Bobcats' odd coaching search ends in surprising hire of St. John's aide
Michael Jordan's Bobcats have hired St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap as coach
Dunlap wasn't thought to be one of three finalists in a puzzling hiring process
His NBA experience consists of two years as an assistant under George Karl
For all we know, Bobcats owner Michael Jordan may have finally gotten it right with the surprising hiring of St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap as coach on Monday.
Maybe this isn't Leonard Hamilton Part II, a repeat of Jordan's reach of a hire in 2000 when he hand-picked the then-University of Miami coach to run his Wizards and saw him resign after leading them to a franchise-low 19 wins. Maybe Jordan will ultimately look like a visionary for plucking Steve Lavin's right-hand man away from the Big East school.
But this wasn't about the pick so much as it was about the process. And the path that led to Dunlap's taking over a team that set a league record for worst winning percentage this season (.106) was very puzzling.
If the Bobcats management team -- which, along with Jordan, features general manager Rich Cho and president Rod Higgins -- was so in love with Dunlap, it could have offered him the job not long after he became one of 10 candidates to replace Paul Silas in May. Instead, the Bobcats narrowed their list to three finalists who were widely known -- Pacers assistant Brian Shaw, Lakers assistant Quin Snyder and Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan, who would withdraw from consideration late last week -- before proceeding to pull Dunlap out of the recycling bin at the last minute.
Sources who were involved in the search were left chuckling at the discombobulated feel of the whole affair, and the widely held belief was that Jordan reached for the cheapest option as opposed to the best. Dunlap's contract terms are not yet known, but he won't make nearly as much as the higher-profile candidates who were considered.
Money aside, nothing about the way this was done made anyone believe that the Bobcats' brass was a unified bunch. That's mostly an indictment of Jordan and his infamous record as an executive and owner, but there were other reasons to wonder, too.
There had been indications that perception didn't meet reality in the coaching search. Charlotte had continued to tell candidates that, despite the fact that they weren't considered finalists, they weren't necessarily out of the running (former Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan and Cavaliers assistant Nate Tibbetts were in this group). Sources said Charlotte showed a reluctance to pay top dollar for the new coach, as was the case during exploratory talks with Warriors assistant Michael Malone before he was out of the mix. The Bobcats had unenviable challenges during the process, too, like the fact that Shaw preferred the vacant jobs in Portland and Orlando to theirs. And while Sloan took the high road in explaining to SI.com his decision to pull out, it didn't reflect well on all involved that a legend of the game headed home with a bad taste in his mouth (biting your tongue can have that effect, after all).
None of which matters now that Dunlap is Charlotte's man. The 54-year-old has an intriguing résumé. He led the Division II program at Metropolitan State College in Denver from 1997-2006, winning two national titles, making nine straight NCAA tournament appearances and finishing 248-50. He then spent two seasons as a Nuggets assistant under George Karl -- he took over for a coach who is doing quite well these days: Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks -- before moving on to associate head-coaching positions at Oregon and Arizona and a two-year stint at St. John's, where last season he was acting coach while Lavin recovered from prostate cancer surgery.
Having experience working with the well-respected Karl always catches the attention of NBA hiring types, even more so when the owner just so happens to be a fellow member of North Carolina Tar Heels lore.
"Great hire by Bobcats!" Karl wrote on his Twitter account after the Charlotte Observer broke the news of Dunlap's hire. "Mike Dunlap is one of the most creative defensive minds I've ever worked with. Welcome back to the NBA!"
In Dunlap's St. John's bio, Karl said of his former assistant: "Mike Dunlap absolutely elevates every player and team he comes into contact with. ... He will take you from good to great. Name any top-level, elite coach in the game -- the only difference between Mike and them is their address. There is no higher level of coaching ability than his. There is absolutely no one better."
For better or worse, he'll be a household name in NBA circles now. And even if he takes these Bobcats where Jordan wants them to go, this start will still go down as strange.
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