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What's New for 2010-11: The Coaches

By Fran Blinebury,
Posted Sep 21 2010 6:50PM - Updated Oct 23 2010 6:34PM

Editor's note: This is the second in a series breaking down what's new in the NBA for the 2010-11 season. Coming in the next few days: a look at the big-name rookies, the stars in new places and more.

Byron Scott, Cleveland Cavaliers

In addition to collecting three championship rings from his playing days with the Lakers, Scott was laying the foundation for his coaching career by learning from Pat Riley and then Larry Brown in Indiana. His no-nonsense approach took the Nets to the Finals in 2002 and 2003 and then he moved to New Orleans and pushed the Hornets to 56 wins in 2008, which earned him Coach of the Year.
What He Inherits:
The good news is that he inherits eight members of a team that won 61 games and had the best record in the NBA last season. Of course, the bad news is the one that got away. So now he's got a team consisting of complementary parts that will have to toil relentlessly for respectability in the absence of LeBron James. Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao will have to play defiantly.
One hour on one July night changed everything about the job that Scott took on. But there's a good chance that he's just what the doctor ordered for a Cavs team and a Cleveland fan base that will need to generate enthusiasm and look to the future. Scott's got the kind of chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that could rub off and become infectious. It will have to if they are going to survive the rebuilding process.

Scott introduced

Vinny Del Negro, L.A. Clippers

Even his critics in Chicago would have to admit that he had the Bulls playing hard, even if they questioned his strategy. If he gets credit for the development of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, then he has to take ownership of not getting the most out of Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Tyrus Thomas. So Mr. Free-and-Easy takes his very thin resume to a Clippers' organization that is crying out for an authority figure.
What He Inherits:
With the 2009 No. 1 Draft pick Blake Griffin ready to make his belated NBA debut with a lineup that already has Eric Gordon and All-Star Chris Kaman, the Clippers seem to have the talent on hand to make last season's 29-53 record a faded memory and claim a playoff spot. They also have have plenty of depth on their bench. But the X-factor remains Baron Davis, who has record of only 48-116 since joining the Clippers.
It's not out the question that things come together early, Griffin lives up to the hype as Rookie of the Year and Del Negro has the Clippers in the West hunt. But the entire season could depend on the attitude and effort of Davis, who has not come close to living up to the free agent contract he signed to return to L.A. and could be shipped out at the trade deadline if he bucks Del Negro.

Del Negro introduced

Avery Johnson, New Jersey Nets

The Little General doesn't lack in confidence, attitude or volume. Following a peripatetic playing career that had him all over the map as an undrafted unknown and ultimately as the starting point guard on a championship team in San Antonio, Johnson is driven. In his only other job as coach, he taught defense in Dallas and drove the Mavs to the 2006 NBA Finals.
What He Inherits:
If you base it strictly on last season's worst-in-the-league 12-70 record, Johnson doesn't inherit much. But upon closer examination, the Nets have a talented and promising foundation to build on in Brook Lopez and All-Star Devin Harris. They added a solid double-double guy in Troy Murphy and are betting that first-round draft pick Derrick Favors will catch on fast. With the infusion of talent from Jordan Farmar and Travis Outlaw, the Little General has tools to work with.
With a new coach, some new players, new temporary home and even a new owner, the Nets have no reason to look back at last season's disaster and every reason to feel upbeat about the future. Johnson will give them a defensive identity and a sense of purpose. Not ready for prime time yet. But if they find a way to pry Carmelo Anthony loose from Denver, they'll be hotter than the Jersey Shore.

Johnson introduced

Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls

In two decades as an assistant coach with more than a handful of teams, Thibodeau has carved out his reputation as Mr. Defense. His troops from New York to Houston to Boston have finished in the top 10 in team defense 15 times. His philosophy helped solidify the Celtics for their 2008 title and last season's run back to The Finals. He's been long overdue to run his own show.
What He Inherits:
While so much of the offseason attention has been drawn to the pyrotechnics in Miami, Thibodeau is taking over a roster that should elbow right into the East's elite along with Boston and Orlando. All-Star Derrick Rose now has a solid low-post partner for a two-man game in Carlos Boozer and with Joakim Noah re-signed and Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer joining up, the Bulls have plenty of offensive punch to go with the "D."
Thibodeau knows defense and how to coach it, maybe as well as anybody in the league today. If he can make defense part of the Bulls' DNA, they could be ready to jump up and challenge in the East. The questions will be about his ability to juice the offense while handling the switch from being in the shadows as an assistant to living in the spotlight as the man in charge.

Thibodeau introduced

Monty Williams, New Orleans Hornets

At 39, Williams is the youngest coach in the league. Having cut his teeth under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and Nate McMillan in Portland, there is no question that Williams values tough, hard-nosed defense above all else. He also learned the beauty of simplicity from his two mentors and the importance of not standing way of your talent.
What He Inherits:
The Hornets are an open, willing bunch, ready to somehow get their groove back following consecutive seasons of underachieving. They still have an All-Star tandem of Chris Paul and David West leading the way and seem to have boosted overall athleticism and team defense with the addition of Trevor Ariza. But there are questions around Emeka Okafor in the middle and the rest of the supporting cast that need to be answered.
The greatest unknown quantity among the new coaches is also likely the one facing the most immediate and difficult challenge. Williams says he wants to put the ball into Chris Paul's hands and turn the Hornets into a foot-on-the-gas running team, but not at the expense of defending. His challenge is to succeed early to cut off any speculation that might have rumors churning, vultures lurking and an unhappy CP3 looking to bolt.

Williams introduced

Doug Collins, Philadelphia Sixers

He's spent most of the past three decades alternating between being a driven, emotional coach and a highly-entertaining, always-informative TV analyst. In his coaching stops at Chicago, Detroit and Washington, the emotional side always got the best of him and left Collins burned out in the end. A young Michael Jordan and a young Collins was a volatile mix. But each of those three teams played better basketball by the time he left.
What He Inherits:
Collins is taking over a team in need of guidance, discipline and stability after the disastrous one-year tenure of Eddie Jordan ended in a miserable 27-55 record and the franchise back near the bottom of the pile. There is duplication of slashing-to-the-hole talent in the Andre Iguodala-Evan Turner slot and it could be they'll never fit together well. The Sixers also greatly need a bounce-back season from Elton Brand to even dream of reaching the playoffs.
This is very much a work in progress and Collins will spend at least of half of his first season sorting it out. The Sixers must decide as soon as possible if they're trying to sneak in as a lower rung playoff team this year or building for the future. The latter choice could mean moving Iguodala to bring in more frontline pieces to complement the rookie Turner and the ready-to-explode Jrue Holiday.

Collins introduced

Keith Smart, Golden State Warriors

After hitting that last-second jumper that gave Indiana the NCAA championship in 1987, Smart was off on a worldwide basketball odyssey that took from Canada to the Philippines to France to Venezuela as a player. He finished out the 2002 season as interim coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and went 9-31. He's been a member of the Warriors coaching staff since 2003 and been getting groomed by Don Nelson to eventually over this job.
What He Inherits:
Smart walks into the ball of confusion that has been the Warriors franchise for so long. Monta Ellis now says he's content and can co-exist with Stephen Curry. David Lee is happy to be out of New York and on the West Coast. It won't help that Lou Amundson will be out six weeks with a fractured finger and rookie Ekpe Udoh will start his career on the injured list following wrist surgery.
The biggest question is whether Smart is prepared and ready to go off in a new direction or if he's simply Nellie 2.0 with the exotic lineups. He suffered through a woeful 1-4 road trip while pinch-hitting for an ailing Nelson last season. But it's a big help that Ellis has gotten over his issues with Curry. New owner, new coach, new start for a franchise that is always starting over.

Smart introduced

Larry Drew, Atlanta Hawks

Drew has spent 14 years as an assistant coach getting ready for this gig and there's no reason to think he isn't ready. He learned the ropes under a couple of very good ones in Byron Scott and Doug Collins before spending the past six seasons as the lead assistant on the Hawks' bench. He's familiar with the players and the system, which should make for a smooth transition.
What He Inherits:
There were certainly no surprises since Drew was bequeathed a team from Mike Woodson that he helped shape and nurture. In All-Stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford, as well as with defensive whiz Josh Smith, the rookie boss has a solid and talented core that's been good enough to win 50-plus games over the past two seasons and reach the conference semifinals both times.
They probably have as much individual talent and offensive punch as any team in the league. Yet they are less than sum of their parts. Johnson will have to surprise everyone and finally live up to his starring role and whopping new contract if the Hawks are going to take the next step forward. Right now, it's hard to see Drew's team hanging with the big dogs in Boston, Orlando and Miami.

Drew introduced

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