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Primer on the seven new coaches

Yes, the woeful Nets, with a league-low 12 wins, predictably cleaned house, but so did the Cavaliers, who bagged a league-best 61 victories and were thought to have had the inside track on re-signing LeBron James when they fired Mike Brown. Two other playoff teams, Atlanta and Chicago, likewise dumped their coach, while six of the nine teams with fewer than 30 wins stood pat.

What follows is a recap, and a handicapping, of the coaching changes. As we run down the list, taking the seven teams with new coaches in alphabetical order, it is helpful to remember the caveat buried in the fine print of most financial transactions: Past success or failure is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

BACKGROUND OF HIRE:The Hawks' playoff run had more bickering than winning. They edged the injury-depleted Bucks but got blown out by the Magic in the second round. As a result, the front office decided to scapegoat MikeWoodson and replace him with player-favorite Drew at a bargain price.


JOB PRIORITIES: Develop the maturity and character of a team that too often has shirked collective responsibility in tough times. Drew also plans to revamp the offense with more ball movement, fewer isolation plays and more time for Josh Smith in the low block and sophomore point guard Jeff Teague on the court.

FORTES AND FLAWS: The easy criticism is that Drew has no head-coaching experience, yet is being asked to take a now-perennial contender to the next level in the postseason. Drew's strengths and weaknesses are both related to the rapport he has with his players, who frequently had their differences with Woodson. "When anybody had any problems on the court, we used to go to him for advice," Smith said of Drew. "He knows what everybody likes to do." That's great for initial motivation, but what happens when the players inevitably discover that the head man can't please everybody all of the time?

PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11: The Eastern Conference finals. That's the step that Woodson -- who improved the team's record by at least four extra wins five years in a row -- wasn't able to take. With 29-year-old JoeJohnson signed to a six-year, $124 million deal, the status quo won't be acceptable.

THE RIGHT HIRE? Ultimately, no. But Drew is a reasonable and inexpensive gamble: Only two years and $2.5 million of his $5 million contract are guaranteed. The Johnson signing obligates the Hawks to soar or crash with the current personnel, who need to develop poise and a backbone. Hiring their confidante gives players more control, but it also pins the responsibility of adulthood more directly on their shoulders.

BACKGROUND OF HIRE: After two .500 seasons and quarrels between the coach and front office, the Bulls dismissed Vinny Del Negro and hired Thibodeau, the defensive-minded former assistant who helped the Celtics to the 2008 championship.


JOB PRIORITIES: Get the Bulls deep into the playoffs for the first time in the post-Michael Jordan era. With young cornerstones Derrick Rose and JoakimNoah, and some veteran offseason pickups (including Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver), Thibodeau has all the pieces. Now he just needs to put them together.

FORTES AND FLAWS: In six of his last seven seasons as defensive coordinator, Thibodeau's clubs have finished first or second in opposing field-goal percentage. When he joined the Celtics in 2007, along with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Boston shaved a remarkable 8.9 points per game from its opponents' point total from the previous year, the single biggest reason for its record 42-game improvement and ensuing title that season.

Thibodeau has never been a head coach, and NBA history is littered with highly esteemed lieutenants who fail to live up to expectations as the lead guy. With the Bulls' storied past and hope for the near future, Thibodeau is under even more pressure.

PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11: The Eastern Conference finals. It's not outlandish for the Bulls to believe the acquisition of Boozer and the further development of Rose and Noah (plus the upgrade to Thibodeau and new defensive coordinator Ron Adams, whom Thibodeau pilfered from Oklahoma City) is enough to put them alongside the Magic and Celtics as the Heat's primary challengers in the East.

THE RIGHT HIRE? Absolutely.

BACKGROUND OF HIRE: Despite winning 127 games over his last two seasons in Cleveland -- and taking his team to the NBA Finals the year before that -- Brown was second-guessed inside and out of the organization for his player rotations and lack of imagination on offense. Scott was hired as his replacement just as LeBron began the process of meeting with suitors during the free-agent period. Of course, Scott was tasked with trying to help bring back James, who reportedly said he preferred a coach with NBA playing experience. Scott, who earned three rings playing for the Lakers and had a mutually beneficial relationship with one of James' good friends, Hornets point guard ChrisPaul while coaching him in New Orleans, seemed like good bait to keep James with the Cavs.


JOB PRIORITIES: To pick up the pieces and refashion them into a post-LeBron identity. The biggest challenge will be to "keep hope alive" in Cleveland -- a city all to accustomed to disappointment -- under circumstances that would make even the most capable coach gulp and wince.

FORTES AND FLAWS: Along with his three championships as a player, Scott's superb pedigree includes coaching the Nets and the Hornets to the most successful NBA seasons in the histories of those franchises, including two trips to the Finals with New Jersey. That, along with his poise and demeanor on the sideline, will add a credible facade to a demoralized team and its fans. On the other hand, Scott is no miracle worker when it comes to working with mediocre talent: He won just 26 games in New Jersey with Stephon Marbury and rookie Kenyon Martin the year before the Nets acquired Jason Kidd. And he had just 18 wins in New Orleans the year before Paul was drafted.

PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11 Thirty-five wins would constitute a moral victory in the first year without LeBron. Especially if it can be done while finding out if J.J. Hickson or Ramon Sessions can elevate their game a notch, and making right decisions on whether to keep or trade valuable players such as MoWilliams and Anderson Varejao.

THE RIGHT HIRE? Yes, assuming Scott has gotten past his own disappointment of not being able to coach LeBron. The question is, Can he persevere in what could be his most daunting season yet as a coach?

BACKGROUND OF HIRE: Former coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy achieved the improbable feat of usurping universally derided owner DonaldSterling as the main object of scorn in L.A. While Dunleavy took the Clippers to court for the rest of his wages, Sterling predictably went for a low-cost replacement in Del Negro to try to shake the Clips out of their perpetually losing ways.


JOB PRIORITIES: To develop the Clippers' young core of talent, to improve the efficiency of the offense (beginning with gifted but stubborn point guard BaronDavis) and to start rehabilitating the culture of losing in Clipperville.

FORTES AND FLAWS: Rose, Noah AND Taj Gibson all accelerated their development during Del Negro's tenure in Chicago, which augurs well for L.A.'s young group of Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin, who missed last season with a knee injury after being the top pick in the 2009 draft. But Del Negro's in-game management -- such as matchup adjustments or play-calling out of timeouts -- seemed suspect and the Bulls were below-average offensively during his two seasons.

PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11: The playoffs. With two former All-Stars (Davis and Chris Kaman), a guard who proved himself with the U.S. world championship team in Turkey this summer (Gordon) and a former top draft pick who is itching to debut (Griffin), Del Negro has a solid group to build around. And a third straight postseason appearance by Del Negro with a young team considered to be on the playoff bubble would send a strong message to his critics.

THE RIGHT HIRE? No. Del Negro doesn't seem to possess either the strategic prowess or the personal clout to turn Davis into more of a team player or to overcome the permanent impediments of Sterling's ownership and the Clippers' secondary status to the Lakers in L.A.

BACKGROUND OF HIRE: At 12-70, the Nets finished last season with the NBA's worst record since 1998. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov wanted to inaugurate his ownership by hiring a successful, high-profile coach to rapidly reverse the ineptitude and create a public relations splash. He chose Johnson, whose three-plus years in Dallas led to a Coach of the Year award in 2006 and the highest winning percentage (73.5 percent) in NBA history (Phil Jackson is second at 70.5 percent).


JOB PRIORITIES: End the woeful underachievement. No team with BrookLopez at center and Devin Harris at point guard should lose 70 games. Basic fundamentals -- like coherent offensive and defensive schemes and consistent effort from the players -- need to be installed and instilled. More specifically, Harris, whom Johnson coached in Dallas, must bounce back from a subpar season and a frontcourt rotation involving Lopez, top draft pick DerrickFavors and new acquisition Troy Murphy from Indiana must be implemented.

FORTES AND FLAWS: The Little General admitted that his taskmaster rigor may have gotten out of hand near the end of his tenure in Dallas, but in New Jersey, extra discipline will be sorely needed. However, the Nets don't possess enough experience or self-confidence to withstand abuse without damaging their future. Hiring another renowned disciplinarian, former Coach of the Year SamMitchell, as his top assistant adds further intrigue.

PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11 Thirty wins and a move toward respectability. Losing Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter in successive seasons had much to do with New Jersey's plummet from back-to-back 34-win seasons to just 12 last year. But the additions of Murphy and Travis Outlaw, and the further development of swingman Terrence Williams, should improve the perimeter shooting, and a tighter defense is almost automatic with Johnson in control.

THE RIGHT HIRE? Yes, but it is not without risk. Johnson has a winner's cache, but he and Prokhorov won't tolerate losing. There's certainly a danger that he'll push too hard, but Lopez, Harris and other holdovers from last year's disaster will likely endorse his efforts to raze the status quo.

BACKGROUND OF HIRE: Too many injuries and not enough money have hurt the Hornets. Two years ago, a succession of injuries to center Tyson Chandler deprived New Orleans of its rim protector and alley-oop option in a big three with Paul and David West. After Chandler was dealt to Charlotte in a payroll-crippling trade for Emeka Okafor, Paul's injuries kept him on the bench for much of last year, a season in which general manager Jeff Bower also took over for Scott as coach early in the season. Before Bower's departure, he made an unsuccessful run at luring Thibodeau to replace him as coach, then tapped Williams, another well-regarded assistant coach, from the Trail Blazers.


JOB PRIORITIES: Keeping Paul happy and healthy, at least until his contract expires in two or three years (he has an option to terminate before the 2012-13 season). Watching his buddies from the 2008 Olympic team congregate in Miami while his Hornets fixated on a potential ownership change and avoiding the luxury tax provoked wanderlust in Paul this offseason. New general manager Dell Demps went all-in on retaining Paul by trading his promising backup, Darren Collison, to obtain Trevor Ariza, who, paired with Paul, creates the best ball-hawking backcourt in the NBA. Now it is up to Williams to surround Paul with the right schemes and personnel to foster wins and loyalty from the face, heart and soul of the franchise.

FORTES AND FLAWS: Williams, 38, the youngest coach in the league, worked for the past five years under Nate McMillan in Portland, where he was credited with assisting the development of young forwards Nicolas Batum, Martell Webster and Outlaw. Williams announced that he would focus on improving team defense -- an appropriate priority, given that the Hornets fell to 21st in defensive efficiency last year after ranking in the top 10 the previous three seasons.

PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11 Fifty wins. A healthy Paul working with dynamic swingmen such as Ariza (on defense) and Marcus Thornton (on offense) can be an elite backcourt. Williams has to conjure ways to stop the slow slippage in power forward David West's game and maximize the limited skill sets of Okafor and backup center Aaron Gray. Ariza needs to return to the defensive role he was known for with the Lakers and fix the horrible shot selection he had in Houston. But above all, the team needs a vintage season from Paul.

THE RIGHT HIRE? Good question. Williams has a short résumé. But being able to engender the trust and support of Paul would cover a multitude of sins. Without Paul's embrace, the coach's tenure in the Crescent City is likely to be brief.

BACKGROUND OF HIRE: With eight different coaches since the spring of 2003 -- four of them in the last 21 months -- the Sixers have been notoriously impatient with their sideline tacticians. After a 2009-10 season notable for the team's wretched perimeter defense, the return of Allen Iverson and the inability to find a productive role for the expensive Elton Brand for the second year in a row, Philadelphia axed Eddie Jordan after one year and made Collins their most experienced coaching hire since Larry Brown.


JOB PRIORITIES: Nurturing the 76ers' backcourt of the future in 20-year-old point guard JrueHoliday (17th pick in the 2009 draft) and 21-year-old swingman Evan Turner (second pick in 2010). Collins must also figure out how to make the comparable skill sets of Turner and franchise cornerstone AndreIguodala synergistic instead of redundant, upgrade the defense (especially on the perimeter) and find a specialized role that makes Brand somewhat valuable.

FORTES AND FLAWS: Collins achieved immediate improvement at his first two coaching stops, in Chicago and Detroit (not so much with the Wizards), but wore out his welcome by his third year. Astute with X's and O's, he comes to a team with depth and flexible parts -- a tactical blessing but also a risk for a 58-year-old coach who hasn't always been able to sustain smooth relations with his players.

PLAUSIBLE GOAL FOR 2010-11: Make the playoffs. In a top-heavy Eastern Conference, the addition of a talent like Turner, coupled with the confidence of Iguodala (whose rebounding and defense helped the U.S. team win gold in Turkey), provides Collins with a chance to enact another quick fix and catapult his team into one of the final playoff berths.

THE RIGHT HIRE? Yes, provided Collins remembers that his last plus-.500 coaching job was in 1996-97, and updates his player relations for the 21st century while retaining his chalkboard savvy.