Do Coaches Who Previously Played in NBA Have an Advantage or Does That Not Matter?

Weltman Says Team Will Consider Coaching Candidates From All Backgrounds
by John Denton

ORLANDO – The only people who understand the highs and lows that NBA players go through and the grind of an 82-game regular season, Orlando Magic veteran center Marreese Speights said, is someone who actually played the game at the highest level themselves.

For that reason, Speights is happy that more than half of the 12 coaches he’s played for throughout his 10-year, six-team pro career actually played in the NBA before getting into the coaching ranks. It’s not that coaches with scouting and/or film room backgrounds can’t be successful, but Speights personally prefers getting direction from a coach who has run a pick-and-roll – or tried to stop it – at the NBA level.

``You want to play for a guy who has already played the game,’’ Speights said last week at the conclusion of the Magic’s season. ``When you look at a Steve Kerr, Lionel Hollins or Mark Jackson, you want to play for them because they have been in the trenches and they’ve done the same stuff that you are doing (as a current player). They know the game a little bit more because they have been in your shoes.’’

The Magic are in the market for a head coach once again after the decision was made to fire Frank Vogel after just two years on the job in Orlando. The Magic were 29-53 in 2016-17 and 25-57 this past season, prompting another coaching change for the franchise. The next coach will be the fifth since the start of the 2012-13 season, following Jacque Vaughn, James Borrego, Scott Skiles and Vogel.

Charlotte, Memphis, Milwaukee, New York and Phoenix are also looking for coaches after making changes either mid-season or last week following the conclusion of the regular season.

Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond, the men in charge of hiring Orlando’s next coach, have been involved in dozens of coaching searches in their combined 64 years of experience in the NBA. The two of them have worked with coaching luminaries such as Larry Brown, George Karl, Rick Carlisle and Dwane Casey and they know that there are various styles of coaches who can be successful in the NBA. Weltman said last week he doesn’t see former players having a distinct advantage over those who never played at the NBA level and that he will consider coaches from all sorts of backgrounds for the Magic’s job.

``I think there are so many ways you can go with that and that’s something we’ll start to get into this week,’’ Weltman said. ``I wouldn’t say checking boxes, but I will say as different people at different points in their career paths enter into our picture, how does that effect our group? How does it affect our players?

``There have been successful rookie coaches and unsuccessful coaches who have done it before,’’ he added. ``So, I don’t think there’s a hard-and-fast rule. I keep coming back to this, but I just believe it that this is what this league is about: It’s about people. It’s about where (coaches) are (in their careers), how confident they are in their abilities and their ability to lead. … So, we have to weigh all of this stuff.’’

Whether or not that process leads the Magic to hiring a coach who played previously in the NBA, that remains to be seen. Through the years, both styles have been successful on historic levels as Phil Jackson won one NBA title as a player and 11 championships as a coach, while San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich has won five titles despite never playing basketball at the NBA level.

Former players have had plenty of success and plenty of failures this season as coaches. Ten head coaches from this season – Tyronn Lue (Cleveland), Nate McMillan (Indiana), Scott Brooks (Washington) and Fred Hoiberg (Chicago) from the Eastern Conference and Mike D’Antoni (Houston), Steve Kerr (Golden State), Billy Donovan (Oklahoma City), Doc Rivers (L.A. Clippers), Luke Walton (L.A. Lakers) and Rick Carlisle (Dallas) from the Western Conference – played in the NBA prior going into coaching. Portland’s Terry Stotts was once an NBA draft pick, but he never played NBA basketball.

Six of those coaches – Lue, McMillan, Brooks, D’Antoni, Kerr and Donovan – currently have teams in the playoffs. On the down side, three coaches who played previously in the NBA – Jason Kidd, Jeff Hornacek and Earl Watson – were fired by their teams this season.

``When you’re a point guard, you have to know what everybody on the team is doing and what everybody likes and doesn’t like,’’ Kidd said last season when he was still in charge of the Milwaukee Bucks. ``It’s kind of the same when you’re the coach.’’

Another former NBA player, Jerry Stackhouse, could be about to join the ranks as an NBA head coach. Stackhouse, who played for eight teams over 18 seasons, has been a highly successful G League coach for the past two seasons in the Toronto Raptors’ system and has been reportedly linked to several NBA openings already this offseason.

In their 29-year history, the Magic have four coaches who played previously in the NBA – Matt Goukas, Jacque Vaughn, Scott Skiles and Rivers. Skiles guided the Magic to 35 wins in 2015-16 – their most victories in a six-year period – while Rivers won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award in 2000. Meanwhile, Orlando’s NBA Finals teams in 1995 and 2009 were coached by Brian Hill and Stan Van Gundy – coaches who never played at the NBA level.

Magic standout forward Aaron Gordon played for Magic coaches who played in the NBA (Vaughn and Skiles) and those who didn’t (Borrego and Vogel). He is just hopeful whoever the next coach is that that person will be a long-term solution who can provide the Magic with some much-needed continuity.

``(A lack of) continuity is difficult, so first impressions are huge with a new coach,’’ Gordon said. ``You’ve got to make a good first impression, you need to establish a standard and then you have to uphold that standard. It just takes some time to establish that continuity with a new coach.’’

Like the veteran Speights, Magic guard Arron Afflalo has played for all types of coaches over his 11 years in the NBA. Six of his 10 former coaches – Michael Curry, Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis, Karl and Vaughn – played in the NBA prior to going into coaching. Afflalo said the essence of the player/coach relationship depends far more on relatability than whether or not a mentor once played NBA basketball.

``It’s more of a communication thing,’’ Afflalo stressed. ``Sometimes former players relate to other players and sometimes guys who didn’t play in the NBA are just really great communicators and motivators. They know the game and know how to teach the game. So, I can’t stand here and say for a fact that a former player would be better, but communication and accountability will always be the key with any coach.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.


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