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Assessing Our Latest Spin On The NBA Coaching Carousel

The 2012-13 NBA season will begin with six "new faces" on the sidelines ... sort of. The Hook investigates the rise of the successful interim.

April 20, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA: New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Eric P. Mull-USPRESSWIRE
April 20, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA: New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Eric P. Mull-USPRESSWIRE

All coaching vacancies in the NBA are now filled, thanks to the late offseason hires of Jacque Vaughn in Orlando and Terry Stotts in Portland. It was a relatively quiet offseason among the coaching ranks -- not having the L.A. Lakers job open tends to settle things down -- but there were still some eyebrow-raising moves. We'll assess those and the trends in hiring in here in The Hook.

First, a rundown of who got hired this offseason.


The Portland Trail Blazers interviewed everyone under the sun and ended up taking a spin with veteran coach Terry Stotts, who had previous turns heading the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks. He's one of those coaches who has a rather impeccable reputation in coaching circles, but who also has a losing record as a head coach (115-168). That means that reporters and columnists will be much more impressed by him than will fans ... until he shows his stuff.

The goofy thing about Portland: Nate McMillan seems like he'd have been the perfect coach for top draft pick Damian Lillard. But the Blazers had fired McMillan back in March, well, before the draft. We'll see if Stotts can effectively develop the point guard.


Vaughn's hire was the opposite of Stotts': the former point guard is extremely green on the coaching end. He had just two seasons as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs; he didn't overlap with Magic GM Rob Hennigan there, but did sprout from the same management tree that seems to include the bulk of the Thunder front office. Of course, much like the next coach on this list, Vaughn won't be asked to win as many games as San Antonio is used to.


The most odd hiring process (excepting the Blazers because, well, they are the Blazers) landed a Big East assistant coach atop the saddest franchise ever. Dunlap, though, has a great reputation as a teacher, which is exactly what Charlotte seems to need. Dunlap has exactly as much NBA assistant coach experience as Vaughn (two years with the Nuggets from 2006-08), but has a deep college resumé.


Here was Woody's path to the king's chair at the Garden: get fired by the Hawks for underperformance, get hired by the Knicks as a sort of defensive coordinator due to Mike D'Antoni's underperformance, watch the Knicks sign Tyson Chander (one of the best defenders in the league), take over as an interim due to D'Antoni's unperformance, land the gig full-time after winning one playoff game. It's been a hell of a roller coaster ride.

We should note that the Knicks went 18-24 under D'Antoni last season ... and 18-6 under Woodson.


Like Woody, Wittmann led his team to much more success in an interim role than had the coach he replaced. But in the Wizards' case, Wittmann's 18-31 record outpaced Flip Saunders' 2-15 run only because, damn, 2-15 is pretty bad. The Wizards' front office liked the cut of Wittmann's no-nonsense gib; there's no escaping, however, how awful Wittmann's Wolves teams were years ago. Fear the future.


Smart wasn't really hired during the offseason at all: he was made the full-time head coach back in January after Paul Westphal was tossed onto a sword. The Kings immediately guaranteed a 2012-13 contract for Smart, and this offseason gave him a deal for 2013-14, as well. But since Smart hasn't been assessed in previous offseasons for the Kings, he deserves a mention here.


Of the six replacements, four had previous NBA head coaching experience and five had head coaching experience (though Dunlap's came at relatively small schools). Four had extensive NBA assistant experience. Four (Vaughn, Woodson, Smart and Wittmann) had NBA playing experience, though none were anything like a star. If there's really a trend or a vein that's common among some of them, it's the turn toward younger non-star coaches who are seen as men who can relate to players. That was a key consideration in Smart's contract: he reached DeMarcus Cousins in a way the older, more experience Westphal couldn't. The same may apply to Vaughn, and Dunlap's college work leads one to believe his strengths are in teaching.

Woodson also fits the low-glamour mold: he never received much credit for the Hawks' rise, and while surely the addition of Joe Johnson, rise of Josh Smith and drafting of Al Horford did most of the work, the Knicks' late 2011-12 success shows that Woody knows how to win some games. While the marquee coaches will always get attention, it appears that more and more coaches like Woodson are getting the jobs. (See: Lawrence Frank and Dwane Casey in 2011.)

There's also another minor trend going on, as witnessed by Wittmann, Woodson and Smart: interims are keeping their jobs. As mentioned, Smart had some certainty when he took it over, and the Knicks' improvement under Woody was blatantly obvious. Frank Vogel was successful in keeping his job last year, but Caleb Kaneles wasn't as lucky in Portland this year. But three out of four this season -- that's not bad. Rise up, assistants! The job could be yours!


The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.

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