FORMER assistants, international interests, collegiate candidates and recycled veterans of the industry. NBA head coaches emerge from all walks of life, with some taking incredible journey’s to eventually lead one of the league’s 30 franchises. This offseason should see us take another frantic trip around the coaching carousel with three teams already looking for a new voice and more potentially to come. As mentioned already, not all applicants are created equally and each team has their own criteria when it comes to appointing a new head coach.
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IF defense is your flavour then Tom Thibodeau is your man. Thibs forged a reputation as a stout defensive guru while serving as an assistant coach with the Knicks, Rockets and Celtics over 15 years before accepting a head coaching job with Chicago in 2010. In his first two seasons running the Bulls, Thibodeau claimed a Coach of the Year award, five Coach of the Month accolades and guided the squad to a 112-36 record – including an East Finals berth in 2011. He only managed to win at a 52.9% clip over the next six years with Chicago and Minnesota as Thibs fell out of favour with both franchises. For Thibodeau to re-enter the coaching ranks the fit will need to make sense for both parties which could lead to him being left waiting another year for third chance.
BEFORE focusing on his coaching resume, Jerry Stackhouse enjoyed a successful 18-year NBA career that saw him make a pair of All-Star teams and lead the NBA in total points in 2001. The former journeyman carried over the momentum from his playing days to quickly rise up the coaching ranks, winning a D-League championship with Toronto and the Raptors 905 squad before joining the collegiate scene as Vanderbilt’s main man. Having signed a six-year deal with the school in 2019, Stackhouse will likely need to bide his time before an NBA team comes calling about his interest in a lead role. Still, a young, rebuilding franchise could do a lot worse than employing the current Commodores coach and letting him grow and develop in sync with the playing group.
FOLLOWING his somewhat surprising exit from Brooklyn, Kenny Atkinson will be highly coveted this offseason. During a three-year stretch, Atkinson turned the Nets from a lowly 20-win team into a budding playoff squad out East that improved with each game they played. The arrival of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving accelerated the team’s timeline which led to Brooklyn parting ways with their head honcho two short months ago. The number of coaching openings will in large part dictate how much attention Atkinson draws, with a contending team potentially in line to snare the 52-year old if they want a change of voice. Failing that, it would be fun to see Atkinson given the chance to once again recalibrate a team’s culture and build a winner almost from the ground up – I’m looking at you Chicago.
PERSONALLY, David Fizdale is right near the top of my list as a coaching candidate after his dismissal from the Knicks. Starting the season 4-18 led to his sacking last December, but the crappy roster New York surrounded Fiz with deserves much more of the blame. Having served as an assistant in the NBA since 2003, Fizdale is mostly known for winning two rings in his role as Miami’s associate head coach during the ‘Big-3’ era, with then and still current Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, crediting his former assistant greatly for the success they had together. Fizdale hasn’t only led the Knicks, previously coaching the Grizzlies for two seasons that included a trip to the playoffs in 2016–17. The fact that he hasn’t lasted more than 18 months in two separate coaching gigs does raise some alarm bells, however, if teams expressed more patience, I’d be excited to see what Fiz can achieve.
AS the current lead assistant of the L.A. Lakers there’s only one head coaching job that Jason Kidd will presumably have his sights set on. Unfortunately for him, Frank Vogel has done a decent enough job to hold Kidd at bay (for now), and I can’t see the Lakers making a change at the top of the food chain. If an opportunity doesn’t arise in Los Angeles, there’s a chance Kidd can be swayed to join another franchise, having served as the Nets and Bucks coach already since retiring from the NBA in 2013. As the offseason progresses don’t be shocked if the former New Jersey superstar is lured back to the Nets for a second stint in charge.
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THERE’S a small list of people who own a resume as impressive as Tim Duncan’s and the greatest power forward of all-time is poised to enhance his legacy from the bench in the future. The legendary Spur wasted little time in retirement, rejoining the franchise as an assistant coach in 2019 and making his debut as acting head coach earlier this season in Gregg Popovich’s absence. As a player, Duncan achieved almost everything imaginable and his wealth of knowledge and championship experience over a 19-year career will no doubt make Duncan an attractive hiring in the coming seasons. It’s hard to imagine him turning his back on the Spurs though, with Timmy D perfectly situated to take over from Pop when the 5x champion coach does decide to call it a day.
STICKING with the San Antonio theme, I have no doubt that Becky Hammon could and probably will be the first female head coach in NBA history – and a successful one at that. Following a glittering WNBA career that saw her make six All-Star teams and be named as one of the top-15 players in league history, Hammon joined the Spurs coaching staff, becoming the first full-time female assistant coach in any of America’s four major pro sports. She had an instant impact on the San Antonio sidelines, taking over responsibilities as the team’s Summer League coach and steering the Spurs to a Las Vegas Summer League title in 2015. The buzz around Hammon becoming a full-time head coach has simmered over the last year or two, but it makes sense for a team to give her the chance to put Gregg Popovich’s teachings into practice.
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SORRY Mike Breen, but your services are still required in the booth. For the other two members of ESPN’s broadcasting trio, an opportunity may come knocking this offseason. Both Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson have held NBA head coaching jobs before with Van Gundy once upon a time taking an 8th seeded New York Knicks to the 99-00 Finals and Jackson is remembered for laying the foundation of the Warriors dynasty before Steve Kerr stepped in. Neither man would be chasing a job with a rebuilding franchise and if some heavy hitters like Houston or Philadelphia opt for a change, an established veteran like Van Gundy or Jackson could be perfect for the job.
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AS the American minor league basketball scene grew rapidly in the early 21st century, so did Dave Joerger’s coaching career. Before the G/D-League there was the CBA and before the CBA there was the IBA where Joerger got his start. He led the Dakota Wizards to a CBA title in his first year in charge, overcoming a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series to defeat everyone’s favourite the Des Moines Dragons. Joerger claimed five titles in the minors before working his way onto an NBA roster – earning a spot on Memphis’ staff and growing into the defensive catalyst for the dominant “Grit and Grind” Grizzlies. In 2013 he finally broke through as an NBA head coach, succeeding Lionel Hollins at Memphis and remaining in the role for three seasons before spending the same amount of time as the Sacramento’s lead man. There’s no reason why Joerger can’t be a head coach in the league again, but his previous successes as an assistant make me believe he’d be better off staying in a minor role – ironic I know.
I’D be surprised if a team jumped on Pablo Prigioni for a head coaching position this summer, but that doesn’t rule him out as a candidate further down the line. Prigioni had a distinguished career overseas in the Argentina and Spain before making his NBA debut for the Knicks, becoming the oldest ever rookie at the age of 35. He spent a few years with New York before short stints at the Rockets and Clippers ended his NBA days and saw Prigioni return to Spain – first as a player with Baskonia and then eventually as their head coach. Currently, Prigioni is a developmental assistant at the Timberwolves and taking the reigns over from Ryan Saunders if he fails over the next 2-3 seasons might make sense for all parties involved.
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