, what direction does owner Michael Jordan want the orgaization to take over the next few years and even longer? Do we play with a more “veteran” team or do we make some trades with our veteran players and go “youth/development” for a few years? That is the most important question to answer when you consider the next four scenarios – what direction does Mr. Jordan want the organization to take?
Scenario 1…or: “I’m going outside the box”.
The most recent examples of scenario 1 are the Bobcats and Sam Vincent and the Bulls and Vinny Del Negro. Many former players become NBA Head Coaches, as we discussed in the first article of this series. Most of those usually establish themselves after several seasons as scouts, assistant coaches, assitant GM’s, or some combination. Neither Vincent or Del Negro spent much time taking this path so they fit the “out-side the box” category. Vincent has been viewed as an utter failure. Del Negro had a (.500) record in his two seasons with the Bulls and has been given credit for developing that team’s younger players.
If I’m a General Manager and want to go with this scenario, I would hire Chris Finch, who currently is the Head Coach with NBADL Vipers. Finch has been successful as a Head Coach overseas and in the NBADL but has not followed the “typical” path most NBA Head Coaches have taken. Finch has proven he can develop players in the NBADL. The only way scenario 1 works, in my opinion, is if you intend to make some trades with older players going out and younger players coming into the organization.
Scenario 2…or: “I’m going to try a proven assistant/associate coach to shake things up”.
Most recent example of successful scenario 2 are Alvin Gentry and Scott Brooks. Both Gentry and Brooks have spent many years as assistant coaches in the NBA. Both took over during a season when a Head Coach was fired. Both have been successful after taking over as Head Coach. Although both Gentry and Brooks have been successful, that is not always the case. Kim Hughes with the LA Clippers is not viewed in the same light. It can be argued both Gentry and Brooks were with better organizations with better players. I would accept the “organization” side of the equation, but the Clippers have a good blend of veteran/young talent. Hughes had a chance to shine, but did not.
My choice for scenario 2 would be Elston Turner. Turner not only played in the NBA, but played in the old CBA and overseas. He comes from the Rick Adelman school of coaching, which I happen to like, but that is a personal preference. Turner offers varied experience and is a former NBA player. He made his living as a defensive player, so I doubt any team led by Turner would stray and not play defensive basketball. Turner has worked as Adelman’s lead assistant compiling game plans, and handled advanced scouting and skills work with players. Adelman is known for adjusting his offense and defense to the strengths of his players, and I would hope Turner has benefited in that regard from their working relationship. Adelman is also not shy about developing younger players and this is another skill that I would hope Turner has aquired.
Any team that wants to be known as a “defensive team” would also have to consider Tom Thibodeau in scenario 2. Thibodeau has extensive experience as an NBA assistant coach and is well-regarded as a defensive genius, for good reason.
I’d certainly put one other candidate in this scenario that I did not discuss in the current NBA assistant/associate coaches section. His name has not come up for interviews with other teams, but it would be difficult to fathom him not getting an interview if Larry Brown leaves the Bobcats….Dave Hanners currently works as Larry Brown’s lead assistant on the Charlotte staff. Dave is well respected and has certainly worked in the NBA as a successful assistant coach. Hanners knows the Bobcats players, but that can be a mixed blessing. Some assistant coaches have difficulty making the adjustment to Head Coach when promoted within an organization. But, in my opinion, Hanners should at the minimum get an interview if Coach Brown leaves. Neither Brooks nor Gentry had difficulties making the transition to Head Coach and I doubt Hanners would have it with the current Bobcats players.
Scenario 3…or: “As a General Manager I know my rear is on the line so I’m going with a former successful NBA Head Coach”.
I’ve tossed out three “formers” NBA Head Coaches for various reaasons so my choice here is Mike Fratello. Fratello is known to want another Head Coaching position. Fratello fits as a defensive minded coach that gets the most from his players. I like to think of Mike as a “poor man’s Larry Brown”. He has been successful; and if the Bobcats organization wants to continue as a defensive-minded-overachieving-team” with the current roster, then Fratello would be the pick. But, as I’ve indicated in the earlier article, who-you-know and relationships are very important. Doug Collins and current Bobcats owner Michael Jordan have an established relationship from their Chicago Bulls days. Collins would most likely be the organization’s pick in scenario 3.
Scenario 4…or: “I can’t make up my mind”.
This scenario is tricky because it involves hiring a rookie Head Coach and placing a former NBA Head Coach in their ear. Vinny Del Negro, Chicago Bulls, and Kiki Vandeweghe, New Jersey Nets, both worked in this scenario. I offer no suggestions for this “scenario” since I’d never put a Head Coach I hired in this position. You have to question any organization that can’t make a Head Coaching hire and feel comfortable with that hire.
I’d like to point out before I talk about “my pick” that it is imperative for a franchise to have a clear purpose and direction in twhich they wish to go before hiring a Head Coach. The team owner, General Manager, Head Coach, and scouts have to work with the same purpose to make a franchise successful. Listening to a candidate’s approach to offense and defense, as well as having a degree of comfort that this person can work well in the organization, will indicate how succesful the hire will be for the team.
My first choice would be Elson Turner, regardless of the direction the Bobcats choose. Turner has NBA player credentials, varied playing and assistant coaching experience, and would be a departure from our total reliance on defense. There is a connection between Turner and Bobcats owner, Michael Jordan. Both were with the Chicago Bulls 1986-1988. I would not expect us to leave our defensive roots, since Turner made his living as a player in the NBA on the defensive side of the ball. Turner, as a Rick Adelman protege, would probably bring a more balanced offensive/defensive approach to the game and I doubt he would be as reluctant to play younger players since Adelman does not have that reluctance.
I hope you have enjoyed this series. I’d like to give credit to the three primary reseach tools I used.
Google: http://www.google.com/webhp The best search engine, in my opinion, on the web.
NBA: http://www.nba.com has biographical information on current NBA Head Coaches and associate/assistant coaches.
Basketball Reference: http://www.basketball-reference.com/ is what I like to call “BB geek heaven”. It has a wealth of information so if you’ve never visited please take the time and do so.