Coaching carousel (cont.)
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.
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.
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 second.
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 "rude."
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