With the 2017-18 NBA season officially in the books, the next couple of weeks could be very interesting on the NBA coaching front. Some teams may not sit on their hands for very long. The New York Knicks ended their relationship with head coach Jeff Hornacek yesterday, and several more could move today and tomorrow.
Here are some of the teams to watch:
The Phoenix Suns are not expected to keep interim head coach Jay Triano, although a number of the Suns players have campaigned for him to be retained. Word in NBA circles is the Suns plan to be aggressive in finding their next head coach and have been linked pretty seriously to former Grizzlies coach David Fizdale. Suns GM Ryan McDonough indicated he’s reached out to several coaching agents and has a working list of five to ten candidates he wants to speak with. The Suns hope to have a new head coach in place before the May 15 NBA Draft Lottery in Chicago. The Suns are one of the NBA teams linked to Villanova head coach Jay Wright, although Wright recently said he wouldn’t be leaving the NCAA anytime soon.
Like the Suns, the Grizzlies are not expected to retain interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. The Grizzlies are expected to cast a pretty wide net in looking for their next head coach. With the ownership situation now resolved, the Grizzlies have a touch more stability which should help in their quest to find a new locker room leader. There hasn’t been a lot of chatter about Grizzlies candidates, but there are a few names to watch – ESPN and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson and Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov.
The Hawks could find themselves in the market for a new head coach as well. There is a prevailing rumor in NBA circles that current Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer wants out. Budenholzer was somewhat evasive with the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Jeff Schultz when asked directly about the idea that his representation had been talking with the Milwaukee Bucks about their pending opening after the playoffs. Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said he has not been contacted by anyone and that he was preparing for exit interviews and the offseason, assuming Budenholzer would be back.
The Orlando Magic have moved on from head coach Frank Vogel. Vogel’s tenure in Orlando never lined up, and the current front office wants their own guy. The front-runner candidate may be Toronto 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse. The prevailing thought is the Magic are looking for a player development focused head coach that can help them build a winner. The Magic are expected to conduct a thorough search, but given the number of teams expected to be in the market, they may not linger long. League sources have said the Magic have been looking at coaching options since the first of the year, so it should not be a prolonged search in Orlando.
The Knicks have moved on from head coach Jeff Hornacek letting him go late Wednesday night. This move was not surprising. Much like Orlando, the Knicks front office wants their own guy. Former Grizzlies coach David Fizdale and Raptors G-League coach Jerry Stackhouse are said to be front-runners as is ESPN broadcaster Mark Jackson. The name to watch may also be former Cavs coach David Blatt; the word is he wants back in the NBA, and a number of teams have him on their list, including the Knicks. A report from the New York Daily News suggests that the Knicks plan to temp Villanova’s Jay Wright, who currently earns roughly $2.4 million, despite Wright’s ledge to remain at Villanova.
With the Hornets having new leadership in the hiring of Mitch Kupchak as president and general manager, many in the NBA see the Hornets parting ways with head coach Steve Clifford. This one could go either way. Clifford is well liked, however, his recent health issues and the inability to get the team into the postseason again may make it more likely he’ll be replaced. The one thing in Clifford’s favor is there may be an unprecedented number of coaching openings, driving up the price and commitment a team will need to make to a new head coach. That said, it seems more likely than not that Clifford is out this week.
The narrative out of Detroit is that change is coming. The question becomes will current Pistons head coach and team president relinquish control of the franchise in exchange for another year or two on his contract. Van Gundy has made it clear that the Pistons job will likely be his last, the question becomes how aggressive will the change owner Tom Gores has been talking about really be? The Pistons have been underwhelming under Van Gundy’s tenure and most feel he’ll be out in Detroit in the coming days.
While the Milwaukee Bucks did make the playoffs under current interim head coach Joe Prunty, he is not expected to retain the job once the Bucks season comes to an end. The Bucks job might be the best opening in the NBA, and there appears to be a number of would-be suitors for the position once it officially comes open. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has been linked to the job as has current ESPN broadcaster, Jeff Van Gundy. The Bucks are expected to be aggressive in finding a “championship caliber” coach, so it will be interesting to see who holds out for that job versus some of the others.
Given the fact that the LA Clippers missed the playoffs, some believed the end to be near for head coach Doc Rivers. The belief ran rampant despite the fact that most agreed that this season was the best coaching job he’d done in years. According to David Aldridge of Turner Sports, though, Rivers will return next season.
The 2017-18 season marked the first sub 50-win season for Rivers and a playoff miss for a team that wanted to retool, not necessarily bottom out. Rivers had his job restructured last summer, but is apparently going to return for next season—a surprising development to a few.
There are a few names to watch in the coaching candidate circles as well. All four of the San Antonio Spurs assistants James Borrego, Becky Hammon, Ettore Messina and Ime Udoka, continue to get mentioned as interview candidates, as does Warriors assistant Mike Brown. There are a few former head coaches to watch including David Blatt, Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Monty Williams and Jeff Van Gundy.
This will be an evolving and fluid process, so stay tuned as these stories and more play out this week.