NBA Coaches: Who Got Next?

Jeff Skibiski —  September 24, 2010

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With Don Nelson’s not all that surprising departure from the Warriors this week, the NBA’s list of true coaching relics became one less. Sure, the usual stalwarts—Larry Brown, Jerry Sloan, George Karl, Doc Rivers, Doug Collins, Greg Popovic, Rick Adelman, Pat Riley in a management capacity and of course, the Lakers own Phil Jackson—remain active in the league’s coaching circle. However, we’re approaching a time, in the not too distant future, when the latest influx of NBA coaching talent will be asked to lead this league, similar to the way Kobe Bryant will eventually pass the torch to Kevin Durant, LeBron James, etc.

For all the talk about the new-age athleticism of the post-Y2K generation of NBA players, the league has also experienced a golden age of coaching over the same time span. As the list of longtime, top-tier coaches continues to decrease, though, who eventually replaces the Zen Master? Not just in the sense of who replaces Jackson on the Lakers bench, but which coaches will live up to the dynamic personalities and multi-layered expertise of the Don Nelsons and Phil Jacksons of the league? Five coaches who are ready to attempt to fill that eventual void immediately come to mind for me:

Stan Van Gundy, while certainly a household name after helming the Heat in their first season after for trading for Shaq and leading the Magic to the 2008-2009 Finals, is still one of the more unheralded coaches in the league today, despite winning a league-leading 69% of the 246 games he’s coached. His Magic are also poised for another run at the title his year.

The newest coach of the New Jersey Nets, the always fiery Avery Johnson, has already taken a team to the Finals in 2006 and won the Coach of the Year Award, while becoming the fastest coach in NBA history to win 150 games. Now, he gets a chance to rebuild a team essentially from scratch—a challenge the Little General eagerly welcomes with the same steadfast confidence he showed while he was playing in the league.

Mike D’Antoni has amassed a series of accolades in less than seven full seasons as a head coach, including the implementation of his now infamous “Seven Seconds or Less” offense. While he’s currently mired in New York’s extended rebuilding, the offensive juggernaut he created while with the Suns still serves as a prominent offensive model today.

Nate McMillan remains almost a hidden treasure in Portland, quietly entering a maelstrom in the Northwest in 2005 and playing a prominent role in revitalizing the image of the entire franchise ever since. Moreover, McMillan has shown incredible aplomb in the face of all of Portland’s devastating injuries.

Scott Skiles steely on-court demeanor and commitment to the fundamentals of the game has carried over into his coaching, where he has quickly cemented his place as one of the league’s best defensive minds. His eye-opening work last season with an injury-ravaged Bucks squad has given basketball fans in Milwaukee every reason to be excited to see where he leads Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings and Co. this season.

Tom Thibodeau of the Bulls, Scott Brooks of the Thunder, Erik Spoelestra of the Heat and Alvin Gentry of the Suns are other rising stars who look well-prepared to join the NBA’s future coaching elite with a few more years in the incubator.

Which NBA coaches—whether currently a head coach or an assistant coach—are your picks to take the proverbial next step?

Jeff Skibiski

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17 responses to NBA Coaches: Who Got Next?

  1. I think Stan Van Gundy deserves his unheralded status!

    He’s managed to do less with more, consistently.

  2. How does Byron Scott not get mentioned? He has at least been a head coach which Thibadeau has not. Not to mention his coach of the year award. I hope he lands the Lakers coaching job next year if it is vacated like everyone expects. He will do well wherever he ends up though.

  3. Sheldon,
    Byron has now twice worn out his welcome with the players after a couple of years in each spot. This is not a good sign. My fear is that he is Scott Skiles rigid in his system, but doesn’t adjust to the talent on his teams. This would spell disaster for a very talented Lakers team.

  4. Personally I haven’t been impressed with Byron Scott after his first couple of NJ years. He doesn’t seem to make many adjustments. Nothing he’s implemented offensively or defensively seem nuanced. Throw in his record of wearing out players and I’m just not quite sure why people think he’ll be such a great replacement for Phil and Lakers.

    One up and coming coach I’m interested in watching is Scott Brooks at OKC. He seemed to handle being thrown into the fire well after PJ’s termination. He recognized Durant’s skill fit right away and moved him back to SF instead of trying to jam him into the SG spot. Durant started flourishing after that and the 2010 season speaks for itself.

    Reading the OKC blogs and other basketball tactics heavy sites, it seems like Brook’s game management and offensive sets have shown growth. From when he first too over mid season last year to the full 2010 season. One example I remember reading about was a game ending play where earlier in the season it was defended easily because it was too basic. But late in the season, he drew up the same set in the same situation but threw in a couple of wrinkles that got OKC a good luck because the D didn’t expect wrinkles.

    That growth shows good potential and a willingness to continue learning. Something I thought the Scott Skiles and Mike Dunleavy’s of the world didn’t do after their promising early careers. Or heck even throw Byron in that group.

    It’ll be interesting to watch how Brooks handles the higher expectations this year. That will demonstrate his motivation and people management skills. Also to watch if his on court tactical and strategic skills continue to grow.

  5. Thibodeau is one of the main reasons we’re looking to three-peat instead of four-peat next season, and with the squad he has in Chicago you have to like his chances in the next few years.

  6. What do people think about Vinny Del Negro?

    Not saying anything about him; just wondering what peoples’ thoughts are about him.

    And from the last thread

    @ harold.

    I wonder if the ideal coach for that Laker team would be Riley instead of Phil. Pretty much all hinges upon how Magic would fit in the triangle.

  7. Darius, have you looked into adding a poll section onto the blog? I feel like FB&G could definitely use polls..

  8. Would you trade Bynum and Artest for Carmelo? It works under the cap. Something to think about.

  9. #8. Jake,
    Really? I don’t think it’s much an idea to think about. It removes two of the Lakers top five players and replaces them with a redundant offensive player that doesn’t do much besides score the ball. And while scoring is valuable in this league, a team with Kobe/Pau/Bynum/Odom doesn’t need more offense, they need more defense – which Artest and Bynum provide.

  10. Brian Shaw, of course, and I maybe partial but I think that Kurt Rambis and Byron Scott will be amongst the elite.

    Future great coach, Derek Fisher!

  11. Hmm… it’s really late but I’m thinking maybe… Jack Haley?

  12. 1.

    Please explain this comment. In Wade’s rookie season he led a very flawed Miami team to the second round. The next year he was a Wade injury away from leading them to the Finals. He turned Orlando into a title contender and one of the best defenses in the league despite having a number of mediocre defensive players (apart from Howard). Apart from last season when the Magic had a poor start to the Celtics and never recovered, he has maxed out pretty much every team he’s coached.

  13. Just curious, but doesn’t that photo earn Phil Jackson a technical foul, for punching the air?

  14. Off topic:

    The current Melo trade scenario has Devin Harris going to the Bobcats, which would promote Our Man Farmar to the starting job.

  15. Joel – I guess I see it differently.

    The Magic should have given the Lakers some sort of challenge in the ’08 Finals.

    Similarly, I was unimpressed with how the C’s rolled over Van Gundy’s team last year. His teams seem (to me anyway) to make stupid moves in tight situations, and in my mind, that’s on the coach. It’s a symptom of poor coaching. I think Shaq had it right: SVG is a “master of panic” and his team’s play often reflects this.

  16. For those Laker fans located in the New York area. Magic Johnson will be doing a one hour meet and greet about 20 minutes outside of New York City in New Rochelle, NY. (Steiner Sports Headquarters.

    Date: Thursday, October 14th
    Time: 6:15pm-7:00pm
    Location: New Rochelle, NY (25 minutes from Manhattan)

    Contact me with questions.

    Steve Blackman
    (914) 307-1026
    Sblackman@steinersports.com