Two NBA head coach openings have been filled as the Nets landed a hot assistant and the Suns looked within. But there's a lot more action to come. In this week's Flanns and Zillz, we discuss the job market and its associated issues, plus we have a rant about Twitter, which is different than a Twitter rant. Enjoy.
FLANNERY: Is it just me or does it seem like coaching season has been a little muted this year? I was totally prepared for the Lakers and Knicks to engage in an amusing battle royal over Luke Walton. Instead they may keep Kurt Rambis and Byron Scott? OK.
And what's with the search firm in Minnesota? Is Glen Taylor that disconnected that he needs to pay someone to tell him to go after Tom Thibodeau?
All we have so far was Brooklyn making a sneaky smart hire in Kenny Atkinson. It really is a brand new world.
ZILLER: I wonder how much is on hold until the Warriors have a lay-off between series so Walton and the Spurs assistants can do proper interviews. That didn't stop Atkinson, of course! The Houston job is still unavailable, and that might be an attractive one for someone like Thibodeau, so I could see that delaying things too. But you're right: with two high-profile teams like the Knicks and Lakers potentially involved in searches, it's weird it's been so quiet. I can't believe Rambis and Scott are the best options.
FLANNERY: Man, I still don't know what to make of Scott Brooks. It's not like I was super impressed by what he did in OKC, but I also think we gloss over the wins too much and think anyone can do it. Maybe anyone can do it if they have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but would you rather have Brooks or Billy Donovan right now if you're an OKC fan?
I keep coming back to Monty Williams. People railed on him so much, but hey, turns out that maybe he was a pretty good coach for that New Orleans team. He certainly got a lot out of that roster. So I think coaches need more than one opportunity before we can evaluate them fully, especially if they fall into a situation that's really good or really bad.
ZILLER: Absolutely true, and it goes both ways. Byron Scott looked pretty good in New Jersey and New Orleans, and abjectly awful in Cleveland and Los Angeles. How much of that is talent downgrades exposing faults, and how much is league evolution? The latter question is interesting to consider in light of Jeff Van Gundy's apparent interest in working again. Consider how much the league's changed since he last coached. It's been nearly a decade!
Back to Brooks vs. Donovan: it's interesting that the same pluses and minuses arrive. The team is great overall, but struggles to execute consistently late. Maybe it's the roster? Maybe Donovan is better than Brooks, but the steep learning curve is tamping down his potential excellence? We should note that Brooks only had one season of Westbrook playing at a true MVP level, and Durant missed the whole thing.
Let's lighten the mood and talk about race. The NBA's need for a Rooney Rule has been mentioned. The league has historically been more diverse in power positions than other major American sports, but it does seem like the NBA is getting worse on this account. Former NBA-level players are getting hired less frequently, and historically few non-player coaches of color get hired. Does the NBA need to establish rules to ensure coaches of color are receiving a fair hearing, or should the league remain hands off?
FLANNERY: I think it's time to establish some ground rules for hiring coaches, and specifically to hiring GMs. Just because the NBA has a better track record on race doesn't mean that it's immune to the larger sports trends, or even its own recent track record. There is this notion that the analytic revolution has passed black candidates by, and that's the most insidious form of racism. It's not the overt stuff. It's the idea that black candidates are less qualified because they don't have a hedge-fund internship on their CV. That's a bunch of bullshit, but there's that a line about Basketball PhD's coming back to mind again.
Look, I'm sure the Sixers went through an exhaustive search to hire the senior advisor's son but come on, who are they fooling? Let's open this up a little and let the sun shine in. It will do everyone a world of good.
ZILLER: Amen. I know Kenny Atkinson is very highly recommended, and we don't know who the Nets talked to beyond him, but the trend is worrisome. Especially when former coaches with good records (Nate McMillan) or former players who have played long dues in coaching (Patrick Ewing) don't even get many interviews, let alone jobs. And someone really needs to explain to me how Troy Weaver, the man who recruited Melo to Syracuse and convinced Sam Presti to pick Russell Westbrook fourth, doesn't have a GM job.
Speaking of our frustrations with the topic of coaching, are you as sick as I am of Constant Coaching Critique Twitter? It's impossible to be on Twitter during a Raptors game at this point because of the rampant Dwane Casey slander. I say we appoint Bob Voulgaris as NBA Coach Critic in Chief, give him free rein and fine every other NBA Twitter personality who complains about a lineup, a rotation decision, a play call or a tactic more than three times a game. I'll allow an exception for complaining about intentional fouling, because oh my Basketball Gods I hate that.
FLANNERY: Yeah, I'd say Coach Twitter has become more pronounced this season and it's really exploded in the postseason. You mentioned Bob and he's a really interesting follow. He's got a lot to say and I like to hear to him say it, but it feels like there's a bandwagon effect happening where people are falling over themselves to tell us how smart they are and how dumb the coach is. It gets old. That's not excusing questionable decisions or weird rotations, but I dunno, maybe there's a reason for it.
Hey, and good for Earl Watson, who got the full-time job in Phoenix while we were having this conversation. I'm curious to see what the Suns are going to do this offseason, because I don't think they're that far away from getting back to a competitive level again.
Interesting that Jay Wright's name was thrown out there at the beginning, which seemed like an awfully strange fit. But I wonder if the college trend is going to slow down now that Fred Hoiberg and Billy D had their first-year adjustments. Even Brad Stevens struggled a bit during his first season.
ZILLER: It's always interesting to consider college coaches who didn't play in the NBA, because the skills needed to run a successful college program are so different than those needed to win games in the Association. What percentage of success in college coaching is really recruiting and scouting? That's much more a front office function in the modern NBA, though assistants do some advance scouting work. You have coaches like Tom Izzo who might more easily make the switch due to serious in-game and development chops. Coaches like that have a philosophy and imbue it in their teams. I can't say I know exactly what a Jay Wright team is, though Villanova was excellent in the tournament!
I'll be interested to see if the next trend is college head coaches becoming NBA assistants for successful franchises. Geno Auriemma has mentioned this idea. Would Jay Wright do a couple years with Doc Rivers or Erik Spoelstra to learn the league? Is the power downgrade worth the education? The Spurs have done interesting things with their staff lately; maybe this is something other franchises can do before them. It'd take a confident head coach, of course.
Let's wrap this up talking about the most attractive job, assuming J.B. Bickerstaff is gone, but Casey, Dave Joerger and the rest of the playoff coaches stay. In my book, Minnesota is No. 1 with a bullet, followed by Houston, Washington and Los Angeles. You?
FLANNERY: That sounds about right. The Wolves really, really need to nail this hire. You good with Thibodeau having personnel power? I'm not really a big fan of this arrangement, but it might be worth it in this instance if you're Minnesota.
So um, how bout those Kings?
ZILLER: Historically coaches with personnel power don't work unless there's a front-office person with some freedom to work that the coach trusts fully, like R.C. Buford in San Antonio and perhaps Jeff Bower in Detroit now. In that case, it would depend on whether Minnesota keeps Milt Newton in the front office or lets Thibodeau hire his own guy. Although, to be honest, that core is primarily built already. You don't need a wizard to go out and find you undervalued stars. You need to nail draft picks and fill roles.
Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee reported on Wednesday a list of 17 coaches Vlade Divac wants to gauge and potentially interview. Seventeen! So this search will be wrapped up around the time the Golden 1 Center opens in October.
But this is a good development for a front office that has thus far proven to be insular. Better to interview everyone under the sun than focus on only people you know closely.
* * *