Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Which rookie coach faces the hardest job this fall? Which one has the easiest?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Dave Joerger in Memphis faces the hungriest fan base and greatest ambitions, in my opinion. The Grizzlies were capable of more last spring and, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be going the rookie-coach route at all after Lionel Hollins‘ fine work there. Joerger might be up to the job, but it is a challenging one. As for easiest, I’m going with whoever gets the Philadelphia job. Anyone hired so late, signing on to the agenda the 76ers clearly have embraced, will have a multitude of ready excuses and plenty of wiggle room. (Almost said Boston’s Brad Stevens because of the length of his deal and the Celtics’ obvious rebuild but just because Danny Ainge says something is so doesn’t mean that city’s diehard fans will fall in line and withhold judgment.)
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Right away you’d have to say the guy in Philly will have the hardest job, since the Sixers might not make a decision and pick a new coach until an hour before tipoff on opening night and it’s always a little more difficult to win games when you haven’t met all of your players. On the other hand, Mr. X in Philly could have it pretty easy because it’s clear the Sixers are going into the tank for the next year or two. But seriously, it’s going to be tough for Jeff Hornacek to turn the Suns around. He’s got plenty of point guards and little else. While it’s never easy to be a head coach in the NBA, I do think Jason Kidd will benefit from having the veteran know-how of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko on his roster.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Sure, Stevens will have it rough in Boston, but everybody knows that. I’ll refer back to the start of my answer for question No. 2. Joerger takes over a Grizzlies team that won a franchise-best 56 games and advanced to the West finals for the first time in the club’s existence (it can be argued they wouldn’t have if not for Oklahoma City’s injury misfortune). So what do they do? Say adiós to coach Lionel Hollins, who built a 24-win team into a contender. As Hollins’ top assistant, Joerger gets a lot of the credit for the Grizzlies’ vaunted defense, but the heat is on to turn a plodding, offensive team into a higher-scoring one and to keep the financially tight-fisted Grizz on a track to contend. Steve Clifford and whoever takes over in Philly have the easiest jobs. Things can’t get much worse in Charlotte, so expectations are incredibly low and everybody already expects the 76ers to tank.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Hardest job? Michael Malone, Kings. Not only does he have the typical challenges of taking over a losing roster, needing to build a defense and helping to change the culture, but he has the atypical heavy lifting of trying to keep DeMarcus Cousins in a happy place. Ask Malone’s predecessors how that goes. Easiest? Dave Joerger, Grizzlies. I wouldn’t necessarily say easy, because this is the rare case when a rookie coach must immediately produce big results, but the former assistant knows the personnel very well and skips the rebuilding work most of his fellow newcomers face.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Steve Clifford and Mike Malone haven’t been given a lot to work with, but one look at the Suns’ roster makes it clear that Jeff Hornacek is going to need a miracle to make it to 20 wins next season. And beyond the lack of talent, he has to deal with Michael Beasley for seven months. With the combination of talent and veteran leadership in Brooklyn, Jason Kidd has it (relatively) easy. He’s also got the most pressure of any of these guys.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I loved the aw-shucks reaction of Brad Stevens when he was introduced as the Celtics’ new coach, but he’ll have the most thankless job in basketball next season. Sure, none of the pundits will expect the Celtics to contend with all of the bodies that have flown out of the city since the 2012-13 season ended. But that won’t stop die-hard Celtics fans from dreaming about their team doing their unthinkable and contending with a back-from-injury Rajon Rondo leading the new charge. When you’ve grown as accustomed to winning as folks in Boston have over the years, breaking bad for a season or two will not be pleasant. Easiest coaching job in the NBA? When guys who win 50 games, put together the best seasons in their respective franchise histories and win NBA Coach of the Year honors and still get canned … “easiest” is not an appropriate term. Brian Shaw inherits some intriguing talent in Denver, arguably the best talent base of any “rookie” coach, and yet he might have the toughest job of all following the reigning and fired Coach of the Year George Karl.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Jason Kidd has a tough road ahead of him. I suspect the path will be smoothed a bit because he’ll be dealing with so many veterans, but he’ll also be dealing with sky-high expectations, placed there by his owner. The easiest job? What about Steve Clifford in Charlotte? Could the expectations be any lower?