Playoff season is also coaching carousel season. With the firings and rumored interviews already underway, here’s what every team looking for a coach needs the most from whoever they hire.
The Hawks and Mike Budenholzer parted ways on Wednesday. In its next coach, Atlanta will need a candidate willing to be with the team for the long haul. Budenholzer didn’t fit with the team’s rebuilding outlook. Whoever replaces him doesn’t just need to buy in to the, ahem, process, but also needs to implement an identity for a roster that doesn’t have one aside from being young.
Atlanta needs a bridge coach — à la Mark Jackson — who can set a foundation for the future while simultaneously energizing the fan base in the present. Development matters just as much as identity, especially when it comes to recent draft picks like Taurean Prince, John Collins, and whomever Atlanta takes with the projected fourth pick in this year’s draft.
No big names are likely going to want to sign themselves up for a rebuilding process. That’s why Atlanta is already reportedly targeting assistants like the Hornets’ Stephen Silas and Spurs’ James Borrego. Atlanta and GM Travis Schlenk (formerly of Golden State) will have to bet on the right assistant and hope he’ll fare as well as former Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson has in Brooklyn.
New York Knicks
Despite the spotlight, the sky-high expectations, and the inordinate amount of attention surrounding it, the Knicks job is still one of the best around in terms of high upside — and it’s not like the Knicks don’t have the personnel to become a successful team soon. Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina are solid young players, and New York is still attractive in a way that other cities will never be. It’s already been reported that Budenholzer wants the Knicks job, and he’d be a fine fit there, as would someone like David Fizdale. Yet if New York wants to take a bolder swing, it could also target recent players who could connect with younger team members — Jerry Stackhouse would certainly fit that bill — or decide to be trailblazers and take a shot at Becky Hammon.
Ever since Jeff Hornacek was fired by the Suns in 2016, there’s been little to no direction for Phoenix, a team filled with raw, young talent. There’s a rebuild happening, but the Suns almost traded for Kyrie Irving, too? While that’s more likely on GM Ryan McDonough than whoever has been running drills at practice, the Eric Bledsoe saga, which resulted in Earl Watson’s firing early this season, showed that the players have yet to fully buy into a coach.
The Suns need a strong character with a knack for developing players. From Dragan Bender to Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson, there are several high draft picks in Phoenix who need a lot of work in terms of on-court growth. Jackson showed promise late in the season, as did Chriss, but it still feels like they’re improving slower than the best players in their respective classes. Meanwhile, Bender and Alex Len are getting close to being lost causes, but even getting a good season out of them could turn the big men from dead weight into possible assets.
Orlando’s payroll is a mess. Bismack Biyombo and Evan Fournier are both making $17 million a year until 2020 and 2021 respectively. DJ Augustin has nearly $14.5 million left on his contract over the next three years, and the team will pay a combined $30 million to Nikola Vucevic, Shelvin Mack, and Terrence Ross next season.
Whoever replaces Frank Vogel has to have the patience to wait out those contracts while simultaneously hoping the franchise can both strike gold in the draft and have the sense to keep the right players. (See: Victor Oladipo.) An ideal coach would find a way to turn this potpourri (read: bad) roster into a serviceable product, or at the very least tank correctly for once.
Do you think Michael Jordan believes in tanking? The fact that he didn’t trade Kemba Walker during the season would make it seem like he doesn’t. It appears Jordan would rather have Charlotte be mediocre than have it bottom out in hopes of surging higher later. So, which coach can do more with less?
Fizdale certainly fits that bill, as does Budenholzer, but it seems both are looking for better jobs than this one. A job in the East is a bit more attractive than one in the West, where making the playoffs will be tougher in the next few seasons, but the Hornets don’t have much of an attractive roster. Like the Magic, they are also dealing with a handful of eyesore contracts, so patience from a head coach will be key here, as will an ability to get that 7- or 8-seed at all costs.
Anyone but Joe Prunty.
In all seriousness, Giannis needs his Alvin Gentry, his Brett Brown, his own unicorn shepherd who can utilize his skills properly and create a system that will help him shoulder less of the team’s load. The Giannis Show can take the Bucks only so far. With Antetokounmpo’s impending free agency still three years away, this is a crucial hire for Milwaukee. Giannis’s presence makes this the top job on the market, but if Milwaukee chooses wrong, it could regret its choice in 2021.