With the possible exception of Congressional seats, the annual comings and goings in the NBA's head coaching ranks is arguably our biggest game of musical chairs. It's played with far greater frequency than the politicians' version, certainly, and to the best of our knowledge, none of the vacancies ever has been blatantly put up for sale. Not even in Chicago.
The chairs are in position again, 30 of them. Currently, they are filled by 30 butts. But it's an equilibrium that never lasts, a temporary condition in between the music. Eight of the men who sat in those chairs back in November are parked elsewhere now, replaced one by one by wannabes, retreads and other surrogates. Now they and the other 22 get to play again (to varying degrees, based on their contracts) in a high-stakes game that keeps contestants aspiring or coming back like it's a green-felt spot at a World Series of Poker table.
Those who have been in want to get back. Those who are in want to stay. Those who haven't yet played long for a chance.
"You hope it's not [a permanent condition]," said former Toronto coach
Mitchell, with a 156-189 record over four-plus seasons, had led Toronto to the playoffs (and first-round exits) in each of the past two seasons and was the NBA's Coach of the Year for 2006-07. He was done in by the team's sluggish start, some injuries, player-development disputes and the reality that he wasn't hired by general manager
Yet Mitchell sounds uninterested in the former and willing to work for the latter. He has been living the life of a "paid bum" -- that's his mother's term for him these days in Atlanta, attending his girls' volleyball games and getting by without organized basketball in late winter and spring for the first time in more than 30 years, 12 as a blue-collar NBA forward.
"I honestly have no regrets," Mitchell said. "Like I told Bryan when I got fired, no coach agrees with being fired. I feel like today, I'll feel like tomorrow and next week and next month, that I was doing a good job. But that's not my decision. Once the decision was made, my whole thing is, whatever you say to me or do to me, that's on you. I still control what I do with it. And how I feel about it. And how I choose to deal with it.
"You just roll with it. Obviously, you'd much rather be working."
Natch. Mitchell and several dozen other guys who covet the challenge, the competition, the status and the salaries of an NBA head coaching job. Eight firings and hirings during this season might limit the number of vacancies this summer. So might the tough economic times that have hit even the moguls and magnates who own sports franchises; paying one or two former coaches not to work, while signing someone else to a fresh contract, hits harder now, less subject to whim or pique. Still, history tells us that somebody who has one of these jobs soon won't and somebody who doesn't soon will.
The others? When the music stops, there will no chairs for them. Unless it's courtside or in a studio, with a headset and microphone wired and ready.
Here are the five teams most likely to be hiring a coach this offseason and five candidates especially eager to help lower this nation's unemployment rate:
The Kings gave serious consideration to hiring
Other than Natt and McHale,
Talk about injuries. It isn't so much that
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it works wonders on market value, too. Detroit's struggles this season after three straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals, and Minnesota's 130-226 record since Saunders got fired there in February 2005, make him a must-consider candidate this summer. He can afford to be picky -- there's always his alma mater, the University of Minnesota, as an option whenever
A return to Sacramento, where he preceded
When exactly was Johnson exposed to a radioactive strain of ebola? You would think that this guy -- admired and praised as a point guard, head-spinningly successful as Dallas' coach -- would be working elsewhere by now. He won 143 games with the Mavericks in two-plus seasons, while losing only 39, before earning a pink slip with a 51-31 mark in 2007-08 while apparently irritating
Enough already with the bridesmaid dress. Thibodeau has been the next big thing in the coaching ranks for almost too long, and
Of the 19 men who have won the past 20 Coach of the Year awards (