Power Rankings: NBA Head Coach Openings
Where do the Grizzlies rank among teams likely to go head-hunting for a new coach this off-season?
A raise of hands for people who want J.B. Bickerstaff to be the permanent head coach.
That’s what I thought.
Come mid-April, the Memphis Grizzlies’ coaching search will really be in full swing. They got a (premature) head start by firing David Fizdale in November, so if the front office had names in mind for the opening, we’ll likely see them pop up in the spring.
The Grizzlies aren’t, but most of the league is still trying to compete to make the playoffs. Assistant coaches on other staffs aren’t going to get permission to negotiate with Memphis mid-season. Meanwhile, hiring a coach mid-season is setting them up for a poor first impression if they coach without an off-season and training camp. It also leaves a giant “LAME DUCK” stamp on J.B. Bickerstaff’s head, which wouldn’t make his already difficult job any easier.
So for now, we wait. The Phoenix Suns are the only other team who fired their coach this season, coming after a year where no NBA coaches were fired. Phoenix and Memphis are the only confirmed coaching spots available and their assets might be polar opposites.
Phoenix’s crown jewel asset is Devin Booker, a 21-year old flamethrower of a scorer, who’s been improving steadily year-over-year. Memphis’ best assets are their own draft picks (the ones they actually do have) and Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, two All-Star caliber players, yet are on the wrong side of 30. Both teams have head coach openings, but only one of them has a noticeably bright future. Coaches are going to notice that when accepting a job. Knowing you’re put in a position to succeed is a hell of an incentive compared to the alternative: knowing your roster is a ticking time bomb.
But where does Memphis stand compared to the rest of the league? It’s highly unlikely that these two spots will be the only head coaching vacancies this summer. The fact that 2016-17 was firing-free probably pushed up a mass exodus to this season. There are plenty of organizations around the league that could find themselves heading in a new direction after a disappointing season. The more jobs that open up, the harder it might be for the Grizzlies to fill a role that may turn away suitors.
With that in mind, let’s see where the Grizzlies rank in terms of job attractiveness compared to other possible openings (arbitrarily decided by yours truly) around the NBA.
1. Milwaukee (potential)
Jason Kidd seems like a fine coach to me, but his tendency to play Giannis Antetokounmpo heavy minutes nightly might rub the front office the wrong way if it isn’t leading to victories. Giannis is the present and future of Milwaukee basketball, the organization is going to protect him and support him as such. Supporting him means pairing him with a coach that will continue to utilize one of the most unique talents in NBA history.
And that talent is what makes Milwaukee the most attractive possible opening. There are only so many game-changing superstars in the NBA. But Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of those superstars already, and he’ll only be 23 when the 2018-19 season starts. With Eric Bledsoe, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton, and the potential of Thon Maker as a supporting cast surrounding the Greek Freak, any coach could feel like they can swoop in and make them an instant contender if Jason Kidd is not retained.
Like I said earlier, Devin Booker is a flamethrower. Sure his defense needs to improve, but he’s an advanced shooter and scorer at such an early stage in his career. The potential for his prime years is tantalizing, and would be one that the next coach is likely to oversee. Phoenix has a plethora of young guys: Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss, but Booker stands alone. He could be a case-study for what a team would like if it were led by Klay Thompson.
That’s a long way from now, but still appealing to any coach who could get the chance. The Suns will also likely add another high quality asset in the 2018 draft. This roster could be appealing to any coach who’s committed to developing over the long-haul.
3. New York (potential)
Kristaps Porzingis drags this job’s attractiveness from the basement. Without him, you’re trying to convince Available Coach X to coach a team with 73 centers and the worst owner in the NBA as your boss. The stink of Phil Jackson still lingers even after he was replaced this past offseason; Tim Hardaway Jr was given a 4 year-$71 Million contract by the new regime, ensuring that the Knicks will be in cap hell for the foreseeable future.
Still, they play in Madison Square Garden 41 times a year with unicorn Kristaps Porzingis in tow. A few money shedding deals could put them in a good position to compete in free agency a few years from now with more Zinger development.
4. Chicago (potential)
When the season started, Chicago was a dumpster fire of a roster. The Jimmy Butler trade was one-sided and it looked like the Bulls just traded their dollar for four quarters. But now, the young guys are looking pretty decent. Kris Dunn has improved in just about every area since his lone season in Minnesota. Lauri Markkanen can ball, lazy Dirk comparisons be damned. And Zach Lavine is nearing his return from a torn ACL, giving us the first glimpse of what the electrifying dunker can be as an NBA player without Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins taking most of the shots.
There’s a lot of lottery tickets on this roster. Lavine, Markkanen, and Dunn may just be flashes in a pan that all turn out to be duds. But Chicago has a ton of cap space and what is likely to be a high-lottery pick for the 2018 draft. If the new coach (and Bulls fanbase) is lucky, GarPax will be fired after this season and give a new front office-head coach combination a fresh start to build a winner. However, if they’re still around handing quality prospects to contenders for cash considerations, Fred Hoiberg’s possible replacement might just wanna save themselves the trouble.
5. New Orleans (potential)
This team has a chance to be a really, really awful job. The front office has been inept for quite some time, but they pulled the trigger on a deal with great value for DeMarcus Cousins 11 months ago. Now, they have two of the best big men of this generation with Boogie and Anthony Davis. It’s hard not to be tempted by the possibilities of a dynamic PF-C duo that can do everything on the floor.
However, both of their futures in New Orleans are far from certain. DeMarcus Cousins is a free agent in this upcoming summer and Anthony Davis is linked to Boston in trade rumors in perpetuity. Long after Anthony Davis’ mortal self is no longer with us, the ghost of Danny Ainge will still be trying to cajole the afterlife into giving him Anthony Davis for a future first-rounder.
If those two stay, it’ll be an attractive job. If one or both leave, it’ll be hard to justify taking over a team with little to no assets or flexibility.
This team is in cap hell. There’s no player 25 or younger than can be expected to be a starter on a contender. They don’t have all their future first round picks. They are on their fourth coach in the last five years.
Who would say yes?
Well, lots of people. Because there are only 30 head coaching spots available and you take what you can get. But seriously, Available Coach X sees the way Chris Wallace and company have treated and blamed coaches over the years, are they tripping over their feet to accept the job? I doubt it. Marc Gasol getting Fizdale fired over a November 4th-quarter benching isn’t exactly projecting job security to whoever comes next. If this team decides to trade Mike or Marc, they’ll have at least committed to the rebuilding direction, but the cupboard will be bare. The trade values for fringe All-Star players is a lot more depressed than what one might get offered in ‘Trade Finder’ on NBA 2K.
Memphis is in the gutter of the standings, but that’s good for lottery purposes. A home run on that pick this year will be important for the future of this franchise and for the success of the next head coach. David Fizdale was phenomenal at utilizing everyone on the roster. A lesser head coach with a lesser roster could be a spectacular trainwreck.
7. Sacramento (potential)
Sacramento has a promising prospects. I’m convinced De’Aaron Fox is the real deal. I like Skal Labissiere and Willie “Trill” Cauley-Stein for their particular skill-sets. Buddy Hield is no Steph Curry like owner Vivek Ranadive claims, but he can still be very good in his own right.
This team is still super young, even with Vince Carter and Zach Randolph on the roster. The Kings have their first-rounder for 2018, but not 2019, increasing the pressure for the 2018 pick to be a hit. That’s the furthest thing from a guarantee with the Kings organization.
The only reason Memphis isn’t last because no team is as comically mismanaged as the Sacramento Kings are. They had the closest thing we’ve seen to Shaq in the 2010’s and completely wasted away DeMarcus Cousins’ awesome talent. Their four first-rounders after the Boogie selection: Bismack Biyombo, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, and Nik Stauskas. P.U.
Vivek and Vlade Divac have already been embarrassed multiple times in trades, losing two first round picks to Philly to salary dump Carl Landry and Stauskas. They also traded Boogie for pennies on the dollar to New Orleans. Until this organization can prove to be at least competent, they will be the least attractive head coaching opening by a mile.