By Charlie Zegers, RotoWire.com
Bobcats replace Bernie Bickerstaff with Sam Vincent
It’s not that Sam Vincent doesn’t have a decent resume. He’s an ex-NBA guard, like Doc Rivers, Avery Johnson, Nate McMillan and many other coaches these days. He’s got experience in the Euroleague. The Suns and Raptors will tell you that experience with the European style of play certainly isn’t a bad thing. He paid his dues on the bench with a successful team, serving as an assistant with Johnson’s Mavericks.
It’s not hard to suspect that one of Vincent’s primary goals this season will be to make some of Jordan’s more controversial acquisitions look good. That means he’ll be under additional pressure to find minutes for disappointing No. 3 overall pick (2006) Adam Morrison at the small forward and shooting guard positions, even though Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace are far superior players at this point. The problem is that Morrison simply can’t guard NBA twos or threes at this stage of his career.
Vincent’s resume offers a few other hints as to how he’ll run the ‘Cats. His most extensive coaching experience has been overseas. He has coached men’s and women’s pro and national teams in South Africa, Greece, the Netherlands and Nigeria. He led the Nigerian women’s team to an upset victory over South Korea in the 2004 Olympics and the men to the second round of the 2006 FIBA World Championships. It seems reasonable to expect that he’ll bring some of that international flavor to Charlotte, which could mean a high-octane offense like that of the Suns or Raptors. Richardson and Wallace, as well as big men like Emeka Okafor and Sean May, should thrive in such a system. It could also present a nice opportunity for players Primoz Brezec and Walter Herrmann, who are both veterans of international play.
Grizzlies replace Tony Barone with Marc Iavaroni
Marc Iavaroni is coming over from Phoenix, so Memphis is going to have a dynamic up-tempo offense and out-score people, right? Yes, to a point. Memphis will run, that much is clear. In fact, management’s desire to play up-tempo was one of the reasons given for Mike Fratello’s departure. But to call the Grizz – or any team, for that matter – a Phoenix clone is to ignore the fact that Phoenix has Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire, while Iavaroni has Mike Conley, Mike Miller and Pau Gasol. In other words, the Grizzlies will be an up-tempo team, but don’t expect them to challenge the top teams in the West just yet.
That said, up-tempo teams are generally good sources of fantasy stats – quicker pace means more possessions, and more possessions means more shots, which equals more opportunities for rebounds, etc. And the Euroball influence should make Pau Gasol and Darko Milicic feel right at home. This may be the year that we finally see Darko play like the guy who was drafted ahead of D-Wade and ‘Melo in 2003.
One obstacle Iavaroni will face in installing a Euro-style offense is point guard play. Memphis’ incumbent starter, Damon Stoudamire, isn’t the passer you’d like to have in that system. Mike Conley is a rookie and Kyle Lowry is a “might as well be a rookie.” You’ll remember Lowry missed most of his debut season recovering from a broken wrist. As we’ve seen with Nash’s Suns and, to a lesser extent, T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon’s Raptors, point guard play is key. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results from Iavaroni’s Grizzlies early on, as it might take a little time for the guards to get comfortable running the offense. Fantasy owners might even want to anticipate a slow start and target guys like Milicic, Gasol, Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick in “buy low” trades around Christmas time.
Kings replace Eric Musselman with Reggie Theus
In case you needed more evidence that “up tempo” is the biggest trend in the NBA, here’s another Rick Pitino disciple getting a head coaching gig. Reggie Theus spent the last two seasons as the head coach at New Mexico State, and as an assistant to Pitino at Louisville before that.
Pitino’s philosophy is well-known to basketball fans and likely defines the style of play the Kings will employ this season. Expect lots of pressure defense, a quick tempo, fast breaks and threes. Lots of threes. That should be a good match for the Kings’ guard-heavy roster, so look for big seasons from Mike Bibby and Kevin Martin. Don’t forget Francisco Garcia, who played under Pitino (and Theus) at Louisville and excelled.
The emphasis on defensive pressure should mean Ron Artest will play a big role, particularly if his defensive prowess can lead to turnovers and fast-break opportunities. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Ron-Ron putting up atrocious shooting percentages – he has a bad habit of falling in love with his jumper, which isn’t as good as he thinks it is. We don’t love the fit for Brad Miller or Kenny Thomas, either, as Theus’ offense will likely require more running than either big man would prefer. Don’t be surprised if you see more athletic frontcourt options like Shareef Abdur-Rahim and the newly-acquired Mikki Moore playing significant roles.
Magic replace Brian Hill with Stan Van Gundy
Stan Van Gundy is, by all accounts, a very good basketball coach. So it seems a shame that he only gets the NBA jobs that someone else drops like a bad habit. He got his first shot to lead the Heat when Pat Riley suddenly resigned before the 2003-04 season. As a result, he turned the franchise around and then was unceremoniously thrown under a bus when the team was on the verge of a championship. He’s getting a second opportunity this season, but only because Florida coach Billy Donovan had a change of heart after accepting the Magic gig.
Like his brother Jeff, Van Gundy is a defense-first coach, and he’s got experience running a team that revolves around a dominant center. Orlando’s franchise player is Dwight Howard, so he’s a good fit for the Magic in that regard. Orlando’s roster doesn’t seem terribly well-suited to Van Gundy’s style of play. The presumptive starting backcourt of Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick is undersized. With Darko Milicic gone, there’s not much help for Howard in the frontcourt – veteran Tony Battie is about it. The deepest part of the roster is on the wing, where Orlando will feature big-ticket free agent signing Rashard Lewis as well as holdovers Hedo Turkoglu and Trevor Ariza.
If you feel like there is a disconnect between the composition of the roster and the choice of coach, you’re not alone. Magic President Bob Vander Weide and general manager Otis Smith have told the press that they want to see a quicker attack that will get younger players like Redick and Nelson involved. When Billy Donovan was the coach, that plan made sense. With Van Gundy, less so. We’d expect him to mix and match his players, keeping scores in the 70s and 80s and “winning ugly.” It will be interesting to see if the Magic make roster adjustments to suit the coach, or if this turns out to be another short-term gig.
Pacers replace Rick Carlisle with Jim O’Brien
During the last few seasons, the Indiana Pacers have been the source of more drama than a whole month’s worth of Lifetime TV Movies. None of this was Rick Carlisle’s fault, but we’re not surprised that the team decided to start fresh.Larry Bird tabbed another ex-Celtic, former Rick Pitino assistant Jim O’Brien. As the most successful Celtic coach in recent memory, O’Brien took over the team from Pitino and led the Paul Pierce/Antoine Walker squad to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002.
Where philosophy is concerned, O’Brien is about as different from Carlisle as one can be while still coaching the same sport. Carlisle is highly controlling, known to call out set plays on nearly every offensive possession. O’Brien, on the other hand, favors a much more open offense, a quick tempo, and lots and lots of three-pointers. That shift alone represents a big upgrade for guys like Troy Murphy (a 40 percent three-point shooter in 2006-07) and Danny Granger (38 percent) as well as raises the possibility that newly-signed Travis Diener (a career 40 percent three-point shooter) will seriously push Jamaal Tinsley for playing time.
Jermaine O’Neal will quickly become an O’Brien favorite for his ability and effort on both ends of the floor – assuming, of course, that the Pacers don’t decide to accelerate the rebuilding process and package JO for prospects.
Rockets replace Jeff Van Gundy with Rick Adelman
The Rockets have a franchise center. Jeff Van Gundy used to run a team with a franchise center. It seemed like such an obvious match. But in retrospect, maybe Van Gundy’s “pound the ball inside to Patrick, er, to Yao” offense didn’t do enough to utilize the abilities of two of the NBA’s most unique talents, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. And maybe that’s the reason that Houston’s two superstars seemed to perform better when one or the other was out of the lineup.
Enter Rick Adelman. Mike D’Antoni and the Suns get all the credit, but Adelman was really most responsible for bringing aesthetically-pleasing basketball back into fashion when he installed the legendary Pete Carrill’s Princeton offense, taking max advantage of the passing skills of Chris Webber. As you consider what Adelman’s arrival will mean for the Rockets, think of Yao as a taller version of C-Webb. Then imagine those unstoppable back-door cuts and precision passes of the Princeton offense being run by guys like Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells. And imagine points. Lots of points.
Outside of McGrady and Yao (top fantasy talents) and Wells (spent time with the Kings), it is hard to predict which Rockets will benefit the most from this coaching change. That’s because the Rockets are comically deep right now, with 21 players listed on the roster on their official Web site (including five point guards). Additional changes will be made. But we can make a few educated guesses. For example, it seems reasonable to expect that Tracy McGrady will continue to play a major role in initiating the offense in the half court. That frees up the point guard – whoever that may be – to be more of a scorer. It also seems fair to guess that a guy with a very high basketball IQ like Shane Battier will take to Adelman’s system very quickly.
Sonics replace Bob Hill with P.J. Carlesimo
It appears P.J. Carlesimo’s image rehabilitation is complete. The former coach of the Warriors, Blazers and Seton Hall Pirates will get a chance to run one of the NBA’s most interesting – and youngest – squads. Fair or not, Carlesimo had a reputation as a screamer and a guy that veteran NBA players might tune out as a result of the Latrell Sprewell incident. However, he resurrected his NBA career by working as an assistant to Gregg Popovich on the Spurs’ bench since 2002. He is said to be an excellent teacher and one of the primary architects of the Spurs’ elite defense.
That focus will be needed in Seattle, as Carlesimo takes over one of the NBA’s worst defensive teams. Sonics GM Sam Presti, who was also hired away from the San Antonio organization, is expecting immediate improvement, telling SuperSonics.com, “I believe and I know that the day that a college program or an NBA team hires P.J. Carlesimo to be their head coach, they get better defensively that day.” The show of faith is touching, but the Sonics will be among the youngest teams in the league, and youngsters tend to struggle on D.
Carlesimo’s other urgent task will be teaching 2007 second-overall pick Kevin Durant, along with Jeff Green and the rest of the younger Sonics players, how to succeed in the NBA. His extensive experience at the collegiate level should help in that regard. So should the fact that his own NBA success hasn’t exactly come easily.