Heck, if Fred Hoiberg had made it to the Final Four, he might have been in position to replace Gregg Popovich.
No, Popovich isn’t going anywhere, except perhaps to yet another NBA Finals and another Coach of the Year award. But suddenly, the Iowa State coach and former Bull good guy, has become a hot name in NBA coaching circles even as Hoiberg hasn’t much thrown his hat in the ring or even worn one. There were rumors and speculation last week that Hoiberg could be a top candidate for both the Knicks and Timberwolves jobs, though both currently occupied. To his credit, Hoiberg isn’t pushing for anything. And if he were to ask me—which remains highly unlikely—I’d say to stay at Iowa State. Longevity in NBA coaching is just not easy to come by these days.
It’s one thing to be one of those many college coaches using schools and players to get to another job. Hoiberg is back home in Ames where he grew up and presumably would keep the job for life. But once you give up a job like that it’s tough to get back. Of course, the big question is whether he wants to be a pro coach. And he’s given no such signal thus far.
Hoiberg’s name has come up because the latest NBA coaching trend is coaches with no NBA experience or none at all. Plus, Hoiberg is good. There’s Brad Stevens with the Celtics, who didn’t have any NBA experience as a player, and lately the success of Mark Jackson and Jason Kidd as coaches who never coached.
Though there’s no school or degree or route to coaching, the path always was through apprenticeship of coaching in the minors or sitting next to a famous coach. But with Doc Rivers becoming among the best without any previous experience and now Jackson and Kidd, there’s been a buzz for former Bull and Suns general manager Steve Kerr as also maybe Knicks coach. And, ironically, Kerr also has been speculated as a potential replacement for Jackson, who despite on the way to leading the Warriors to their fourth best record in franchise history could be vulnerable in his lame duck season. Derek Fisher also has been mentioned as a Knicks’ possibility. No, it’s not a job where even success can save you.
By the way, Warriors players are flocking to Jackson’s defense with public declarations in support of the coach and obviously questioning management. Perhaps not sounding that playoff ready, and a home loss to the Knicks Sunday didn’t help Jackson’s cause.
There were 11 new coaches in the NBA season and one, Maurice Cheeks, already fired. Here’s a look at the change that could be coming this summer. And not because his team beat Hoiberg’s, but the University of Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie is considered by many NBA executives as maybe the best future NBA coach in the college ranks.
Knicks: Mike Woodson’s Knicks won 54 games last season and their first playoff series in 12 years. He’s likely out, and probably would have been if there weren’t new management. New management generally means a change. Phil Jackson figures to bring in his own staff with Kerr and Fisher lately mentioned, though strictly guesswork.
Pistons: Cheeks was fired and interim John Loyer lost to the 76ers. Are interims fired? Chauncey Billups has been mentioned as a possible coach or in management. Similarly with former Pistons star Isiah Thomas, who was supposed to be named general manager and at the last minute then owner Bill Davidson chose Joe Dumars in 2000.
Warriors: Jackson has not only won but famously changed the culture. The Warriors for the first time in decades play defense and rank in the top five in most defensive categories. But there have been stories about staff issues with assistant Brian Scalabrine demoted to the D-League (Scal’s a teacher; nothing wrong with that) and of more concern owner Joe Lacob last month publicly questioning readiness to play.
Timberwolves: Another potential Hoiberg destination as he was an assistant general manager there under Kevin McHale. And it’s close to Iowa. Rick Adelman has had family issues with illness and had to miss about a dozen games again. With the team missing the playoffs again even with Kevin Love producing historic numbers and general manager Flip Saunders inheriting Adelman a retirement seems possible.
Trail Blazers: The Coach of the Year Award is often said to be a curse with several recent winners fired soon after winning. Terry Stotts was the first half favorite after Portland’s 22-4 start. Their second half slump, even with LaMarcus Aldridge hurt, has led to speculation he’ll be replaced after his lame duck season. It seems ridiculous given how he’s revived the team and how well he’s coached. But it can be a ridiculous profession.
Jazz: Ty Corbin also is in his final contract season. It’s a rebuilding Jazz team of young players, though why Richard Jefferson keeps playing 40 minutes or so remains a mystery. They couldn’t make the playoffs last season with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. So it’s back to back tough seasons.
Lakers: Not that Mike D’Antoni has any chance with this roster. Actually 20 games into the season he was looking like a coach of the year. It’s tough to see with that roster how the Lakers get any better, anyway, no matter how much Kobe Bryant will be screaming about it. D’Antoni’s one of the great offensive innovators in the game, but the Lakers need much more. There’s no coach who can provide that.
Pelicans: Monty Williams should be excused for basically half his team being injured. But there’s unrest in New Orleans as Mardi Gras is winding down and people are realizing the team still is losing.
Bucks: It’s been a disastrous season in Milwaukee. They’re trying to win and they’re still behind the 76ers, who have been trying to lose. There’s a possibility of an ownership change, as well, which would expedite change, anyway.
Magic: It doesn’t seem there’s been much growth after two seasons. They are young and have been patient. So it would seem Jacque Vaughn gets at least another season. But you also have to sell tickets.
Wizards: They’ve made a big jump from last season, when they won 29 games. But they’ve also been patient as well and if there’s an early playoff ouster at a time when winning a first round series seems possible they could get impatient.
That’s another 11 jobs which are not that secure, which could make it two-thirds of the coaching jobs in a year. Those 10-year college contracts sound a lot better, even if there isn’t shrimp cocktail on the charters.
Pacers moving in the wrong direction
-- It sounded like a stunned Pacers team with comments to reporters after yet another anemic loss Sunday, this time to the Cavaliers as the Pacers are 8-9 in March. "I don't know what we're going to do," said Paul George. "I'm lost right now," Lance Stephenson added. "I don't know what else we can do," David West said. “Something happened and all of us are sort of searching for what that is and why we're playing the way we're playing and why we're looking the way we look when we're out there on the floor. We've got horrible body language. At times our chemistry and us being a together group is just not there. That's what given us some success and it's just not there right now." It’s not fatal for the Pacers, and they do still lead the East. So they aren’t awful. And it is March and they’ve had a top two seed clinched. And not that D.J. Augustin was talking about them after the Bulls win Sunday—he was talking about the Bulls, actually—but the point is it’s still not a time to begin asking questions. “You don’t want to be playing sloppy going into the playoffs because it will carry over,” said Augustin. “So you want to be sharpening your skills and how you are playing. That’s what Thibs talks to us about every day.”
NBA news and notes
-- There are a heck of a lot of lineups for a defending two-time champion in Miami. Having LeBron James allows for that. But Michael Beasley, playing more than seven minutes in just three of the last 11 games. And three minutes in the Saturday blowout of the Bucks makes a statement. It also seemed obvious from Greg Oden’s second half benching after being dominated early by Roy Hibbert that Miami’s Oden experiment may look more like the one with Eddy Curry. … Strong effort? Former Bulls longtime strength coach Erik Helland goes to the Final Four as Wisconsin strength coach. … Wisconsin star scorer Saturday Frank Kaminsky is the nephew of former Bulls assistant general manager Jim Stack and longtime Bulls basketball administration director Karen Stack-Umlauf. Kaminsky is from Lisle and Benet Academy. … Classy of Brandon Jennings to get ejected in the first quarter Saturday when the Pistons enabled the 76ers to break their 26-game losing streak. Josh Smith also got an early technical, but the officials refused to throw him out. … Longtime Cavs beat writer Bob Finnan wrote this about Luol Deng in his weekly column: “After watching him perform, it’s also quite obvious to many observers the Cavs can’t spend big money to sign Deng. He doesn’t appear to be the same player he once was in Chicago… I would consider bringing him back at a reasonable price, maybe $8 million to $10 million a season.” It’s unlikely Deng lost his skill in two months. But that’s a grass isn’t greener thing. Wrong coach, wrong system, wrong team.
-- No surprise Chris Paul went off big to save the Clippers against the Rockets Saturday. With Patrick Beverley out with a torn meniscus, the Rockets with Jeremy Lin and James Harden probably have the league’s poorest defensive backcourt. Is it Mike James time? It looked reasonable at the time, but it now doesn’t look as good to have traded Aaron Brooks this season. … Nene is on pace to return to practice in the next week and could make the Wizards a tough first round out from the sixth spot, where they are behind Brooklyn now. … Yes, that was a good win for the Pacers over Miami last week, though it could have been different if the officials didn’t miss Dwyane Wade not stepping out of bounds on that late three. By the way, Lance Stephenson was appropriately ejected for taunting. That’s an automatic now and the same technical he got against the Bulls a week earlier. He’s the DeMarcus Cousins of guards. But the Pacers have failed to score 80 points in four of their last five after losing to the Cavs Sunday and 84 in the win over Miami. It was being called rock bottom among the Pacers. … When Austin Daye had 22 points in a win over the 76ers, that was the eighth different player to lead the amazing Spurs in scoring in a game. … It would be a heck of a run for the Suns to make the playoffs with the toughest closing schedule against winning teams of the contenders for last Western playoff spot and an impressive comeback after losing seven of 10. They won eight of their last nine going into Sunday’s game. With Eric Bledsoe back from a meniscus tear their backcourt is proving as dynamic as anyone’s. … Kyle Korver for MVP. After Atlanta won five straight to seemingly push New York away for the last playoff spot, the Hawks lost five straight as Korver went out with back spasms in all five. … The Knicks thus still have a chance. They're a game back of the Hawks, though two losses behind and don't have the tiebreaker. But the Hawks are playing like only the 76ers could appreciate. So it’s looking like 35 wins gets that last East playoff spot. Just 12 under .500. 76ers checking to see if they still have a shot.