NBA coaching carousel ready to start up
If it’s any consolation for Joe Prunty, he isn’t the only NBA head coach with a cloud of uncertainty hovering over his head.
No, there are plenty of other coaches who are in the same boat as Prunty, who took over the Milwaukee Bucks coaching duties after Jason Kidd was shown the door earlier this season.
Unlike last season, when all 30 NBA teams opted to retain their head coaches – a first in NBA history, by the way – it’s a lock things will return to normalcy after this season when a slew of coaches are expected to receive pink slips.
In conversations with a bevy of league officials, as many as nine coaches – or almost a third of the league — could possibly be fired. Among the teams that are leaning heavily toward jettisoning their head coaches, according to league sources, are Memphis, Charlotte and Orlando. Additionally, Milwaukee, barring a deep run in the playoffs, and Phoenix are expected to hire new head coaches this summer.
Some NBA officials contend Orlando is leaning toward replacing current head coach Frank Vogel with Jerry Stackhouse, who has strong ties with Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and Magic general manager John Hammond. Toronto assistant coach Nick Nurse has also been mentioned as a potential Magic coach.
Stackhouse played for the Bucks when Hammond was the GM in Milwaukee. He later joined the Toronto Raptors as an assistant coach when Weltman was the team’s assistant GM. Stackhouse then took over Toronto’s G League team – the Raptors 905 — in 2016 and guided it to the then D-League championship in 2017. For his efforts, Stackhouse was named the league’s coach of the year.
As for the Bucks, they won’t have a shortage of intriguing candidates for their head coaching position if they don’t retain Prunty. As long ago as last summer, ex-New Orleans coach Monty Williams was rumored as a potential replacement for Kidd. Since Kidd’s firing, several other former head coaches have been linked to the Bucks, including Mark Jackson, Kevin McHale, Jeff Van Gundy, David Fizdale and Rick Pitino.
What’s more, multiple sources said two current head coaches — Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mike Budenholzer of Atlanta – have more than a passing interest in the Bucks’ job and coaching the NBA’s brightest young star in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Some NBA officials said Budenholzer, who guided the Hawks to 60 wins just three seasons ago when he was accorded NBA’s Coach of the Year honors, also doesn’t want to be part of an extensive rebuild in Atlanta.
As for Rivers, there has been persistent rumors he’ll be leaving the Clippers after the season. Rivers is still a beloved figure in Milwaukee after having been an All-American guard at Marquette University and would undoubtedly create a buzz as the Bucks move into a new arena next season.
Like the Bucks, Phoenix is expected to conduct a wide-ranging search for a new head coach. Some NBA executives and coaches claim Fizdale, Kidd and Villanova’s Jay Wright will all draw strong consideration for the job if Jay Triano isn’t retained.
Wright, who just guided Villanova to its second NCAA championship in the last three years, and Virginia’s highly respected Tony Bennett will likely be on the short lists of several NBA teams looking for a new head coach, according to some NBA officials.
Said a longtime NBA executive about Bennett, who played three seasons as a point guard for the Charlotte Hornets before playing overseas: “Everybody knows he’s an exceptional defensive coach, but he does some really nice things offensively, too. He can flat-out coach.’’
Added the executive: “I think almost every team that is in the market for a new coach will take long, hard looks at Wright and Bennett. They’re both great coaches and they’re both great guys.’’
Besides the Clippers and Atlanta, coaching changes will likely take place in New York and possibly in Detroit. It’s no secret Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy is on shaky ground, with an NBA source speculating Van Gundy could wind up with the Clippers, if Rivers moves on.
If the Knicks don’t retain Jeff Hornacek, a league source said Rivers, Mark Jackson and David Blatt would likely be the finalists for the job.
— Photo by BILL TENNESSEN