On Monday, I offered up a ranking of the NBA head coaches who are or are expected to be available for teams looking for a new leader as the offseason develops. My Top 10 includes four assistant coaches who have never been a head coach. I will admit a bias toward these working stiffs: while 40 percent of my top 10 fits the category, of the eight head coaches hired in the calendar year 2011, only two had never been a head coach. Both of those gentlemen, Ty Corbin and Frank Vogel, were midseason replacements.
This is to say that while I like career assistants, NBA decision-makers tend to look toward the head coach carousel with more frequency.
That said, let's devote a brief power rankings only to these career assistants who (I think) deserve a shot in the big boys' chair.
1. MIKE BUDENHOLZER
Tom Thibodeau used to get plenty of interviews before the Bulls hired him in 2010. It was suggested that he wasn't terribly personable and possibly couldn't connect with the modern player well enough to earn respect.
Through two years, Thibodeau has the highest winning percentage for a coach in NBA history ... over Phil Jackson ... by no small margin. Clearly, teams that passed on him for guys like Paul Westphal (Kings) and Avery Johnson (Nets) are kicking themselves.
Such is the fate of Mike Budenholzer, the early-40s lead assistant who has spent almost two decades learning from and informing the decisions of Gregg Popovich. Some GMs are going to feel really, really silly for picking over the carcass of the carousel instead of giving Bud his first shot.
2. BRIAN SHAW
Shaw doesn't have the years on the bench that Bud does, but they were spent a) learning from Phil Jackson, and b) dealing with Kobe Bryant behind the scenes. Unfortunately, the league has more personalities like Kobe (difficult) than Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, especially among the top players. As such, Shaw's experience in the fish bowl of L.A. Basketball is a huge part of his potential as a head coach.
3. MIKE MALONE
Unfortunately missing from my Monday list was Malone, who became the "it" assistant last summer. Malone could get the Bobcats job a year after nearly getting the Warriors job. He turned down an assistant job with Mike Brown (his old boss in Cleveland) to be Mark Jackson's No. 2 in Golden State; no one expected that partnership to last long, and it probably won't.
Here's the thing: we have come to realize that Mark Jackson (who had zero coaching experience going into last season) is not some kind of coaching savant. That much is clear. So the Warriors have a hot coaching prospect sitting behind Jackson, ready to pounce on a lead job somewhere else. And chances are that the hot coaching prospect (Malone) is already a better coach than Jackson. Yet there's no way they can make the switch. So they (ownership) either need to shrug and continue down a path Chris Cohan would recognize (consistent churn and failure and churn) or make a bold decision and replace Jackson with Malone before they lose the latter.
A better solution: acquire time machine, return to 2011, hire Mike Malone as head coach instead of the TV analyst best known for uttering the quizzical defensive mantra "Hand down, man down" 14 times per game.
4. DAVE JOERGER
5. MARIO ELIE
The Nets assistant has the proper disposition and experience both as a player and coach to make the leap. His success will, as is the case for so many assistant-turned-head coaches, on his players. But I'm confident in projecting that he won't be the problem, though he's not a pick for the advanced stats set.