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Ryan Knaus

Offseason Beat

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NBA Coaching Carousel

Friday, May 18, 2018


The playoffs have narrowed down to four teams in the Conference Finals, but postseason play hasn't been the only story since the regular season ended in mid-April. Today’s column focuses on the whirlwind of coaching activity that has occurred, with eight coaches leaving their jobs (or getting fired) and six positions already filled. Let's catch up on coaches!

 

Phoenix Suns

Out: Jay Triano

In: Igor Kokoskov

 

The Suns ditched coach Earl Watson after an 0-3 start and finished the season with interim coach Jay Triano (now a candidate to join the Hornets' coaching staff). They eventually chose Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov to take the reins of their young team, a coach known for player development and his work with guards. He's also coached top prospect Luka Doncic, but that may just be a happy coincidence. Kokoskov wants to fill out his staff with the best coaches available, rather than hiring a "mentor coach" to help him adjust to the new role, and he’ll empower his assistants to work on scouting, player development and more. It's hard to gauge how his coaching philosophies will impact fantasy values, since we've never seen him run a team, so this will be a situation to monitor throughout the summer.

 

Atlanta Hawks

 

Out: Mike Budenholzer

In: Lloyd Pierce

 

It didn't take long for Budenholzer to find another job after a mutual parting of ways with Atlanta, and the Hawks didn't waste any time replacing him with Pierce. He takes over a young, rebuilding team that ranked in the bottom-third for both defensive rating (21st) and offensive rating (26th) last season, and the obvious emphasis will be on player development -- especially with Atlanta holding four picks in the top 33 on draft day. Hawks management valued his experience 'trusting the process' as an assistant with Philly, where he was particularly engaged with the team's defense. "[Sixers coach Brett Brown] gave me full autonomy on what we were going to do on the defensive end ... I game-planned for all 82 games," Pierce said. His first season as head coach won't be judged on wins and losses, but how well players develop and buy into his defense-first philosophy.

 

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Memphis Grizzlies

Out: David Fizdale

In: J.B. Bickerstaff

 

Fizdale's mid-season ouster was a low point in a brutal season for the Grizzlies -- franchise player Marc Gasol gave Fizdale a public vote of no-confidence, and it didn't take long for management to side with him. Into the void stepped J.B. Bickerstaff, who had previous served as 'associate head coach' for Memphis and has 14 years of experience on the NBA sidelines. The Grizzlies went 15-48 under Bickerstaff, but that was the result of blatant tanking. Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers are the only rotation players headed to unrestricted free agency this summer, and Memphis has limited flexibility with Gasol, Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons owed a combined $78.7 million next season. Will they tank again with an eye toward the future? Blow up the team and trade Gasol and/or Conley? Despite the outward continuity with Bickerstaff remaining at the helm of the coaching staff, there are more questions than answers in Memphis.

 

Charlotte Hornets

Out: Steve Clifford

In: James Borrego

 

The Hornets had a $117 million payroll this season, yet they missed the playoffs for the second straight year under Clifford's guidance -- his fifth year as head coach. Young guys like Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon weren't given much room to grow until the bitter end of the season, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Frank Kaminsky failed to take another step forward, and persistent injuries dragged Charlotte down despite strong campaigns from Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lamb. As a result, Charlotte poached Borrego from the Spurs' ever-fruitful coaching staff. Acknowledging the Hornets' lack of cap-space and roster flexibility, Borrego said during his introductory press conference, "I think our biggest room for growth is the internal development piece." That bodes well for the younger guys mentioned above, as well as guys like Willy Hernangomez and Treveon Graham. Borrego is expected to emphasize spreading the court and moving the ball (Charlotte ranked 26th in passes per game last year), which should also play to the strengths of Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum.

 

Milwaukee Bucks

Out: Joe Prunty

In: Mike Budenholzer

 

Prunty has coached for six different franchises during an 18-year career on the NBA sidelines, but he got his first crack at the head-coaching gig after Milwaukee fired Jason Kidd mid-season. He led the Bucks to a 21-16 finish before falling to Boston in the first round of the playoffs, and Milwaukee quickly pivoted to 2015 Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer. He already has the vocal support of superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who met with Budenholzer before the hiring and left convinced that "he's a great coach." He takes over an already-impressive offense (7th in offensive rating) led by the Greek Freak, with a core that should remain largely intact for 2018-19 -- Jabari Parker is the only major rotation player not under guaranteed contract, and the Bucks can still retain him in restricted free agency. And with the team playing in a sparkling new arena next year, ownership’s talk of a "new era of Bucks basketball" is more than mere wallpaper.

 

New York Knicks

Out: Jeff Hornacek

In: David Fizdale

 

Much like Budenholzer, it didn't take Fizdale long to find a new job after being unceremoniously fired by the Grizzlies this season. Jeff Hornacek's tenure ended after two years in New York, during which he compiled a 60-104 record. Team owner James Dolan was blunt in his assessment of Hornacek, saying he was "way behind" in understanding "how different the players are now in the way they think and deal with management and the coaches." He added that "old-school coaching doesn't work" in today's NBA, and Hornacek was notably at odds with multiple Knicks players...including Kristaps Porzingis. Despite Fizdale's rift with Marc Gasol (see above), he's widely viewed as a strong communicator who forged good relationships with players. Wisely, he's already emphasized his desire to meet with Porzingis "multiple times" this summer. "My biggest goal this summer is to really bond with [Porzingis] and connect with him," Fizdale said. "I want him to feel something that when he comes back here it’s going to be special for him. He’s walking back into a culture and environment that’s set up for winning."

 

Even with those six coaching vacancies filled, there are still currently three spots available...all in the Eastern Conference.

 

Detroit Pistons

Out: Stan Van Gundy

Notable News: SVG was serving as both head coach and president, but his rebuilding efforts plateaued, and Pistons owner Tom Gores decided to shake things up. "Over the past two seasons our team has not progressed, and we decided that a change is necessary to regain our momentum,” Gores said. Detroit is still focused on restructuring their front office, but several names have surfaced as candidates for the head coaching job. Among them is Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, which would make her the first female ever to lead an NBA's coaching staff (click here to read more about her impressive rise through the coaching ranks). Jerry Stackhouse has also been mentioned as a candidate for head coach, but Detroit may not make a move until their team-president role is settled.

 

Toronto Raptors

Out: Dwane Casey

Notable News: Casey was fired shortly before being short-listed as a finalist for Coach of the Year, which is awkward. His fate was sealed when the Raptors were swept out of the playoffs in the Conference semifinals, but the search for a replacement has mostly been focused in-house. Mike Budenholzer was interviewed but never given a job offer, and he's since accepted the Bucks' gig. They've also interviewed current assistants Nick Nurse and Rex Kalamian, as well as Toronto's G League coach Jerry Stackhouse. Whoever takes the reins will be expected to get the Raptors even further in the postseason, after a season in which they led the East with a 59-23 record. No pressure.

 

Orlando Magic

Out: Frank Vogel

Notable News: The Magic tanked another season and Vogel seems like a scapegoat here -- among other issues, he finished the season with D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack as the only point guards on the roster. In any case, Orlando opted to move on and they've since interviewed Blazers assistant David Vanterpool and Spurs assistant Ime Udoka. However, according to New York Times writer Marc Stein, "there is a growing belief among league insiders ... that University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson has emerged as the Magic's prime target."



Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.
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