The Magic, Pacers, Wizards, Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Celtics and Mavericks have parted ways with their coaches since the season ended. Which head coach vacancy is the most surprising?
Marilyn Dubinski: Before I would have said the Celtics just because I would never has foreseen Brad Stevens getting coaching burnout and moving to the front office at such a young age, but now it definitely has to be the Mavs. I always assumed Rick Carlisle had the coaching version of diplomatic immunity and the safest job in the league outside of Gregg Popovich and maybe Eric Spoelstra (missing the playoffs never seemed to hurt his status, after all), but as we were all reminded when he stepped down on Thursday to reportedly avoid any further tension with Luka Doncic, the franchise player comes first. Carlisle likely knew that 25 other teams would hire him in a heartbeat, and he won’t be unemployed for long.
Mark Barrington: The Mavericks, because Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches of all time and that team has an incredible future with Luka, especially if they can improve their roster. But after hearing about friction between the coach and his superstar, it makes more sense. It’s entirely possible that Rick already has a job lined up and he’s just waiting until all of the paperwork is completed before announcing it. Working for Mark Cuban has got to be a difficult gig, so if he is offered another spot with more control of how the franchise is run, I would expect that he would go for it.
Bruno Passos: It’s probably a tossup between the Celtics and Mavs for me as far as the ones I wouldn’t have seen coming a few weeks ago, although the reporting that has come out before and since has made both seem more justifiable. In both cases we saw the voices and preferences of the respective teams’ young stars push out two highly regarded coaches. I do think the Van Gundy firing was also surprising given it was his first year and he was dealt a mediocre hand with some of the offseason moves but that’s again the pressure that comes with appeasing talent.
Jesus Gomez: Weirdly, it’s the Pelicans for me. I thought Stan Van Gundy was going to get more than a year to try to establish his system, especially since Zion Williamson took a big step forward under him. The situation was difficult in general in the league last season, with the uncertainty over the schedule and COVID, so the fact that the team didn’t make a leap into the postseason is not inexcusable, and they did improve on defense, which is Van Gundy’s specialty. I guess having an older, disciplinarian coach was probably a bad fit on such a young team, but I expected him to at least get another year.
J.R. Wilco: It’s the Celtics and Stevens for me too. Long touted as the-coach-most-likely-to-become-the-next-Popovich, I didn’t see anything for Boston’s head coach besides one decade after another of brilliant ATO (After Time Out) plays, excellent Xs and Os work, and terrific mid-series adjustments. Instead, we have Front Office Brad, and ... Ime Udoka!
Do you expect anyone from the Spurs’ staff to get a head coaching position elsewhere this summer?
Dubinski: Every year there’s hype around Becky Hammon, and while the threat of losing her seems a more credible now that playoff teams like the Celtics are calling, the sudden gluttony of available head coaches with prior playoff experience like Carlisle, Scott Brooks, Terry Stotts and even the Van Gundy bros may make her road to a head coaching gig at the type of destination that will convince her to leave San Antonio a little harder. Beyond Becky, I’m not sure the Spurs have any other assistants with enough experience to be considered for a head coaching jobs just yet. Will Hardy may get an interview, but that’s it.
Barrington: Everybody’s talking about Becky Hammon, and for good reason. She’s going to be an NBA head coach. Maybe this year, maybe next. I can see Mark Cuban taking a flyer on her, because he likes to make big splashes. I’m not sure if that’s the best landing spot for her, but it would be tempting to coach the most exciting young star in the league, so if it were offered to her, she very possibly would take the job.
Passos: I’d love for it to be Becky Hammon but you begin to wonder after years of being among candidate lists. Will Hardy was in the running for the OKC job last year but this may not be his year, either. At least someone from the Popovich tree is getting their first shot, now that Ime Udoka is set to take over the Celtics.
Gomez: There are so many names in the market right now that it doesn’t seem likely. Hammon and Brent Barry will get consideration, but there might not be a job for them this summer. We’ve also seen Hammon get interviews every offseason only to seemingly never make it to the final stages with a chance, so I’m worried teams include her along with half dozen names they never intend to hire to show they are casting a wide net when they actually have a name in mind all along. Hopefully I’m wrong and she gets a fair chance, because she seems ready.
Wilco: Just like every off-season of the past ten or so, I’ll sit on pins and needles waiting for every head coaching vacancy to be filled and hope that Pop’s lead assistant won’t be poached. One of these years, when he decides he’s coached his last NBA game, the Spurs will need to find someone to sit in that chair beside the official’s table. When that happens, I’ll be very sad if the team doesn’t hand the reins to someone who’s been assisting for years. I’m past the point where I’m pulling for a post-Olympics announcement that Hammon will take over — the signs just don’t seem to be pointing to a late-summer abdication — but there’s always next year. It’s not that I’m hankering for Pop to step down; it’s about how much the above scenario reminds me of primogeniture, which would be beautifully fitting for the team that’s the closest thing to NBA royalty I’ve ever enjoyed supporting.