In the odd feast-famine NBA coaching carousel cycle we find ourselves in, one potential job opening has sucked up all of the attention. Everyone expects the Lakers to fire Luke Walton as head coach and hire a high-profile replacement to lead LeBron James and some players to be named later back to the NBA playoffs after a nightmare 2018-19 season. The Lakers opening is the right mix of likely and interesting to capture everyone’s attention.
The other potential openings aren’t as certain in some cases, and aren’t as interesting in all cases. That said, let’s go ahead and cycle through all the most likely coaching carousel openings we’ll see in the weeks and months ahead.
Per usual, we take no pleasure in seeing anyone fired because their team didn’t live up to management expectations. But coaches do matter, and we care a lot about the fortunes of basketball teams around here, so it’s worth talking about and analyzing.
It seems certain that a change will be made in Los Angeles. Luke Walton’s camp has actually been playing offense for a couple of months with some friendly reporters, pinning blame on the front office and even LeBron. (At least that what it has looked like from the outside.)
Walton’s camp has a point, but that doesn’t really matter. He hasn’t connected with LeBron in a meaningful way, this season has been a disaster, and you can’t run it back after that.
Given how the Lakers front office filled out the roster around LeBron in July, the idea of Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson hiring a coach should give fans nightmares. The names Mark Jackson and Jason Kidd have been floated in the media. Tyronn Lue, LeBron’s title-winning coach in Cleveland, is considered a favorite. One presumes that Brian Shaw, Byron Scott, and Derek Fisher (now coaching the Sparks) will make the rounds.
Jeff Van Gundy may or may not want to coach in the NBA again, but this seems like a toxic job for him. Tom Thibodeau and Stan Van Gundy would never survive the circus without their heads exploding. (LeBron’s legion of fans would probably sue the Lakers for malpractice if they hired Thibodeau at this point in King James’ career.)
David Fizdale is probably the best possible option here — he checks every box in that he’s close with LeBron, good with the media, develops players, and is a legitimately good coach — but it doesn’t seem likely that the Knicks will let him out of his contract to chase the job (or that he would even ask, since he might be coaching Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving next season!).
Wherever the Lakers go, this story will be enormous until it’s resolved, and for good reason.
The Cavaliers were one of three teams to make a coaching change during this past season. Interim head coach Larry Drew brilliantly forced the Cavs to guarantee him money for next season to agree to take over — he basically secured some salary if Cleveland elects to hire a new coach this summer and/or Drew wants a sabbatical next year.
Cleveland probably will make a change, since Dan Gilbert loves little more than firing and hiring head coaches. Consider that the last head coach that the Cavaliers hired outright (instead of promoting after a midseason firing) was David Blatt. So let’s not pretend to have any idea which way Cleveland’s whims will go this time around.
This is not a great job, by the way. The roster is bad. The franchise owner is among the worst to work for, it would seem. The job security is lousy. The pay is probably on the lower end. There are only 30 jobs like this, so someone will take it and think they can make magic. But this is not a great job.
Minnesota fired Tom Thibodeau from his dual role as president of basketball operations and head coach in January, elevating Ryan Saunders to the latter position. The Wolves are well outside the playoff bracket, an unfortunate backslide from last year amid the Thibodeau dismissal and Jimmy Butler saga.
This is a decent job in terms of the roster — Karl-Anthony Towns is an All-NBA center and seems coachable, and the Jimmy debacle has been resolved. The franchise owner is a problem. The instability of the front office is a problem.
This may not even really become an opening if Glen Taylor simply gives Saunders a new contract to see what he can do in a fresh season without all of the Thibodeau-Butler distractions.
Always be wary of Dave Joerger’s wanderlust and Minnesota ties, too.
Chicago canned Fred Hoiberg and elevated Jim Boylen, a gym teacher’s whistle in human form. The Bulls have been telegraphing that they’ll keep Boylen on, which is quite perfectly Bulls. If they don’t, some coach desperate for a big break will actually agree to work for the bizarre Chicago front office. The poor soul.
But with Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter, and a high draft pick — this weird front office usually nails the draft — the roster could actually be decent. And Chicago’s a great city. It’s not all bad.
New Orleans fell apart early on due to injuries and just not being as good as they were last season in some key areas. Anthony Davis asked out, the new leaders of the ownership team ousted longtime general manager Dell Demps, and Alvin Gentry is probably next in an offseason shake-up.
Gentry proved himself last season by fitting Davis and DeMarcus Cousins together, and then coaching around Cousins’ injury absence down the stretch. The way he outdueled Terry Stotts in the playoffs was incredible. He’s a good coach, and if he’s fired by New Orleans, it’s due to circumstances more than performance.
We have no idea where the Pelicans are going in a broad sense, so there’s no indication which way they’ll go in terms of hiring a new coach. It’s all a mystery here.
Will Washington hit the reset button, or will Ernie Grunfeld and Scott Brooks come back? If they want to keep Bradley Beal, the franchise might need to show him what has happened to the Wizards on the court is completely unacceptable. But franchisee Ted Leonsis has never been moved to make rash changes with the Wizards, so this is far from a slam dunk, even given the team’s supreme disappointment.
Is Brooks going to get another head coaching job in the NBA? He was pretty well respected after leaving Oklahoma City, but this Wizards mess — not really his fault in the grand scheme — might have retroactively colored his Thunder tenure in a bad light.
Whether this is a good job to take is totally dependent on what else happens with the franchise, specifically in the front office.
Rick Carlisle still has a sterling reputation despite years of losing in Dallas. He seems to be really close with Mark Cuban. In a normal situation, we’d be asking questions here. But the Mavericks are quite stable altogether. That’s not a bad thing.
Igor Kokosov hasn’t had a fair shake in his first season, but when has that stopped Robert Sarver from making an erratic decision?
Never underestimate the ability of both Dave Joerger and the Kings front office and ownership to make things weird in the face of success.
Gregg Popovich could retire any year now. Let’s really, really hope he doesn’t.
Memphis promoted J.B. Bickerstaff in the middle of the last season, gave him the job over the summer due in part to his relationship with the team’s veterans, and then traded Marc Gasol and tried to trade Mike Conley during this season. The front office is an absolute mess in Memphis and there’s no telling what will happen there after a disappointing season.
If Philadelphia flames out early, you wonder if Brett Brown is going to feel the heat. Other teams would probably line up to hire him if things got shaky, but the Sixers are obviously completed unafraid of making big changes and Elton Brand might want to prove his power if he doesn’t believe in Brown’s ability to carry Philly deep.