The Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers are two teams that severely underperformed this season. Despite being less than a year out from removing the interim tag off Nate McMillan, Hawks fans are whispering about moving on from the veteran coach. There is no chance Atlanta fires McMillan this summer, but what if they found a trade partner in the Lakers, who desperately need a veteran coach?
Early days of Lob City Clippers
Let's go back in time. Before Chris Paul had reached point god status, prior to Matt Barnes becoming a full-time podcaster, and before De'Andre Jordan made three consecutive All-NBA teams.
It was June of 2013, and the Los Angeles Clippers were licking their wounds after a first round playoff loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. The 4-seed Clippers had seen steady improvement over three straight seasons, but changes were afoot.
Paul was a free agent in the prime of his career. After a trade that would have sent the All-Star to the Lakers was nixed, Paul wound up playing in Staples Center anyway, only for the Clippers. Thanks to his 16.9 points, and 9.7 assist average, Paul was in the driver's seat of the dysfunctional organization.
Del Negro had done a commendable job of turning around the Clippers organization but lacked the support of his team's floor general. The Clippers went 32-50 in Del Negro's first season, 40-26 in his season, and 56-26 in his third and final year in Los Angeles. On May 21, 2013, it was announced that the Clippers would not renew Del Negro's contract after its expiration at the end of June.
End of an era in Boston
Over 3,000 miles away, the Boston Celtics had lost an equally disappointing six-game series to the New York Knicks. Ray Allen had already joined forces with LeBron James in Miami, and it was clear that the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce era was over in Boston.
It was no secret that Celtics head coach Doc Rivers was not enthused about the looming rebuild. That's when the two organizations began planning a blockbuster trade.
Originally, Los Angeles and Boston discussed two trades: one to send Rivers to Los Angeles for multiple draft picks and another to straight swap Celtics forward Kevin Garnett for Clippers center DeAndre Jordan.
Garnett would have had to waive his no-trade clause to make the deal work, and the Celtics would have to let Rivers out of the final three years of his current deal with Boston. However, NBA rules not only banned coaches from being traded but also prohibited teams from attaching side deals to trades. But the two teams would not be deterred from executing the radical trade.
Rivers Traded, Paul Signed
Finally, a deal was struck on June 23, 2013. The Clippers sent the Celtics an unprotected 2015 first-round pick. In return, the Clippers took over the contract Rivers had with Boston, which has three years and $21 million left on it.
Only July 10, 2013, Chris Paul inked a 5-year, $107.3 million max contract extension. The Celtics would hire a 36-year-old Brad Stevens, who had zero professional coaching experience. Meanwhile, Vinny Del Negro would never coach again. It was messy but mutually beneficial.
So, that brings me to my point. It's been almost a decade, and once again, a Los Angeles team full of stars is in a coaching search. The Lakers fired Frank Vogel on April 11, 2022, less than two years since he led the franchise to its 17th NBA Championship.
Team owner Jeanie Buss, president Rob Pelinka, and the rest of the Lakers' brain trust (mostly the Rambis family) have begun interviewing a lengthy list of candidates to fill the role of head coach. The candidates range from respectable to wacky.
The Lakers won the 2020 NBA Finals in large part due to their defense. This year, the team ranked 21st in defensive rating and sorely needs a defensive-minded coach who is capable of handling superstars' egos.
Rushed Hawks Rebuild
Back in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks just finished an underwhelming season with a first round playoff exit. Two weeks ago, Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler expressed confidence in his head coach Nate McMillan.
But even if Ressler and Atlanta's front office wanted to move on from their coach, they would be left paying him a substantial amount. It's been less than a year since the Hawks and McMillan agreed to a four-year contract.
Atlanta's team president Travis Schlenk admitted it was a mistake to run it back with the same squad from the previous season. The organization rushed its rebuild and is now stuck with a coach who doesn't worry about the development of young players. If the Hawks could get off McMillan's contract right now, they would do so.
Hawks Get Their Man
The Lakers are more than capable of mishandling this coaching search. Why not bring in a win-now head coach with decades of experience in the league. The Lakers get their coach, and the Hawks get an annulment from a hasty marriage, plus a draft pick for their troubles.
Hawks fans have long pined for two of their former assistant coaches - Darvin Ham and Kenny Atkinson. Getting a coach that is more flexible and has a proven track record of player development is what this young team needs right now.
Does this trade have any chance of taking place? Absolutely not. McMillan is too well-respected in the NBA, and it would damage the Hawks image as a franchise. But it is fun to think about. And it begs the question, which team (if any) would say no to it?
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