As NBA season winds down, the league's coaching carousel winds up
The end of the NBA season often prompts changeover among team personnel. This spring, three franchises in particular have executives and other league figures preparing for potential head coaching vacancies.
We’ll start in Toronto, where Nick Nurse brought added attention to his status with the Raptors before a contest in Philadelphia last Friday. Nurse told reporters he’s “going to take a few weeks [after the season] to see where I'm at … where my head's at. And just see how the relationship with the organization is.” His voice was reflective, mentioning the conclusion of this campaign will bring to a close his 10th season with the franchise, including five as an assistant coach.
This last campaign, though, has proven quite trying and arduous for the Raptors, riddled with trade speculation and mounting uncertainty surrounding the futures of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. As those three names featured prominently in league-wide discussions ahead of the February trade deadline, the first rumblings then surfaced regarding Nurse’s own unknown future ahead of the 2023-24 season, the final year of the head coach’s contract with Toronto.
Nurse’s comments certainly suggested he could depart the franchise on his own volition, while Raptors officials, sources told Yahoo Sports, have been openly evaluating Nurse’s current fit at the position after leading Toronto to its only championship in 2019.
Should Nurse ultimately exit, one potential replacement has been frequently linked to the Raptors: former Boston head coach Ime Udoka, as originally covered by the Toronto Star. Udoka was a finalist for the job back when the Raptors elevated Nurse to the team’s first chair. And while Udoka sits on the league sidelines following a season-long suspension for an improper relationship with a Celtics staffer, he appears to remain a leading candidate on the coaching market, as both Brooklyn and Atlanta circled Udoka after firing Steve Nash and Nate McMillan, respectively.
Nurse would command plenty of interest on the open market in his own right. Championship pedigrees keep head coaches at the top of front offices’ wish lists for years. His name has been most connected by league personnel to Houston’s organization, where Nurse once served as the head coach of the G League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Stephen Silas currently holds the position as Rockets head coach, but Houston is widely expected by league officials to make a change on its bench once his contract concludes at the end of this season.
Silas was originally hired during the 2020 offseason, when all coaching candidates, sources told Yahoo Sports, were required to meet with James Harden and Russell Westbrook. A pair of trade requests then led to both former MVPs departing Texas and sent the Rockets into a three-year rebuild, in which Rafael Stone’s front office has directed a prioritization of playing time for Houston’s young draft picks — highlighted by John Wall’s extended absence from the team during the 2021-22 campaign.
The Rockets, sources said, hold an organizational goal of taking significant strides toward postseason contention next season, armed with upward of $61 million in salary cap space this summer. Harden has loomed as a key target for the Rockets, sources told Yahoo Sports, with an opportunity to decline his player option with the Philadelphia 76ers for the 2023-24 campaign. And several potential coaching candidates — in addition to Nurse — whom league personnel have connected to the Rockets have a shared history with Harden.
Scott Brooks, currently an assistant with Portland, coached the Oklahoma City Thunder before Harden was dealt to the Rockets in 2012. Rex Kalamian, a current Pistons assistant coach, has also been mentioned by multiple NBA figures as a possible Houston coaching addition, perhaps as an assistant coach, with respect to his relationship with Harden since serving on Brooks’ OKC staff.
Dwane Casey, now the Pistons’ head coach, left reporters waiting for his postgame news conference Wednesday night. He then revealed the delay was due to meeting with Detroit owner Tom Gores following the team’s game against Brooklyn. Casey told the assembled media they will meet again once the season ends and further discuss his future with the franchise, as Casey is under contract for the 2023-24 season.
Casey and Gores are known to have a strong relationship, and the veteran coach has received great support despite four straight losing seasons in Detroit. Various Pistons staffers are preparing for Casey to no longer hold his head coaching post next season, league sources told Yahoo Sports, with the potential for Casey to step into a front office advisory role similar to Alvin Gentry’s path in Sacramento. One source with knowledge of the situation insisted Casey will have the choice of remaining on the bench or stepping into a different role within the team’s basketball operations. The Pistons, too, have clear designs on competing for a postseason position next year.
If Casey were to vacate Detroit’s coaching staff, Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Charles Lee, considered one of the premier assistants in the league, has been mentioned as a top potential candidate for the Pistons’ head coaching position. Toronto Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin, who has secured several head coaching interviews in the past, is another name to keep an eye on, sources told Yahoo Sports. Griffin was previously a Thunder assistant when Detroit general manager Troy Weaver was in Oklahoma City. One note of relevant context: Chauncey Billups, the former Pistons All-Star point guard, was a possible candidate on the radar of Detroit’s front office, sources said, before Billups was hired to lead the Trail Blazers in 2021.
Around the league
There had been rising speculation among coaches and league executives surrounding the futures of Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd and Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. That was before Dallas owner Mark Cuban backed Kidd to assembled reporters on Wednesday night prior to the Mavericks’ game against the Kings. And Washington general manager Tommy Sheppard told The Athletic that Unseld will be the Wizards’ head coach “moving forward.”
League personnel are keeping an eye on Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford. The organization’s present leadership structure has no intention of making a change on their bench, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Although, as team owner Michael Jordan engages with minority partner Gabe Plotkin and former Hawks minority owner Rick Schnall, there remains the potential for a new ownership structure to oversee staffing changes, and Clifford’s short-term contract would present little obstacle for fresh Hornets leadership to pick a new play caller of its choosing.
After signing Quin Snyder midseason to a four-year deal plus the remaining portion of 2022-23, Atlanta is expected to hire several new additions to Snyder’s staff for 2023-24, sources said.
Any further movement on the league’s coaching carousel will likely spin in the direction of postseason shortcomings. The deadlocked Western Conference has teams currently slated in the play-in picture believing they hold legitimate championship chances. The math is simple yet daunting. Only two teams can reach the finals of either conference. There will be several franchises dealt an earlier playoff defeat than anticipated, and the staffing ramifications will set the tone for the latest NBA offseason rife with player and personnel movement.