Dream Options for Every NBA Head Coaching Vacancy
Six NBA teams have openings at the head coach position, which means we're in for yet another offseason of speculation, unrealistic hope and, unfortunately, some serious disappointment.
Not every front office is going to get its top choice, and fallback options will inevitably wind up stalking the sidelines for publicly satisfied but privately disappointed teams.
What if it didn't have to be that way, though? What if every team in need of a new head coach got its man?
We know the Golden State Warriors need a splashy hire to compensate for the controversial firing of Mark Jackson. And we know the New York Knicks would love to consummate their weeks-long courtship of Phil Jackson's hand-picked golden boy, Steve Kerr.
We're still in the early stages of the offseason. In fact, there are eight teams playing postseason games as we speak. So expect plenty of new names to emerge as the Knicks, Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz and (probably) Cleveland Cavaliers put out feelers on prospective coaches.
Based on the current job openings and available candidates, here's how every team would fill its coaching vacancy in a perfect world.
Cleveland Cavaliers: George Karl (Honorable Mention)
Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers technically have a coach in Mike Brown. But having a contract in place—even one as lucrative as Mike Brown's—doesn't guarantee continued employment.
Just ask Jackson, Mike D'Antoni or the litany of other coaches in NBA history who've been canned with years left on their deals.
Per Sam Amico of Fox Sports, the Cavs are zeroing in on making interim general manager David Griffin a more permanent fixture in the organization. The same may not be true for Brown:
While the status of Griffin seems to be coming into focus, sources familiar with the Cavs' thinking said things with head coach Mike Brown are a little less certain. One source described Brown's standing as 'very much up in the air.'
That brings us to George Karl, fired last summer after winning Coach of the Year honors with the Denver Nuggets.
With a long history of leading good offensive teams, Karl might be just the guy to unlock the potential of Cleveland's dormant attack. Any group led by Kyrie Irving should finish better than 23rd in scoring efficiency, per NBA.com, but that's all Brown's uninventive style yielded this past season.
Karl isn't without his own question marks. He's had a tough time advancing past the first round in recent years, with his Nuggets upset in 2013 standing as the most recent reminder. But he's been to the NBA Finals (with the 1995-96 Seattle Sonics) and won more than 50 games a dozen times.
If the Cavs want to keep Irving happy, they could do a lot worse than hiring a proven offensive coach with a long track record of success.
Golden State Warriors: Stan Van Gundy
This one's painfully, mind-numbingly simple: The Dubs need to knock everyone's socks off with their next hire, and nobody would do that more effectively than the long sought-after Stan Van Gundy.
The best coach on the market by a wide margin, Van Gundy impressed everyone in his stops with the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. In fact, if not for Pat Riley's somewhat ego-driven desire to coach another championship team and Dwight Howard's shenanigans in Orlando, it's likely Van Gundy wouldn't have ever lost either of his previous coaching gigs.
He's adaptable, capable of playing any style and absolutely never puts his team at a strategic disadvantage—three things you couldn't say about Jackson.
As the Warriors search for a championship-caliber coach to preside over the next (and perhaps final) phase of their organizational evolution, Van Gundy is the clear choice.
There's nobody better for the job in Golden State than Van Gundy.
New York Knicks: Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr is a "must get" guy for the New York Knicks. So beyond being the best fit for the franchise, he's also a guy the Knicks simply can't afford to lose.
Phil Jackson has already made it no secret Kerr is his man, and everything in New York—from the institution of the triangle offense to the possible retention of Carmelo Anthony—may depend on Kerr signing on.
Rejection by Kerr would strike a major blow to the Knicks. Such a refusal would undercut the rampant hopes that came along with Jackson's installation as team president.
New York's rebuilding plans are farfetched, based largely on Jackson's ability to lure top talent to the Big Apple. If Kerr were to say "thanks, but no thanks," what would that do to the Jackson mystique?
Fortunately for the Knicks, it seems their dreams are likely to come true.
Per Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: "Sources have told The Post Kerr favors the Knicks over the Warriors because of Jackson’s presence, but contract details have not been worked out. An NBA source believes a Kerr resolution will occur this week."
Detroit Pistons: Mark Jackson
Say what you will about Jackson's limitations as a coach, but never doubt him as a motivator.
We saw Jackson help change the culture in Golden State, presiding over a three-year maturation that transformed the Warriors from a laughingstock to a team with title hopes. While it's true that better personnel and capable ownership had plenty to do with that growth, Jackson's ability to get a full buy-in from his players was also a huge key.
The Detroit Pistons have an intriguing mixture of talent, led by their frontcourt trio of Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.
The potential for a great defensive foundation is in place, and we know Jackson is a defense-first coach.
Put simply, the Pistons need someone to pull their talent together and start the cultural turnaround. Jackson has done that before.
Maybe hiring Jackson would put the Pistons in a tough spot down the line; it's possible his clashes with management and strategic limitations would lead to a repeat of his exit from Golden State.
Per Dan Feldman of Piston Powered (via the Detroit Free Press): "Jackson is the most intriguing coach on the market. The Pistons should look closely at him—even if it just ends with them deciding he’s all smoke and mirrors."
That's a bridge Detroit can cross later. For now, Jackson is the ideal guy to get things going for the Pistons.
Utah Jazz: Ettore Messina
Ettore Messina is a legendary head coach, respected as a strategist and motivator who operates on the cutting edge of hoops innovation.
He's won championships in Italy, Spain and Russia and is, without question, one of the brightest basketball minds on the planet. The only reason he's not a household name in the NBA is because just about all of his work has taken place on the other side of the world.
Messina currently coaches CSKA Moscow, but he'd be the ideal candidate to lead the up-and-coming Utah Jazz.
A strict disciplinarian who focuses on the details, he'd fit in perfectly with Utah's young roster. There's talent on the Jazz, and they need someone who'll make sure it develops properly.
Even Messina's supposed "shortcomings" should appeal to Utah fans.
Per Marc Stein of ESPN: "Messina detractors say he's far too demanding, far too intense from the first day of training camp and far too desirous of control to succeed in an NBA environment."
Perfect! Know who else had that reputation?
Some guy named Jerry Sloan, who did pretty well for himself in Utah, a place where a steady hand and attention to detail have long history of success.
The Jazz need to make this one happen.
Los Angeles Lakers: Tom Thibodeau
Byron Scott and Derek Fisher have the connections to the franchise, and that's an important thing for the Lakers as they search for their next coach.
But Scott is a retread whose old-school approach hasn't met with a whole lot of success, and Fisher is as unproven as a prospective coach could possibly be. So even if those two stand out as likely candidates, neither offers L.A. a chance to maximize a potential hire.
In a dream scenario (And we're dreaming big here.), Tom Thibodeau is the coach the Lakers need to target.
Yes, Thibs is under contract with the Chicago Bulls. And no, he doesn't have any ties to the Lakers organization. But who really cares about him appreciating the great and distinguished history in L.A.? This notion of Lakers exceptionalism isn't productive, and focusing on targets with franchise ties only perpetuates an outmoded way of thinking.
Here's what matters: He's a winner, and he gets results.
Kobe Bryant, a key figure whose opinion will factor into the Lakers' coaching search, is all about results.
In an interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Bryant said: "Honestly, it's not really about whether the players like the coach or not. It's really about getting results. Liking somebody and those results don't necessarily go hand in hand.” (h/t Sporting News)
Realistically, Thibs isn't going anywhere. But this is a dream scenario, and Lakers fans would have to pinch themselves if he came over from Chicago.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Fred Hoiberg
Fred Hoiberg is the perfect candidate for the Minnesota Timberwolves because he allows them to pursue two goals at once.
Keeping Kevin Love happy enough to stay past next season is critical, and Hoiberg has a strong relationship with Love from his days as a player and executive with the organization, per Tim Bontemps of the New York Post.
In addition to the potential of keeping Love in a Timberwolves uniform, Hoiberg's success at Iowa State—he's 90-47 in four seasons—has him on almost every needy organization's short list. He's building himself a reputation as a smart strategist who can connect with younger players.
So even if Hoiberg isn't able to convince Love to stick around (And let's be honest, Love may be a goner regardless.), he'll be ideally suited to handle the Wolves' rebuilding effort. Realistically, that's what's in store for Minnesota if Love walks away.
Hoiberg allows the Timberwolves to chase their present goals while also setting them up for the future. It's a win-win for a franchise that seems stuck in the middle right now.
That's hard to beat.
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