After a 44-38 record and first-round playoff exit to the Golden State Warriors, their best overall season in five years, New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson still made the decision to fire head coach Monty Williams, signaling the beginning of a projected radical change.
In a statement, Williams thanked the Pelicans organization for the opportunity and was optimistic about his future:
The Pelicans aren’t the only franchise moving in a dramatically different direction in the offseason. Three other NBA teams have head coaching vacancies.
The Oklahoma City Thunder fired head coach Scott Brooks and replaced him with former University of Florida head coach Billy Donovan — attempting his second stint in the NBA — so they’re (temporarily) off this list. The team he originally spurned in 2007 was the Orlando Magic, and coincidentally, they are looking to fill their vacancy. The third team with a vacancy is the Denver Nuggets who fired Brian Shaw towards the end of the 2014-15 season.
There is no shortage of good NBA head coaches available that each of these three teams should take a look at it. Here are some of the top available coaching candidates:
The Thunder fired Scott Brooks after finishing 338-207 in seven years as their head coach. The knocks on Brooks were obvious: despite all of the young talent a younger NBA head coach could ask for, he failed to take the Thunder to that next level despite being borderline elite during the regular season on a consistent basis.
He only finished with 60 wins once, made the Western Conference Finals twice and had just one NBA Finals appearance (2011-12). The Thunder were consistent disappointments, but that doesn’t take into account the boneheaded Sam Presti trade of James Harden and Russell Westbrook’s, Serge Ibaka’s and Kevin Durant’s untimely injuries that doomed the Thunder to shortened playoff runs.
Brooks is a fine mentor and a successful coach with a great track record. The 2010 NBA Coach of the Year will ultimately land a second NBA job.
The up-tempo, run-and-gun, seven-seconds-or-less coach has been out of an NBA job since his last stop with the Los Angeles Lakers. d’antoni is most known for taking over the Suns in the mid-2000s and bringing them beyond the 50/60 win plateau, but failing to reach the NBA Finals — they made a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2006.
D’Antoni’s shortcomings are obvious: he is not a good defensive coach, Despite that, the 2005 NBA Coach of the Year gets the most out of players on the offensive end, and he is probably a good coach for a short-term rebuilding plan but not a coach who can elevate a team to the next level.
The 2009-10 Phoenix Suns reached the Western Conference Finals, and a majority of the success of that team had to do with the versatility in match-ups that Gentry put out on the floor through the playoffs and the defensive presence the Suns created. Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Channing Frye were key factors in helping Gentry look good.
Eventually Gentry was fired and replaced, but none of what happened in Phoenix was his fault. If anything, owner Robert Sarver chose a cheaper, more careful long-term approach to re-tooling the franchise. Gentry is a great teacher and a good personality.
Mark Jackson became the Golden State Warriors head coach in 2011-12. Jackson was instrumental in turning the organization around and implementing an entirely new culture. The Warriors were still an excellent offensive team to watch, but became a hard-working group on the defensive end as well.
Despite these changes and a noticeable improvement, Jackson was still fired after 2013-14. He finished 121-109 in his three seasons and improved each season. In 2012-13, the Ws upset the Denver Nuggets in the opening round of the playoffs before losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. In 2013-14, the Ws lost a seven-game series to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
Although Jackson was occasionally criticized for his style and tenacity, he is a former player and proved to relate to players easily — as evidenced by the Warriors quick turnaround. Jackson is a prime candidate to possibly get another job.
The Chicago Bulls are an organization that has been looking to replace Phil Jackson since the 90s. In: Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro and Tom Thibodeau. Out: Skiles, Del Negro, and, most likely, soon to be Thibodeau. Thibodeaus job security has been in constant question over the last two years, and despite success in the playoffs, including this year, it may ultimately not be enough to save his job.
If Jackson has a defensive mentality, multiply that by a billion and you get Thibodeau. Hes arguably the best defensive coach in the entire NBA, and he gets the most out of his players defensively, even if they individually have defensive limitations.
Thibodeaus job coming into question may be more to do with owner Jerry Reinsdorf and being reluctant to pay over the luxury tax threshold or it may not. He is a good defensive head coach, but the writing seems to be on the wall for him in Chicago.
The Best of the Rest
Other available head coaches who may be looked at include: Williams (most NBA experts believe he will land a second job eventually), Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro and Avery Johnson. Johnson, who became Alabama’s head coach on April 5th, won the 2006 NBA Coach of the Year and led the Dallas Mavericks to the Finals in that same season. Each of those three coaches has coached for two separate teams; Skiles for Chicago and Milwaukee, Del Negro for Chicago and Los Angeles Clippers) and Johnson for Dallas and New Jersey/Brooklyn.
Oh, and if anybody needs a sports czar or general manager, look no further than former ESPN and Grantland writer Bill Simmons who has always wanted to get into the NBA. The Milwaukee Bucks have made pitches for him on more than one occasion, although they have each been unsuccessful…