Posted: Wednesday September 22, 2010 10:43AM ; Updated: Thursday September 23, 2010 9:33PM
Britt Robson

Primer on the seven new coaches (cont.)

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Vinny Del Negro, Los Angeles Clippers

One of Vinny Del Negro's (right) priorities as Clippers coach will be the development of the on-the-mend Blake Griffin, the top pick in the 2009 draft.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

BACKGROUND OF HIRE: Former coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy achieved the improbable feat of usurping universally derided owner Donald Sterling as the main object of scorn in L.A. While Dunleavy took the Clippers to court for the rest of his wages, Sterling predictably went for a low-cost replacement in Del Negro to try to shake the Clips out of their perpetually losing ways.


JOB PRIORITIES: To develop the Clippers' young core of talent, to improve the efficiency of the offense (beginning with gifted but stubborn point guard Baron Davis) and to start rehabilitating the culture of losing in Clipperville.

FORTES AND FLAWS: Rose, Noah AND Taj Gibson all accelerated their development during Del Negro's tenure in Chicago, which augurs well for L.A.'s young group of Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin, who missed last season with a knee injury after being the top pick in the 2009 draft. But Del Negro's in-game management -- such as matchup adjustments or play-calling out of timeouts -- seemed suspect and the Bulls were below-average offensively during his two seasons.

PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11: The playoffs. With two former All-Stars (Davis and Chris Kaman), a guard who proved himself with the U.S. world championship team in Turkey this summer (Gordon) and a former top draft pick who is itching to debut (Griffin), Del Negro has a solid group to build around. And a third straight postseason appearance by Del Negro with a young team considered to be on the playoff bubble would send a strong message to his critics.

THE RIGHT HIRE? No. Del Negro doesn't seem to possess either the strategic prowess or the personal clout to turn Davis into more of a team player or to overcome the permanent impediments of Sterling's ownership and the Clippers' secondary status to the Lakers in L.A.

Avery Johnson, New Jersey Nets

BACKGROUND OF HIRE: At 12-70, the Nets finished last season with the NBA's worst record since 1998. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov wanted to inaugurate his ownership by hiring a successful, high-profile coach to rapidly reverse the ineptitude and create a public relations splash. He chose Johnson, whose three-plus years in Dallas led to a Coach of the Year award in 2006 and the highest winning percentage (73.5 percent) in NBA history (Phil Jackson is second at 70.5 percent).


JOB PRIORITIES: End the woeful underachievement. No team with Brook Lopez at center and Devin Harris at point guard should lose 70 games. Basic fundamentals -- like coherent offensive and defensive schemes and consistent effort from the players -- need to be installed and instilled. More specifically, Harris, whom Johnson coached in Dallas, must bounce back from a subpar season and a frontcourt rotation involving Lopez, top draft pick Derrick Favors and new acquisition Troy Murphy from Indiana must be implemented.

FORTES AND FLAWS: The Little General admitted that his taskmaster rigor may have gotten out of hand near the end of his tenure in Dallas, but in New Jersey, extra discipline will be sorely needed. However, the Nets don't possess enough experience or self-confidence to withstand abuse without damaging their future. Hiring another renowned disciplinarian, former Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell, as his top assistant adds further intrigue.

PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11 Thirty wins and a move toward respectability. Losing Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter in successive seasons had much to do with New Jersey's plummet from back-to-back 34-win seasons to just 12 last year. But the additions of Murphy and Travis Outlaw, and the further development of swingman Terrence Williams, should improve the perimeter shooting, and a tighter defense is almost automatic with Johnson in control.

THE RIGHT HIRE? Yes, but it is not without risk. Johnson has a winner's cache, but he and Prokhorov won't tolerate losing. There's certainly a danger that he'll push too hard, but Lopez, Harris and other holdovers from last year's disaster will likely endorse his efforts to raze the status quo.

Monty Williams, New Orleans Hornets

BACKGROUND OF HIRE: Too many injuries and not enough money have hurt the Hornets. Two years ago, a succession of injuries to center Tyson Chandler deprived New Orleans of its rim protector and alley-oop option in a big three with Paul and David West. After Chandler was dealt to Charlotte in a payroll-crippling trade for Emeka Okafor, Paul's injuries kept him on the bench for much of last year, a season in which general manager Jeff Bower also took over for Scott as coach early in the season. Before Bower's departure, he made an unsuccessful run at luring Thibodeau to replace him as coach, then tapped Williams, another well-regarded assistant coach, from the Trail Blazers.


JOB PRIORITIES: Keeping Paul happy and healthy, at least until his contract expires in two or three years (he has an option to terminate before the 2012-13 season). Watching his buddies from the 2008 Olympic team congregate in Miami while his Hornets fixated on a potential ownership change and avoiding the luxury tax provoked wanderlust in Paul this offseason. New general manager Dell Demps went all-in on retaining Paul by trading his promising backup, Darren Collison, to obtain Trevor Ariza, who, paired with Paul, creates the best ball-hawking backcourt in the NBA. Now it is up to Williams to surround Paul with the right schemes and personnel to foster wins and loyalty from the face, heart and soul of the franchise.

FORTES AND FLAWS: Williams, 38, the youngest coach in the league, worked for the past five years under Nate McMillan in Portland, where he was credited with assisting the development of young forwards Nicolas Batum, Martell Webster and Outlaw. Williams announced that he would focus on improving team defense -- an appropriate priority, given that the Hornets fell to 21st in defensive efficiency last year after ranking in the top 10 the previous three seasons.

PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11 Fifty wins. A healthy Paul working with dynamic swingmen such as Ariza (on defense) and Marcus Thornton (on offense) can be an elite backcourt. Williams has to conjure ways to stop the slow slippage in power forward David West's game and maximize the limited skill sets of Okafor and backup center Aaron Gray. Ariza needs to return to the defensive role he was known for with the Lakers and fix the horrible shot selection he had in Houston. But above all, the team needs a vintage season from Paul.

THE RIGHT HIRE? Good question. Williams has a short résumé. But being able to engender the trust and support of Paul would cover a multitude of sins. Without Paul's embrace, the coach's tenure in the Crescent City is likely to be brief.

Doug Collins, Philadelphia 76ers

BACKGROUND OF HIRE: With eight different coaches since the spring of 2003 -- four of them in the last 21 months -- the Sixers have been notoriously impatient with their sideline tacticians. After a 2009-10 season notable for the team's wretched perimeter defense, the return of Allen Iverson and the inability to find a productive role for the expensive Elton Brand for the second year in a row, Philadelphia axed Eddie Jordan after one year and made Collins their most experienced coaching hire since Larry Brown.


JOB PRIORITIES: Nurturing the 76ers' backcourt of the future in 20-year-old point guard Jrue Holiday (17th pick in the 2009 draft) and 21-year-old swingman Evan Turner (second pick in 2010). Collins must also figure out how to make the comparable skill sets of Turner and franchise cornerstone Andre Iguodala synergistic instead of redundant, upgrade the defense (especially on the perimeter) and find a specialized role that makes Brand somewhat valuable.

FORTES AND FLAWS: Collins achieved immediate improvement at his first two coaching stops, in Chicago and Detroit (not so much with the Wizards), but wore out his welcome by his third year. Astute with X's and O's, he comes to a team with depth and flexible parts -- a tactical blessing but also a risk for a 58-year-old coach who hasn't always been able to sustain smooth relations with his players.

PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11: Make the playoffs. In a top-heavy Eastern Conference, the addition of a talent like Turner, coupled with the confidence of Iguodala (whose rebounding and defense helped the U.S. team win gold in Turkey), provides Collins with a chance to enact another quick fix and catapult his team into one of the final playoff berths.

THE RIGHT HIRE? Yes, provided Collins remembers that his last plus-.500 coaching job was in 1996-97, and updates his player relations for the 21st century while retaining his chalkboard savvy.

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