Posted Jun 10 2010 12:08PM
For those holding their breath, it's still about three weeks before the Free Agency Free-for-All cranks up. In the meantime, the Coaching Carousel is in full motion.
Who needs a summit to get things going?
In a staggering display of upheaval -- and dwindling job security -- more than a fifth of the NBA's coaching gigs will change hands before the start of 2010-11. Seven clubs have been in the market for sideline skippers since the regular season's end, though jobs have come off the board at a dizzying pace in recent days.
• Former Portland assistant Monty Williams joined the head-coaching fraternity after being introduced in New Orleans earlier this week.
• Former Coach of the Year Avery Johnson has agreed to lead the Prokhorov Plan in New Jersey after spending the last two years cooling his heels at ESPN.
• Boston defensive guru Tom Thibodeau appears set to take over in Chicago after those pesky Finals end.
Such rapid-fire activity makes it easy to forget that TNT-ex Doug Collins took the Philadelphia post a virtual lifetime ago. (It's been three weeks.) Still, even with four vacancies filled (or virtually filled), three remain open two weeks before the Draft.
• The most intriguing of the openings is in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers are putting a full-court press on Michigan State's Tom Izzo. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that owner Dan Gilbert -- a Michigan State alum -- is prepared to offer Izzo $6 million a year for as many as five years to leave the Spartans for the Cavs. The Plain Dealer reported that Izzo was to be in Cleveland on Thursday to meet with team officials.
Cleveland's situation is, of course, impacted by LeBron James, the prize free agent of the summer. Gilbert has stated that James isn't part of the search committee, and that he will have no say in the decision on who will coach the Cavs. But James' opinion can't be ignored. And if the Cavs have a coach in place before James picks where he will play next year -- the free agency period begins July 1 -- that will have to have an influence on LeBron's decision. How can it not?
Should nothing materialize with Izzo, former Hornets and Nets coach Byron Scott has emerged as a potential candidate. The well-respected Scott, currently an ESPN analyst, is a former Coach of the Year who once led New Jersey to back-to-back Finals trips.
• The Hawks may be headed back to the drawing board after one of their top choices, Johnson, agreed to a three-year deal with New Jersey. Johnson was believed to be a front-runner in Atlanta, along with Dallas assistant Dwane Casey. Others still in the mix are ESPN analyst Mark Jackson and Hawks aide Larry Drew, who worked under previous coach Mike Woodson.
Casey, a longtime assistant, coached Minnesota for 1 1/2 seasons before being fired despite showing improvement. Jackson hasn't coached at any level, but the former point guard wouldn't be the first to go from the broadcast table to the bench. Doc Rivers, among others, did that in Orlando years ago.
• Jackson, a transplanted Los Angelino, also figures to be a contender with the Clippers, though few details have emerged about that search. Team president Andy Roeser has said that it wasn't necessary to have a coach in place before the Draft, but he'd like to have one there before the frenzy of free agency. The Clippers have $17.6 million in cap space.
The four coaches already named to new posts (or virtually named) -- Williams, Johnson, Thibodeau and Collins -- each will be involved in various stages of rebuilding. The Bulls are the only playoff team in the group, but there should be several roster additions or an outright shakeup with $20.3 million to spend. Thibodeau surely has eyes for LeBron or Windy City native Dwyane Wade once bidding can begin.
In going from working for a Cuban (Mark) to a Russian (Mikhail Prokhorov), dollar signs are dancing in front of Johnson's eyes. But more than his contract, Johnson has nearly $27 million in funds to upgrade the NBA's worst team.
The Nets have promising young pieces, including Brook Lopez, one-time All-Star Devin Harris, Yi Jianlian, Courtney Lee and the third pick in the Draft. Johnson is also being reunited with Harris, his former point guard in Dallas. The chance to be involved in the Nets' reclamation project from the ground up appealed greatly to Johnson.
Williams' first coaching shot is rife with challenges. The Hornets went from Southwest Division champs to out of the playoffs in two years, firing Scott along the way. Williams also must maneuver around an unsettled ownership situation and a roster with little financial flexibility.
He has a good starting point with Chris Paul, and forging a Scott-like connection with arguably the league's best playmaker is crucial. Williams brings energy and enthusiasm to the table, and he's not completely without experience. He displayed poise and confidence as Nate McMillan's stand-in (literally) when the Portland coach was confined to his seat recovering from a ruptured Achilles.
Collins returns to the place of his NBA birth with the 76ers after being the No. 1 overall pick in 1973. Back in Philly 37 years later, he hopes to restore former glory to a franchise that's been a coaching graveyard for the last several years. The Sixers have the Draft's second pick.
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