Rockets, Warriors, Lakers narrow focus of head coaching searches
The mysterious game of musical chairs continued in the NBA coaching ranks this week, where the number of vacant seats remained the same but the number of candidates still alive in the circle was dwindling by the day.
Houston, Golden State and the Lakers are all strongly considering a number of the same coaches, meaning the next couple of weeks should be interesting considering the song should come to an end in at least one of those locales. The Rockets and Warriors have either been politely asking participants to leave or seeing them depart on their own, and the Lakers -- not surprisingly -- appear to have a Phil Jackson-esque throne in this game that is being handled somewhat differently.
Here's the latest on each of those fronts ...
According to sources close to the Rockets' situation, their extensive search for a Rick Adelman replacement has led to them to a finalists list of Dwane Casey (Dallas assistant and former Minnesota head coach), Lawrence Frank (Boston assistant and former New Jersey head coach) and Kevin McHale (former Minnesota general manager and head coach). Another round of interviews with the finalists is expected soon.
Meanwhile in Oakland, a source with knowledge of the Warriors' search said that former Cleveland coach Mike Brown and Casey met with Golden State front office officials last week and that more interviews will take place this week. Lakers assistant Chuck Person is scheduled to be among that group, with fellow Lakers assistant Brian Shaw and Frank likely close behind.
One of the sources said the Warriors had "moved past" the idea of hiring former Utah coach Jerry Sloan or former Houston and New York coach Jeff Van Gundy, and CSNBayArea.com reported Friday that both had declined interviews. Only two of the candidates are expected to eventually meet with the team's owners, but that process won't likely take place until after pre-draft camp in Chicago next week because co-owner Joe Lacob is out of the country.
The Warriors, who decided not to retain Keith Smart after one season, have quite the quandary on their hands. There is obviously a strong desire for a defense-first coach and culture after so many years of Don Nelson's one-way play, but the fans that have so staunchly supported a losing product might revolt if the Warriors brass takes all the excitement away with the next hire.
Brown is certainly highly regarded as a defensive mind, but has never been accused of being a dynamic offensive coach no matter how many times he told LeBron James to go it alone on that end. Here are his team's rankings in points per game leading up to his firing last summer: 15th, 19th, 24th, 13th, ninth.
Not to speak for Mr. Frank, but one would have to think that Boston's decision to give Doc Rivers a five-year extension worth $35 million would only increase his eagerness to land another head job sooner rather than later since there won't be a passing of the green torch anytime soon.
Frank went 225-241 in six-plus seasons with the Nets, and was fired after the 0-16 start in 2009. His teams lost in the second round of the playoffs three times and the first round once.
The Lakers are also considering Shaw and Person, and both candidates are slated to discuss the position with team officials this week. But sources said Adelman appears to be the most serious among the outside candidates. The former Portland, Golden State, Sacramento and Houston coach who ranks eighth all-time in wins (945-616 overall) has made his interest known to the Lakers and the sentiment is shared. In addition to Adelman's track record, much of the appeal tied to him is his "corner" offense that has similarities to the vaunted "triangle" offense run by Jackson.
If local ties were the determining factor, Adelman would be the man for the Lakers and Shaw would be the next Warriors coach. He grew up in Oakland and played at Saint Mary's College and UC Santa Barbara before getting drafted by Boston in 1988.
In Los Angeles, Shaw is being helped by Kobe Bryant's endorsement and the immense in-house respect for his character and coaching skills. On the outside, though, unfair conclusions are being drawn regarding the failings of previous Jackson assistants and the question of whether Shaw would succeed.
Frank Hamblen went 25-42 as an interim coach in Milwaukee (1991-92) and 10-29 as interim Lakers coach (2004-05). Jim Cleamons was 28-70 in one-plus seasons in Dallas and was fired early in the 1997-98 campaign. Kurt Rambis, whose fate in Minnesota remains uncertain, is 32-132 in two seasons with the Timberwolves.
Mike Dunleavy is also considered a candidate, but one source cautioned that his interest in the job may be greater than the Lakers' interest in him. The former Milwaukee, Portland and Clippers coach had his head coaching start with the Lakers in 1990, taking over for Pat Riley and reaching the Finals before falling to Chicago.
Kings fans who wonder if Adelman would dare to join the dark side in Los Angeles (see Lakers playoff heartbreaks in 2000, 2001 and 2002) should remember the relevant storyline, as he was shown the door by co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof in 2006 and surely lost those loyalties as a result. What's more, he has extensive personal ties in Southern California.
Adelman was born in the town of Lynwood, went to St. Pius X High School in Downey, then played his collegiate basketball at Loyola University (now Loyola Marymount) in Los Angeles. He was drafted by the then-San Diego Rockets and spent his first two seasons with them.
His offensive mind has been respected around the league for decades, and his most recent job did nothing to change that reputation. Despite playing without Yao Ming for all but five games, the roster which produced no All-Stars other than Yao finished third in the league in scoring (105.9 points per game) and had the best record among the league's 14 non-playoff teams (43-39).
A disconnect between Adelman and the Rockets' ownership and front office had everything to do with his dismissal, as did the coach's resistance to front office urgings to make unwanted additions to his coaching staff. Nonetheless, his lead assistant coach, Elston Turner, told SI.com last week the Rockets' decision not to offer a new contract did little to change the feelings among the coaching staff that this was a job well done.
"We put a lot into it, and we made something out of a year that could've been disastrous, and we're proud of that," said Turner, Adelman's defensive coordinator who has been with him for 11 years in Portland, Sacramento and Houston. "Here we are with our superstar playing five games in the last two years, and when he did play he was on a minute restriction [because of his foot injury]. There was a lot of stuff we had to take in as coaches.
"We did that, were just starting to jell, getting chemistry, players playing well. Bottom line is it's just disappointing to lose your job when you're on the upswing...We did the best we could, and that has been echoed throughout the league and throughout the basketball family."
As irony would have it, Turner has ties to two Lakers candidates. He was on Dunleavy's staff in Portland before coming to Sacramento.
It should also be noted what transpired in Sacramento after Adelman's departure: The Kings have a winning percentage of .334 in the five seasons since he left (137-273) and no playoff appearances after posting a mark of .633 in eight seasons with him (395-229) and playing in the postseason throughout his tenure. Houston can only hope the trend doesn't continue there, as Adelman had the best winning percentage in franchise history (.588, with a record of 193-135) in his four seasons with the Rockets.
In Indiana, the seat that is technically vacant is likely to be occupied by Frank Vogel next season as well. According to a source close to that process, the final decision has not been made but the odds are good that the interim coach is given a one-year deal.
• Person and Casey have something in common beyond wanting the Warriors job: they've both lost out to Vinny Del Negro before.
Casey was a finalist for the Clippers job last summer before it went to Del Negro, and that experience was a repeat affair of the summer of 2008. Del Negro was given the Chicago job over Casey then, and Person was a finalist for that position as well.
Person, who has been an assistant in Indiana and Sacramento, was certainly offensive-minded during his playing days. But "The Rifleman" has long-since added a defensive mindset.
Just one year after coming aboard as a special assistant who was widely seen as part of a package deal with longtime friend/newest Lakers addition Ron Artest, Person was promoted to full-time assistant entering this season. Then midway through this season, Jackson scrapped the post-Rambis, defensive-coordinator-by-committee approach among Lakers assistants and handed the reins to Person.
His main wrinkle involved the use of Andrew Bynum, as he implemented a scheme in which the center focused far more on defending the rim in and around the paint rather than wandering out to the perimeter to help with pick-and-roll defense. The end results were impressive, as the Lakers ranked higher in opponent's points allowed per game (eighth, 95.4) than they had since the 1999-00 campaign (sixth, 92.3). Their opponent's field-goal percentage of 43.7 was the lowest since the championship team of the 2001-02 season led the league at 42.4.
Casey, one could presume, is hoping to become the next Tom Thibodeau. The longtime Rivers assistant and reigning Coach of the Year finally received his long-overdue opportunity last summer when he was hired by Chicago, then made Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson look like geniuses as he led them to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Casey has had the same sort of cachet among some of game's best coaches for quite some time, from George Karl and Nate McMillan during 11 seasons in Seattle to Rick Carlisle and the current Mavericks team that surged into the Western Conference Finals last week. He went 53-69 in one-plus seasons with Kevin Garnett and his Minnesota Timberwolves (2005-07), having taken over a team that went to the Western Conference Finals in 2004 but then lost Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell and Wally Szczerbiak.