After a season and summer of no coaching changes in 2017, eight teams have changed head coaches since the beginning of the 2017-18 season. All vacancies have now been filled and we take a look at who the winners and losers are in this season’s coaching movement.
I like Stan Van Gundy but he clearly wore out his welcome in Detroit and only made the playoffs once in four seasons. Dwane Casey is experienced and successful. His biggest knock is his lack of playoff success, especially this year with the Raptors finishing with the best record in the east and only winning 4 total playoff games. Casey should help guide the Pistons back to the playoffs and will find ways to maximize the talents of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond together.
The Bucks are one of two playoffs teams (Raptors) who changed head coaches, although different circumstances. Jason Kidd was fired mid-season compiling a 139-152 record across three and a half seasons. Replacing Kidd is Mike Budenholzer, who had a record of 213-197 in 5 years and made the playoffs his first four including a 60-win campaign in 2014-15. That 60 win team had some solid players like Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and Paul Milsap, but none of those players are Giannis Antetokounmpo. Budenholzer inherits one of the best players in the game, along with a handful of young and veteran role players. Similar to the Pistons with Casey, this is a big upgrade for Milwaukee who should remain a playoff team with hopes of competing for a top four finish in the east and more.
As if we didn’t already know that Pop is the best coach in the game, this season’s searches may have further reinforced it. New Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer and Sixers coach Brett Brown are both recent disciples of Popovich, serving as assistants with the Spurs. This season’s coaching searches saw teams reach out to multiple Spurs assistant coaches including Ime Udoka (a reported finalist in Orlando and Toronto), Becky Hammon (with the Bucks and Pistons), Ettore Messina (a reported finalist in Milwaukee and Toronto), and the Hornets hired James Borrego (who also interviewed in Orlando) as their new head coach. The Spurs are led by one the brightest minds in the game, but what makes Popovich so special is he clearly surrounds himself by knowledgeable, qualified coaches as well.
Both the Blazers and Terry Stotts are winnings this coaching cycle. Stotts kept his job, despite rumblings he might be let go after being swept in the first round by the Pelicans. Given the market of available coaches and the success Stotts has had in Portland, I’m not sure the Blazers could have done better. If the Blazers get off to a rough start in 2018, this situation may begin to deteriorate quickly.
One of the more underrated coaches in the game gets another, deserved second chance. Clifford won 48% of his games in Charlotte, not bad all things considered but what cost him his job was two playoff appearances in five seasons and only three playoff wins. Clifford may feel like a winner now, but he joins a Magic team that has been in an endless rebuild. Veteran coach Frank Vogel couldn’t get the most out of his Magic teams, so Clifford’s task won’t be easy. For the Magic, there is no one more qualified to guide the Magic out of the abyss than Clifford, a former assistant the last time they were a playoff team.
New York Knicks
It’s weird associating the Knicks with winner, but David Fizdale was as good of a hire as they could make. The front office, for the first time in a long time, seems to be stable. Fizdale brings championship experience as an assistant and a year and a half learning experience as a head coach in Memphis. 2018-19 may be a wash for the Knicks, given the injury for Kristaps Porzingis and the lack of depth across the rest of their roster but the comeback should begin in 2019 and Fizdale will be a big contributor to that.
Say what you will about Dwane Casey and his lack of playoff success, but the man can coach. He definitely proved it in 2017-18 and might even win the NBA’s coach of the year award. Ultimately, wins and losses meant nothing in comparison to his record vs the Cavs and Lebron and getting swept in the second round, with the east’s best record was the final straw for him. Nick Nurse gets promoted from lead assistant and has the task of keeping this core led by Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan whole and uniting the locker room and continuing to develop the bench depth that Toronto had this year. Depending on where Lebron James signs and the continued growth of the Celtics and 76ers, the window may have closed on the Raptors best opportunities to make a run to the finals.
Also related to the Raptors, their former G-League championship coach and a 19 year playing career, Stackhouse has been touted as a future head coach. With eight vacancies, and a handful of teams transitioning into and continuing a rebuilding phase, he seemed like a plausible match for a number of teams. It never happened for Stackhouse. There were some reports that his interviews went poorly or that he rubs people the wrong way – whatever the reason may be, Stackhouse still is not an NBA head coach. He will begin 2018 as the lead assistant for the Grizzlies, and his future may be there depending on how well JB Bickerstaff fares.
Which brings us to our next team. Usually teams that promote interims, that don’t have previous head coaching experience are fairly unimaginative hires and that’s what happened in Memphis. The Grizzlies decided to play it safe and remove the interim tag from Bickerstaff, who went 15-48 in 63 games as Memphis’ coach in 2017-18. Memphis has a number of issues with their roster – age, injuries, a need for youth so Bickerstaff may not necessarily be in the best position to succeed but it also may not be his fault if he fails.
Another guy, like Stackhouse, who seemed like this would finally be the time he got back into coaching. He did interview with his former team the Knicks, but they opted for another direction. Jackson has been out of coaching since being fired by the Warriors in 2014. Since than Golden State has gone on to play in four consecutive finals, winning three of them. That has to sting Jackson’s stock and reports about his relationship with players and management have also likely been a factor. You have to wonder if a guy with a 121-109 record in three seasons, with two playoff appearances ever gets another shot or if he is stuck on ABC’s A team calling primetime games.
Trust the process part 2? That may be the Hawks new motto, who seem to be comfortably settling in to a long term rebuild following a decade of playoff appearances and mediocre success that wasn’t enough for ownership. Lloyd Pierce may or may not be the right guy for the job, but his experience with “the process” in Philly as an assistant to Brett Brown certainly helped him interview for this job. His goal is to develop young talent and prepare this franchise for the future. The hope for Pierce is that, like Brown, he is able to be part of a brighter future and isn’t cast aside before he can get there.