By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The list stands at seven. As of this moment.
Give it a few hours and that could change.
Such is life in the roller-coaster business that is NBA coaching. Much like the playoffs, things change quickly in a tumultuous environment where everyone is looking for an advantage, for the one perfect fit that can boost a team to the next level.
Mike Brown was gainfully employed in his second stint as the Cleveland Cavaliers coach until Monday morning, when he joined a list that includes Mike Woodson, Mark Jackson, Mike D’Antoni and others who were pink slipped since the end of the regular season.
The best part: Many of the guys on the ousted list are candidates for the other jobs.
We take a quick look at what is available and the coach who fits each vacancy best:
This one is fresh. There were rumblings for months that Brown’s latest run in Cleveland was not going to end well. Once it started to become clear that general manager David Griffin would get the interim tag removed from his title, it was only a matter of time before he’d part ways with Brown, a defensive-minded coach who simply could not corral a young group led by the talented but enigmatic backcourt duo of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. The Cavaliers were expected to make a run at the playoffs and did give chase late in the season — after Andrew Bynum was cast off, Griffin took over for the fired Chris Grant, and Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes were added to the mix via trade. But the Cavs couldn’t manage the eighth seed in a depressed Eastern Conference playoff chase. What they need is a system designed to fit Irving, who has to be the No. 1 priority for Griffin moving forward.
The best fit: Mike D’Antoni. He has history with Griffin from their time together in Phoenix. All Kyrie has to do is ask some of his former point guards what working in D’Antoni’s system has done for their careers.
Another team that was expected to contend for a playoff bid, the Pistons posses an interesting assortment of talent — including Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — that Mo Cheeks couldn’t figure out what to do with during his short stint at the helm. John Loyer had no chance of cleaning up that mess after Cheeks was fired. There were too many things that needed fixing. Without someone in place to take over for long-time team president Joe Dumars (who resigned at season’s end and is now serving as a consultant), it’s hard to know what direction the Pistons are headed in at such a crucial time in the franchise’s history. What’s needed is strong leadership from the bench, someone who can blend the bold personalities in that locker room into a cohesive group.
The best fit: Mark Jackson. Jackson’s issues in Golden State had nothing to do with his roster. The Warriors ran through brick walls for Rev. Jackson. The Pistons would do the same.
UPDATE: According to reports, Stan Van Gundy has agreed to become the Pistons’ coach and president of basketball operations.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
With Steve Kerr reportedly no longer an option for the Warriors, they wisely have turned their attention to candidates with completely different sets of credentials. Both former Magic and Heat coach Stan Van Gundy and former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins have moved to the front of the list. Van Gundy, whatever his faults might have been in his previous stops, is still held in the highest regard among front-office types around the league. He’s gotten consistent results and is a known commodity. Hollins brings a measure of toughness to any situation. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Draymond Green and the crew are plenty feisty. And this is as explosive an offensive group as there is in the league. All that’s needed now is some steadiness and leadership that balances the entire equation.
The best fit: Lionel Hollins. People forget that Hollins had the Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals last season. He ran into a bit of a philosophical disconnect in Memphis with the front office. He’ll know how to navigate that relationship much better this time around.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
If they’d just listened to Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson might still be coaching the Lakers and they might still be in the contender mix in the Western Conference. But as Lakers fans know all too well, Jim Buss decided a long time ago that his vision for the future of the franchise trumped anyone else’s. The Lakers have paid for that dearly the past two years, hiring and firing guys (the Mikes, Brown and D’Antoni) who had no chance to fill the enormous void left by Jackson. Now the Lakers have a two-year window with Bryant (and whoever and whatever else they can pull together for a roster) to try to regain some semblance of the championship-caliber form they’ve lost. Keep in mind that this remains the most difficult job in the entire league, one that shouldn’t be thrust upon a coaching newbie like Derek Fisher (as has been widely speculated) just because of his ties to the organization. Then again, if he has Kobe’s blessing and endorsement …
The best fit: Stan Van Gundy. Kobe needs someone who will agitate his competitive juices in a different way than either Brown or D’Antoni ever could. He needs someone who will refuse to acquiesce to his every whim, the way Jackson did when he was in his prime. Stan Van is just crazy enough to do all that.
How much longer can the Timberwolves, with talents like Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, go without breaking through to the playoffs? That’s the question Flip Saunders has to answer as he searches for a replacement for Rick Adelman, who despite being one of the best and most respected coaches of his generation, simply never could manage to get the Wolves into the playoffs. Bold leadership is required in this job, someone who will develop Rubio into the complete point guard he has to be in order to take that next step in his career. The superstar-friendly coach isn’t always the best fit, either. There are times when a star needs to be challenged. The Timberwolves appeared to get comfortable under Adelman. The next coach has to raise the bar.
The best fit: George Karl. His style doesn’t work for everybody. And when it does, there’s no long-term guarantee the organization can suffer his demanding ways. But if Karl could work as well as he did, for the most part, with Carmelo Anthony, he should be able to do wonders for Love and Rubio.
NEW YORK KNICKS
The drama surrounding this job revolves around one candidate and only one candidate. Steve Kerr. He is reportedly working out the details on a deal that will reunite him with his one-time coach, the Zen master Phil Jackson, so they can dive in on the long and arduous task of trying to rebuild the Knicks into an Eastern Conference power and championship contender. Kerr will have a host of challenges, financial and otherwise, that are sure to make it a more difficult task than anyone realizes. The salary cap mess and the free agent uncertainty surrounding Carmelo Anthony means the next coach, be it Kerr or someone else, will have little flexibility in terms of roster makeup, until the summer of 2015. As we know now, there is no guarantee a coach makes it through that first year on the job. Kerr’s connection to Jackson and the fact that they have a shared philosophy certainly works in his favor. But that James Dolan factor is always lingering.
The best fit: Steve Kerr. The one no-brainer marriage between the team president/GM and coach in the entire landscape.
Jerry Sloan is not walking through that door, folks. It’s not happening, no matter how much Jazz fans would love to see him at the helm of a young and precocious group, led by promising young point guard Trey Burke, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. The Jazz have a pair of first-round picks, one a top-five selection, giving them two more quality young pieces to add to a nucleus that, while not necessarily prepared for prime time right now, if cultivated properly should serve as a key part of the foundation for years to come. The tricky part for Kevin O’Connor, Dennis Lindsey and the rest of the Jazz brass is whether to go off the grid for their next coach (four-time Euroleague champ Ettore Messina‘s name has been mentioned often) or follow the recent trend of locating a Steve Clifford-type. Their process couldn’t be more inclusive. They announced they would interview some 20-plus candidates for the job.
The best fit: David Fizdale. The Miami Heat assistant has developed a reputation for being one of the best molders of talent in the business, having worked his way up the ranks the past decade-plus. He’d be a fresh face in a situation where one is desperately needed.