Sports Gambling – Coaching carousel: 7 teams enter offseason without a coach
There are more coaching vacancies than there are teams left in the playoffs. That says plenty about the state of the business and the desperation of seven teams to find the right man — or woman — for the job.
This is unusual, not only in the volume of available jobs, but the timing as well. The conference finals are just beginning and the NBA offseason is at least a month away. Teams usually don’t fire coaches until they’re almost ready to hire, but most of these teams are waiting on candidates who might be busy with the playoffs.
If you listen to the buzz, there would be eight openings had the Bucks lost to Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But Milwaukee is still alive, and so is Mike Budenholzer’s grip on his position — at least for now.
This year is also unique in that, because of the high number of openings, the odds of a woman securing one of those jobs is greater than ever. Becky Hammon is on the interview list of a few teams, and it remains to be seen if the Spurs assistant would jump if offered, or would rather be the possible coach-in-waiting in San Antonio.
Here’s an examination of the seven openings, the condition of those teams and what the new coach can expect:
It’s not often a team that has traveled deep into the postseason over the last four years, boasts a young superstar (Jayson Tatum) and a potential second one (Jaylen Brown) is looking for a new coach. Of course, this wouldn’t be the case if not for the chain reaction caused by Danny Ainge stepping down as GM. Brad Stevens did the wise thing by swapping the coaching job for the GM job, if only because the front-office gig usually carries more stability. Boston’s opening is a prime job that comes with instant success, and a roster that, with a few changes, can compete for the conference title. As an added perk, the Celtics bring storied tradition that you can’t find in most other places. Anytime a job opens up on the Knicks, Lakers or Celtics, it’s a great gig, no matter the condition of the roster. And in this case, you get a glamour team and a roster that’s built to win now. It’s Boston, it’s Tatum, it’s Brown. What’s not to like here?
You want the good news first? If you get this job, there will be no pressure to win right away. That’s because the Magic are in no shape to make big demands on the new coach, since the club is once again dealing with rebuilding. The bad news? The club is dealing with rebuilding again. It’ll take a few years for the Magic to sift through the current roster and future Drafts to piece together a coherent rotation. There isn’t a single star on the team, though a few players (Jonathan Isaac, Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Markelle Fultz) have the potential to be good at some point, so Orlando needs a coach who specializes in developing young players. Bottom line is Steve Clifford essentially walked away from this job, which almost never happens in a league where all 30 jobs are highly coveted. The Magic need their next coach to be thrilled to burst through that door and replace him.
New Orleans Pelicans
The only way a coach gets fired one year into a four-year contract is if he doesn’t get along with the franchise player. That’s the only logical explanation as to why Stan Van Gundy is no longer coach. To pull the plug on him so quickly was embarrassing for GM David Griffin, who evidently made a mistake hiring Van Gundy last fall. Can you imagine how that conversation went between Griffin and Pelicans ownership when Van Gundy was shown the door? The organization has much invested in All-Star forward Zion Williamson, for obvious reasons. The next coach must be able to make a connection and concessions with the young star, and do it without losing the locker room. Also, the Pelicans are still early in their development in spite of the so-called pressure to win now. Yes, there’s Williamson and former All-Star Brandon Ingram, but New Orleans is unproven elsewhere. They have a surplus of Draft picks and will certainly add much of the help through the Draft. Therefore, the new coach must put expectations in context while moving the team in the right direction. This coach hiring must work out, or Griffin may not be around to hire any others.
The perk of this job is obvious and juicy: You get to coach Luka Doncic at 22. Imagine: a transformational player who still hasn’t reached his prime, who’s good enough to tugboat a team to the playoffs (and maybe someday to a title), who doesn’t come around often and who’s anxious to win. Plus, Doncic says he’ll sign a contract extension. That means unless he requests a trade at some point after signing it, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. But the challenge is keeping your job when Luka reaches 25. Meaning: Can you earn his confidence — and that of ownership and the front office — throughout the duration of your first contract as coach and also fulfill all the expectations that come with coaching Luka? This is a risk/reward job that comes with high stress and also a high success rate if everything falls into place. Also, this job depends mightily on the new management regime and its remaking of the roster and any decision made on the future of Kristaps Porzingis, who has been somewhat underwhelming since arriving from the Knicks.
This is a job that could be drastically different not long after the new coach’s contract gets signed. The team that person inherits today might not be the team that is coached tomorrow. Much depends on the front office and its decision on the future of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook — the team’s best players by far. The Wizards haven’t given any indication that either is on the market. But this league is funny: someone can extend a trade offer that’s hard to refuse. Besides, Beal is entering the final year of his contract (he has a player option for 2022-23) and may wish to play elsewhere. He therefore might be more valuable to the Wizards on another team if he can bring a haul in a trade. Any trade of Beal and/or Westbrook would certainly signal the end of playoff contention and the start of a rebuilding process, and the new coach must be willing to sign up for either scenario.
Indiana overreached on a coach with Nate Bjorkgren and subsequently underachieved on the court this season. That can’t happen again because this club has too much talent to miss the playoffs. There’s a good nucleus to work with in Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert and Myles Turner. That makes this a sneaky good job, one that comes without all the exterior pressure that a bigger market often provides. GM Kevin Pritchard is solid — aside from his last coaching hire — and of course Indianapolis loves and supports basketball. Which means, the table is set for the right person who gets to sit in the big chair. Given that the Pacers swung and missed badly with a first-time coach the last time they were at-bat, they’ll most likely lean heavily on experience when making the next hire.
Portland Trail Blazers
Would you like to get thrown to the fire right away? Then this job is for you, because there’s little to no room for error. The Blazers are overdue for a deep run into the playoffs — that’s why Terry Stotts is no longer the coach — and Damian Lillard is getting restless. Obviously, the incoming coach must get Lillard’s approval, and then figure a way to win with he and CJ McCollum (assuming the Blazers decide to keep that backcourt intact). Most of all, the new coach needs to introduce new defensive tactics that can prevent this team from being an early-round victim again. It’s a tricky situation, especially if the job goes to a first-time coach, but at least the new coach won’t have to deal with the pain of rebuilding right away.
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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Sports Gambling – Coaching carousel: 7 teams enter offseason without a coach
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