Steve Aschburner > INSIDE THE NBA

BDodgers at BDodgers at
Sun Apr 12 04:26:11 UTC 2009

Steve Aschburner >  

Plenty of candidates poised to ride on latest spin of coaching  carousel
Story Highlights 
Eight coaches have been fired in NBA since current season  started
Ed Tapscott's preference for front office could mean a  new coach for 
Flip Saunders led Pistons to three straight Eastern  Conference finals 

With the possible exception of Congressional seats, the  annual comings and 
goings in the NBA's head coaching ranks is arguably our  biggest game of 
musical chairs. It's played with far greater frequency  than the politicians' 
version, certainly, and to the best of our  knowledge, none of the vacancies 
ever has been blatantly put up for sale.  Not even in Chicago. 
The chairs are in position again, 30 of them. Currently,  they are filled 
by 30 butts. But it's an equilibrium that never lasts, a  temporary condition 
in between the music. Eight of the men who sat in  those chairs back in 
November are parked elsewhere now, replaced one by  one by wannabes, retreads 
and other surrogates. Now they and the other 22  get to play again (to 
varying degrees, based on their contracts) in a  high-stakes game that keeps 
contestants aspiring or coming back like it's  a green-felt spot at a World 
Series of Poker table. 
Those who have been in want to get back. Those who are in  want to stay. 
Those who haven't yet played long for a chance. 
"You hope it's not [a permanent condition]," said former  Toronto coach 
_Sam  Mitchell_ ( , 
fired Dec. 3 after a 39-point home loss to Denver  dropped the Raptors to 
8-9. "I've got control to a certain degree, but  somebody's got to want you 
first. Somebody's got to want you." 
Mitchell, with a 156-189 record over four-plus seasons,  had led Toronto to 
the playoffs (and first-round exits) in each of the  past two seasons and 
was the NBA's Coach of the Year for 2006-07. He was  done in by the team's 
sluggish start, some injuries, player-development  disputes and the reality 
that he wasn't hired by general manager Bryan  Colangelo. The Raptors' 22-39 
mark since Mitchell has been gone might  be vindication, were he seeking it, 
and the guaranteed $10 million or so  due him from the point of his 
termination into the 2010-11 season would  seem a pretty soothing balm. 
Yet Mitchell sounds uninterested in the former and willing  to work for the 
latter. He has been living the life of a "paid bum" --  that's his mother's 
term for him these days in Atlanta, attending his  girls' volleyball games 
and getting by without organized basketball in  late winter and spring for 
the first time in more than 30 years, 12 as a  blue-collar NBA forward. 
"I honestly have no regrets," Mitchell said. "Like I told  Bryan when I got 
fired, no coach agrees with being fired. I feel like  today, I'll feel like 
tomorrow and next week and next month, that I was  doing a good job. But 
that's not my decision. Once the decision was made,  my whole thing is, 
whatever you say to me or do to me, that's on you. I  still control what I do with 
it. And how I feel about it. And how I choose  to deal with it. 
"You just roll with it. Obviously, you'd much rather be  working." 
Natch. Mitchell and several dozen other guys who covet the  challenge, the 
competition, the status and the salaries of an NBA head  coaching job. Eight 
firings and hirings during this season might limit the  number of vacancies 
this summer. So might the tough economic times that  have hit even the 
moguls and magnates who own sports franchises; paying  one or two former coaches 
not to work, while signing someone else to a  fresh contract, hits harder 
now, less subject to whim or pique. Still,  history tells us that somebody 
who has one of these jobs soon won't and  somebody who doesn't soon will. 
The others? When the music stops, there will no chairs for  them. Unless 
it's courtside or in a studio, with a headset and microphone  wired and ready. 
Here are the five teams most likely to be hiring a coach  this offseason 
and five candidates especially eager to help lower this  nation's unemployment 
Where the jobs are
1. _Washington Wizards_ 
Ed Tapscott's work in place of Eddie Jordan  has been an improvement -- 
after the 1-10 start that got Jordan fired,  even Roy Rubin/Kevin Loughery 
circa 1972-73 would have been.  But Tapscott prefers and is at his best in the 
front office, so it will be  left to a replacement to shepherd _Gilbert  
Arenas_ ( , _Caron  
Butler_ ( , 
_Antawn  Jamison_ 
(  and a top lottery pick through a healthier and presumably  happier 
2. _Sacramento Kings_ 
The Kings gave serious consideration to hiring Scott  Brooks two years ago 
before opting instead for Reggie Theus,  who overachieved at 38-44 last 
season but got fired at 6-18 this time  around. Sacramento's losses have come at 
brisker pace since then, and the  Maloof brothers, who own the Kings, 
aren't the types to stick with a bad  hand of cards. They are the team most in 
need of a big-name coach with  more sizzle than Kenny Natt  offers.
3. _Minnesota Timberwolves_ 
Kevin McHale always took a couple of weeks after the season to decide  
whether he would return as Minnesota's vice president of basketball operations.  
Now owner Glen Taylor -- for the same inexplicable reason -- is allowing  
McHale to make up his mind whether to come back as the Wolves' coach. His 
record  since taking over for Randy Wittman is 18-40, but that can be broken 
out  according to pre- and post-_Al Jefferson_ 
(  marks (11-18, then 7-22 after their  
All-Star worthy focal point went down in early February). McHale hates the  
coaching lifestyle and workload but still is enthused about his roster -- oh, so  
he's the one -- and did get a nice pay bump from his exec's paycheck. 
4. _Phoenix Suns_ 
Other than Natt and McHale, Alvin Gentry might be the interim coach  
installed during this season who is on shakiest ground. Brooks needs only a bit  
of leverage from some other opening, if he needs anything at all, to land a  
full-time deal in Oklahoma City. Jay Triano is popular, bright and a  
Canadian, strong selling points to be back in Toronto. Philadelphia's Tony  DiLeo 
steered the Sixers into the postseason without _Elton Brand_ 
( 's help. We've already 
mentioned  Tapscott, and Memphis' Lionel Hollins got a deal through next season,  
whether he works it to conclusion or not. That leaves Gentry, who is 15-12 
since  replacing _Terry Porter_ 
(  despite injuries (_Amar'e Stoudemire_ 
( ), disarray and  
dobbers that are down over the team's unexpected fall from playoff status.  
Gentry deserves a fresh start -- coaching wasn't the Suns' primary problem under 
 Porter, either -- but a lot of capricious moves in Phoenix suggests 
another  could come at coach. 
5. _Los Angeles Clippers_ 
Talk about injuries. It isn't so much that _Mike Dunleavy_ 
(  has done a poor job this 
season, it's  just that he already was on borrowed time; no other coach in the 
franchise's 39  seasons lasted more than four seasons (Bill Fitch, 1994-98) 
and Dunleavy  is wrapping up his sixth with just one postseason appearance. 
Owner Donald  Sterling used to change coaches more often than he changed 
shoelaces, so  you'd think the Clippers' dip back into the muck of 60 losses 
would fire up this  Donald. With the emphasis on "fire." 
Who might fill them
1. Flip Saunders 
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it works wonders on market value,  
too. Detroit's struggles this season after three straight trips to the 
Eastern  Conference finals, and Minnesota's 130-226 record since Saunders got 
fired there  in February 2005, make him a must-consider candidate this summer. 
He can afford  to be picky -- there's always his alma mater, the University 
of Minnesota, as an  option whenever Tubby Smith gets lured away -- and he 
likely won't be  held back by things his past teams failed to accomplish. 
Washington could be the  best fit, given the Wizards' potent offense and 
Arenas' need for a boss with  loose reins. 
2. Eddie Jordan 
A return to Sacramento, where he preceded Rick Adelman? Players swear  by 
Jordan, even if they didn't win much for him in November, and he seems to  
have gotten a raw deal both times he has been fired. The standard offset in 
his  contract holds appeal for a team happy to let the Wizards pick up much of 
his  first-year cost. 
3. _Avery Johnson_ 
When exactly was Johnson exposed to a radioactive strain of ebola? You 
would  think that this guy -- admired and praised as a point guard, 
head-spinningly  successful as Dallas' coach -- would be working elsewhere by now. He 
won 143  games with the Mavericks in two-plus seasons, while losing only 39, 
before  earning a pink slip with a 51-31 mark in 2007-08 while apparently 
irritating  _Dirk Nowitzki_ 
(  and others. Johnson's decision-making  on matchups and 
rotations drew criticism, as did his style at times, but if we  all learn something 
in our first jobs, you've got to think he'd be a top  candidate for a 
4. Tom Thibodeau 
Enough already with the bridesmaid dress. Thibodeau has been the next big  
thing in the coaching ranks for almost too long, and Jeff Van Gundy --  
himself a candidate to return, but maybe not for another season or two -- and  
Doc Rivers continue to beat the Thibodeau drum. Like most sports leagues,  
NBA folks like to steal other guys' winning formulas, so a return to the 
Finals  by Thibodeau's employers in Boston would freshen up his résumé. Another  
assistant due for a shot: Dallas' Dwane Casey, whose 20-20 record when he  
got fired in Minnesota in January 2007 seems Auerbach-esque next to what's  
occurred there since. 
5. _Sam Mitchell_ 
Of the 19 men who have won the past 20 Coach of the Year awards (Pat  Riley 
won two), seven seem to be off the coaching carousel entirely (Riley,  
Hubie Brown, Lenny Wilkens, Don Chaney, Larry Bird,  Del Harris and the late 
Cotton Fitzsimmons). Nine are still  employed -- but only two, Gregg Popovich 
and Byron Scott, are  still running the teams with which they won the award 
(Don Nelson has  changed jobs three times to end up back in Golden State, 
where he won it in  1992). That leaves Johnson and Mitchell. Mitchell might 
have an "in" with the  Wizards, since GM Ernie Grunfeld gave him his first 
assistant's job in  Milwaukee. Another possibility is Minnesota if McHale 
vacates. For now, since  the job if filled, Mitchell considers the question  
**************Feeling the pinch at the grocery store?  Make dinner for $10 
or less. (

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