SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest playoff question of the day. Today, we examine …
Who is the best available NBA head coach?
Chris Ballard: Stan Van Gundy. Some caveats. First, the fit between a team and a coach is crucial, so SVG might be the best available coach for one team but not another. Second, I think Steve Kerr has the highest upside. He's the rare former player who could evolve into a Doc Rivers type of coach -- skilled in people management, delegation, player relations, media wrangling and leadership. But it'll take a year or two to find that out. The beauty of Van Gundy is that you know what you're going to get: a passionate X's-and-O's coach who will put together an excellent defense -- and you know he's going to be effective. He proved that in Orlando.
Lee Jenkins: Tom Thibodeau? That question begs another one: Is Thibodeau available? If so, he's the best coach on the market, since he's the best coach in the league (at least outside of San Antonio). Thibodeau is under contract, so any suitor must send assets to the Bulls, the way the Clippers did to the Celtics last summer for Rivers, a Thibodeau mentor. The Bulls don't want to lose Thibodeau and he won't find a better defensive anchor for his system than Joakim Noah. However, Mark Jackson's clash with higher-ups in Golden State precipitated his ouster, and numerous reports over the past year have detailed a rift between Thibodeau and the Bulls' front office. Any team looking for a coach must start by finding out just how deep the rift runs.
Ben Golliver: Stan Van Gundy. Judging the relative merits of various coaches without an idea for what type of players they would have is pretty much impossible. So, let's approach this as: "Who is the best coach for the best available roster?" Now that Jackson is out in Golden State, there seems little doubt that the Warriors rise to the top of that list, easily surpassing the Knicks, Lakers and Timberwolves from a talent standpoint. Golden State would offer Van Gundy an excellent opportunity to replicate his success in Orlando: The three-point shooters are already assembled, and he would have the back-line defender in Andrew Bogut that he once had with Dwight Howard. Van Gundy's outspoken approach might rub some prospective employers the wrong way -- who could forget his Diet Pepsi rant? -- and understandably so. It's worth noting that personality-related friction seem to have been the root cause of Jackson's dismissal, which might suggest that Golden State is looking for a lower-maintenance option. Still, Van Gundy's track record of success, well-earned reputation as a thinker, proven defensive methods and philosophical fit with the Warriors' key players vastly outweigh any perceived "baggage." Plus, we all need a little more SVG in our lives, don't we?
Phil Taylor: Jeff Van Gundy. The key word is “available,” since Van Gundy hasn’t said he ready to leave broadcasting, but the right job could probably entice him to do so. He has the NBA coaching experience that hot candidates like Kerr and UConn's Kevin Ollie lack; having missed the playoffs only once in his nine full seasons, he has a longer track record of success than his brother Stan and ex-Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins; and at 52, he’s 10 years younger and perhaps more physically capable of handling the grind of an NBA season than George Karl. Van Gundy also has a history of emphasizing defense -- his last team, the 2006-07 Rockets, had the third-best defensive rating in the league -- which is the surest way to NBA success. With the exception of New York, where team president Phil Jackson will almost certainly hire someone he’s worked with before, every team with a vacancy would probably make Jeff Van Gundy its first choice if he decided to return to the sideline.
Matt Dollinger: Isiah Thomas. Just kidding. The last time George Karl was employed by an NBA team he won Coach of the Year. So why is this guy working for ESPN again? Karl might not be a sexy hire, but he's a smart one. The 62-year-old is 1,131-756 (.599) and has led his team to the playoffs in 22 of 25 seasons. If that résumé isn't good enough, Karl's networking skills should come in handy. He attended North Carolina with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and is expecting a call from his "very good friend" sometime soon. L.A. will likely be looking for a veteran coach to help Kobe Bryant make one last push for a title; Karl could be its best option.
Chris Johnson: Fred Hoiberg. Calling Hoiberg the "best" coach on the market would be a huge leap, but stay with me. If Brad Stevens’ move from Butler to Boston stunned the basketball world, few will be caught off guard if Hoiberg is coaching an NBA team next season. You might be asking yourself: Who is this young, hotshot Iowa State coach? And what makes him more qualified than the other college coaches who have flopped at the next level? Well, the man nicknamed The Mayor isn’t just any old college coach. He has an NBA background. After playing 10 seasons in the league, from 1995-96 to 2004-05, Hoiberg served four years in the Timberwolves' front office before taking over at Iowa State in 2010. Hoiberg, who lead the Cyclones to three consecutive NCAA tournaments for only the second time in program history, is revered for his tactical acumen and professional comportment. While Hoiberg's lack of experience on NBA sidelines may give some teams pause, it seems likely he'll make the jump from college sooner than later.