The NBA regular season has come to a close, and there figures to be at least seven vacant coaching positions. Finding the right coach goes a long way towards building a championship team – just ask the Warriors, who transformed an ordinary playoff team into the best team in NBA history after hiring Steve Kerr. With some coaching positions more desirable than others, let’s examine, from worst to first, the most attractive coaching jobs available in the NBA.
Ranking the Most Attractive NBA Coaching Jobs
7) Brooklyn Nets: Well, there should be no surprise that the Nets are ranked dead last on this list. The Nets fired Lionel Hollins in January and then wrapped up the year under interim coach Tony Brown. Since moving to Brooklyn in 2012, the Nets have had five coaches, so coaching stability may be the first step towards getting the franchise back on track. After a 21 win season, the Nets won’t be receiving a top five draft pick in the first round to compensate for their miserable year. Heck, they don’t even have a high second round pick to show for it. Brooklyn agreed to a second round swap with the Clippers a few years ago in a move to acquire Reggie Evans, a trade that seemed like no big deal at the time. So the Nets don’t have a first round pick this year, they have to swap their first round pick with Boston next year, and then in 2018 they once again will ship their unprotected first rounder to the Celtics. The talent on the roster right now is pretty atrocious to put it lightly, with few quality NBA players outside of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young. Add in the high pressure of playing in a big city? This job has the potential to be a nightmare. Nonetheless, rookie GM Sean Marks’ top candidate figures to be Ettore Messina, who is currently an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. Messina has two connections to the Nets – first off, Messina has been part of the Spurs organization along with Marks the past few years and second, he coached CSKA Moscow, the Russian national team that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov previously supported. Ime Udoka and Jeff Van Gundy are also reportedly in the mix for Brooklyn.
6) Phoenix Suns: Times are tough in the desert, as the Suns finished with just a 23-59 record. Jeff Hornacek, who was a popular candidate for Coach of the Year just two years ago, was fired midseason and then Earl Watson took over as the interim coach. The Suns have the fourth best odds to win the lottery and unlike the Nets, they’ve held on to their draft picks for this year. With Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and Devin Booker on the roster, Phoenix has an exciting young backcourt to build around. Suns fans have to be impressed with how well Booker played in the second half of the season, averaging 19.2 points per game after the All-Star break. Along with Earl Watson, Suns management plans to interview a handful of candidates, including Mike D’Antonio, Luke Walton, and NCAA tournament champion Jay Wright of Villanova.
5) Sacramento Kings: Even though the Kings finally eclipsed the 30 win mark this year, they haven’t had a winning season in what feels like two decades, and there are plenty of risks that come along with this coaching position. Superstar center DeMarcus Cousins is still an immature hot head; while extremely talented, Cousins is a handful to deal with – just ask George Karl, who often clashed with Cousins both privately and publicly. Speaking of Karl, his tenure in Sacramento was a complete mess, as it often felt like no one within the organization wanted him on the sidelines yet somehow he was still there. With quality coaching and stability, the Kings have the talent to be a playoff team in the West, a task that no longer seems as difficult as it once was. Even though the franchise is seemingly headed in the right direction (finally), the front office has made plenty of questionable decisions in the past, and the cast of players may be better fit for a reality TV show than an NBA team. Vlade Divac’s top two targets to replace Karl are reportedly Scott Brooks and Vinny Del Negro. Whoever takes the Kings job, he will be the franchise’s ninth head coach in ten seasons. Yikes.
4) New York Knicks: There are plenty of question marks in New York following a 32-50 season. Will Phil Jackson stay? Will Carmelo Anthony be traded? And of course – who will be the next head coach? The Knicks got off to a hot start, going 22-22 through mid-January, but a 1-11 skid soon after forced the Knicks out of the playoff picture and ultimately cost Derek Fisher his job. Kurt Rambis stepped in as the interim coach, and he apparently will be given a legitimate chance to win the full-time job. The Knicks position really isn’t too bad – rookie phenom Kristaps Porzingis took the league and city of New York by storm, and the team did win 15 more games this season than they did the previous year. Phil Jackson is adamant on keeping the triangle in tact, and he praised Kurt Rambis for getting the team to run the offense to precision in the second half of the season. Along with Rambis, Luke Walton and Brian Shaw could be potential candidates, both of whom played under Jackson with the Lakers and are familiar with the triangle offense. Coaching a transcendent talent like Kristaps Porzingis along with a current superstar in Carmelo Anthony in the Mecca of basketball is awfully appealing to many coaches. It will be interesting to see who gets the job and takes on the pressure of coaching in the bright lights of Manhattan.
3) Houston Rockets: The Rockets are the only team on this list that made the playoffs, yet they aren’t even first or second on the list. After reaching the Western Conference Finals last season, the 2015-16 campaign has been full of turmoil for Houston. With a disappointing 41-41 record the Rockets were able to sneak in the playoffs, facing off against the top seeded Warriors in the first round. Kevin McHale was fired just 11 games into the season after a 4-7 start, with J.B. Bickerstaff taking over and leading Houston to the playoffs. GM Daryl Morey plans to give Bickerstaff a fair shot at getting the interim tag removed, but it’s hard to imagine Morey not making a splash by signing a big name coach this off-season. The Rockets have James Harden, Patrick Beverely, and Clint Capela to build around; it seems unlikely they will look to re-sign Dwight Howard in the summer. Coaching a superstar like James Harden is definitely appealing, but it’s no secret that he doesn’t play a lick of defense. A Tom Thibodeau and James Harden pairing would certainly be fun to watch to say the least. He, along with Harden’s former coach in Oklahoma City – Scott Brooks – is considered a top candidate for the job.
2) Washington Wizards: Oh, what a disappointing season it was for the Wizards. After sweeping the Raptors in the playoffs last year, John Wall and company caught the attention of fans and media around the league. This was supposed to be the season they challenge the Cavs in the East and prove to Kevin Durant that he should return to his hometown in free agency. However it was quite the opposite, as the Wizards stumbled their way to 41-41, a performance that led to the firing of Randy Wittman. With superstar point guard John Wall and the talented, yet injury-prone, Bradley Beal in the backcourt, Washington still has a nice foundation in place. I was tempted to rank the Wizards coaching position first on the list because of their young talent and playoff experience. The front court needs a complete makeover, but the Wizards are still in good shape to contend for a playoff spot next year. Scott Brooks is considered the favorite to land the Wizards coaching gig as part of their attempt to recruit Kevin Durant.
1) Minnesota Timberwolves: Yes, the Timberwolves only won 29 games, but man do they have young talent. Andrew Wiggins won Rookie of the Year last season. Karl-Anthony Towns is the overwhelming favorite to win it this year. Zach Lavine knows how to do more than just dunk (he scored 14 points per game this year). Gorgui Dieng can lock down the paint. And Ricky Rubio is one of the craftiest passers in the game. All five of the aforementioned players are 26 or younger, with the first three all being 21 or younger. Oh, and don’t forget they have the fifth best chance to win the lottery this season, which will add another young stud to the roster regardless of where the ping pong balls fall. Interim coach Sam Mitchell did a fantastic job with this Wolves team all season long after taking over for the late Flip Saunders just before the season started. Like other teams, Brooks, Thibodeau, and Van Gundy are near the top of their coaching list. Brooks figures to be the best fit due to his history of developing young players in Oklahoma City – it’s fair to say that Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden turned out just fine, right?
There very well may be more teams to add to this list in the near future – the Lakers and Bulls are among the many teams that could have some coaching decisions to make. Aside from the coaches already mentioned, Monty Williams, David Blatt, Kevin McHale, and Mark Jackson should all get looks from the teams searching to fill the position. Don’t be surprised if teams try to steal John Calipari from Kentucky, even though he’s said numerous times he has no intentions of leaving his program.
The coaching circus is just underway, and it will be interesting to see how each team moves forward with a new head coach.