Primer on the seven new coaches
Seven teams are set to begin the 2010-11 season with new head coaches
Tom Thibodeau (Bulls) and Byron Scott (Cavaliers) look like good fits
Vinny Del Negro (Clips) and Monty Williams (Hornets) must connect with star PGs
Disappointment. That's the best way to sum up the divergent reasons why seven of the 30 NBA teams opted to change coaches after the 2009-10 season.
Yes, the woeful Nets, with a league-low 12 wins, predictably cleaned house, but so did the Cavaliers, who bagged a league-best 61 victories and were thought to have had the inside track on re-signing LeBron James when they fired Mike Brown. Two other playoff teams, Atlanta and Chicago, likewise dumped their coach, while six of the nine teams with fewer than 30 wins stood pat.
What follows is a recap, and a handicapping, of the coaching changes. As we run down the list, taking the seven teams with new coaches in alphabetical order, it is helpful to remember the caveat buried in the fine print of most financial transactions: Past success or failure is not a reliable indicator of future performance.
BACKGROUND OF HIRE: The Hawks' playoff run had more bickering than winning. They edged the injury-depleted Bucks but got blown out by the Magic in the second round. As a result, the front office decided to scapegoat Mike Woodson and replace him with player-favorite Drew at a bargain price.
LENGTH OF CONTRACT: Three years.
JOB PRIORITIES: Develop the maturity and character of a team that too often has shirked collective responsibility in tough times. Drew also plans to revamp the offense with more ball movement, fewer isolation plays and more time for Josh Smith in the low block and sophomore point guard Jeff Teague on the court.
FORTES AND FLAWS: The easy criticism is that Drew has no head-coaching experience, yet is being asked to take a now-perennial contender to the next level in the postseason. Drew's strengths and weaknesses are both related to the rapport he has with his players, who frequently had their differences with Woodson. "When anybody had any problems on the court, we used to go to him for advice," Smith said of Drew. "He knows what everybody likes to do." That's great for initial motivation, but what happens when the players inevitably discover that the head man can't please everybody all of the time?
PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11: The Eastern Conference finals. That's the step that Woodson -- who improved the team's record by at least four extra wins five years in a row -- wasn't able to take. With 29-year-old Joe Johnson signed to a six-year, $124 million deal, the status quo won't be acceptable.
THE RIGHT HIRE? Ultimately, no. But Drew is a reasonable and inexpensive gamble: Only two years and $2.5 million of his $5 million contract are guaranteed. The Johnson signing obligates the Hawks to soar or crash with the current personnel, who need to develop poise and a backbone. Hiring their confidante gives players more control, but it also pins the responsibility of adulthood more directly on their shoulders.
BACKGROUND OF HIRE: After two .500 seasons and quarrels between the coach and front office, the Bulls dismissed Vinny Del Negro and hired Thibodeau, the defensive-minded former assistant who helped the Celtics to the 2008 championship.
LENGTH OF CONTRACT: Three years.
JOB PRIORITIES: Get the Bulls deep into the playoffs for the first time in the post-Michael Jordan era. With young cornerstones Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, and some veteran offseason pickups (including Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver), Thibodeau has all the pieces. Now he just needs to put them together.
FORTES AND FLAWS: In six of his last seven seasons as defensive coordinator, Thibodeau's clubs have finished first or second in opposing field-goal percentage. When he joined the Celtics in 2007, along with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Boston shaved a remarkable 8.9 points per game from its opponents' point total from the previous year, the single biggest reason for its record 42-game improvement and ensuing title that season.
Thibodeau has never been a head coach, and NBA history is littered with highly esteemed lieutenants who fail to live up to expectations as the lead guy. With the Bulls' storied past and hope for the near future, Thibodeau is under even more pressure.
PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11: The Eastern Conference finals. It's not outlandish for the Bulls to believe the acquisition of Boozer and the further development of Rose and Noah (plus the upgrade to Thibodeau and new defensive coordinator Ron Adams, whom Thibodeau pilfered from Oklahoma City) is enough to put them alongside the Magic and Celtics as the Heat's primary challengers in the East.
THE RIGHT HIRE? Absolutely.
BACKGROUND OF HIRE: Despite winning 127 games over his last two seasons in Cleveland -- and taking his team to the NBA Finals the year before that -- Brown was second-guessed inside and out of the organization for his player rotations and lack of imagination on offense. Scott was hired as his replacement just as LeBron began the process of meeting with suitors during the free-agent period. Of course, Scott was tasked with trying to help bring back James, who reportedly said he preferred a coach with NBA playing experience. Scott, who earned three rings playing for the Lakers and had a mutually beneficial relationship with one of James' good friends, Hornets point guard Chris Paul while coaching him in New Orleans, seemed like good bait to keep James with the Cavs.
LENGTH OF CONTRACT: Four years.
JOB PRIORITIES: To pick up the pieces and refashion them into a post-LeBron identity. The biggest challenge will be to "keep hope alive" in Cleveland -- a city all to accustomed to disappointment -- under circumstances that would make even the most capable coach gulp and wince.
FORTES AND FLAWS: Along with his three championships as a player, Scott's superb pedigree includes coaching the Nets and the Hornets to the most successful NBA seasons in the histories of those franchises, including two trips to the Finals with New Jersey. That, along with his poise and demeanor on the sideline, will add a credible facade to a demoralized team and its fans. On the other hand, Scott is no miracle worker when it comes to working with mediocre talent: He won just 26 games in New Jersey with Stephon Marbury and rookie Kenyon Martin the year before the Nets acquired Jason Kidd. And he had just 18 wins in New Orleans the year before Paul was drafted.
PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11 Thirty-five wins would constitute a moral victory in the first year without LeBron. Especially if it can be done while finding out if J.J. Hickson or Ramon Sessions can elevate their game a notch, and making right decisions on whether to keep or trade valuable players such as Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao.
THE RIGHT HIRE? Yes, assuming Scott has gotten past his own disappointment of not being able to coach LeBron. The question is, Can he persevere in what could be his most daunting season yet as a coach?