Full spin ahead for NBA coaching carousel
OAKLAND, Calif. – Golden State Warriors first-year coach Keith Smart had a long talk with Al Thornton(notes) after the team’s final shootaround of the season Wednesday morning. The topic: what the forward needs to work on this summer to become a better player. The Warriors hope to re-sign Thornton in free agency.
What they haven’t answered yet is whether Smart will be back to coach him.
The Warriors rewarded general manager Larry Riley with a contract extension Thursday and also hired a new assistant GM in former player agent Bob Myers. But team officials didn’t provide any update on the status of Smart, who has a team option for next season on his contract.
After taking over for Don Nelson this season, Smart led the Warriors to 36 victories, 10 more than the team had a year ago. The players like Smart, who is close to star guard Monta Ellis(notes), and it would be tough to replace him with a third coach in three seasons in what could be a lockout-shortened season.
An NBA source, however, told Yahoo! Sports that Warriors ownership is in no rush to make a decision on Smart. It also will be interesting to see if the new owners feel the need to make a splash with a new coach.
“We know coach Smart,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry(notes) said. “We know his system, what he’s trying to do and how much passion he has to get our team to that next level. He’s been here for eight years and he’s tired of losing. He’s going to do whatever it takes to get us over that hump.
“I have his back and we want him back next year. We can’t say or foresee what’s going to happen over this summer. There are a lot of things going on in the league.
“I’m fighting for him.”
Smart hasn’t spent much time fretting his future.
“I haven't lingered on thinking what my fate is or what’s next for Keith Smart,” Smart said. “My focus has been on what I need to do that a coach does all the way until the season is over.”
Smart is far from the only coach who might not be back next season. Here’s a look at some who will – or could be – replaced.
John Kuester, Detroit Pistons: The Pistons might have had bigger challenges on the bench this season than on the court. Kuester had run-ins with veterans Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince(notes), and was embarrassed by several players boycotting a shootaround on Feb. 27 in Philadelphia. To Kuester’s credit, the Pistons endured injuries and he and Hamilton appeared to finish the season on better terms.
Still, that’s not going to be enough for Kuester to keep his job. A source close to the Pistons said the season’s drama will likely lead to Kuester’s dismissal under new owner Tom Gores, even though an official decision isn’t expected soon.
Kuester is 57-107 in two seasons coaching the Pistons and the franchise failed to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1995.
Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers: Jackson maintains that this season will be his last as an NBA coach. Even so, one league source said the Buss family is trying to convince Jackson to return in what could be a less taxing lockout-shorten season. Jerry Buss will likely be deliberate and guarded with any decision he makes on a potential replacement.
Kobe Bryant(notes) has said he is rooting for longtime assistant coach and former Lakers teammate Brian Shaw to get the job. Byron Scott took the Cleveland Cavaliers’ coaching job last summer rather than wait for Jackson to retire. Nate McMillan, also a possible candidate, recently signed a contract extension with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Larry Drew, Atlanta Hawks: Drew didn’t expect to be on the hot seat at the end of his first season as head coach. After replacing Mike Woodson, the Hawks have regressed, going from 53 wins to 44 while averaging six fewer points per game this season. They enter the playoffs on a six-game losing streak and a handful of players have looked disinterested in recent weeks.
If the Hawks aren’t competitive in their first-round series with the Orlando Magic, Drew’s job could be in trouble. Drew also has a low salary by NBA standards: He’s due to make $1.5 million next season in the last season of his two-year contract.
Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics: As long as Rivers has a year-to-year understanding with the Celtics, there will always be question of whether he will return to Boston. Rivers is expected to again deliberate with his family about his coaching future after this season. He still spends the summer in Orlando, where only his youngest son, Spencer, a high school sophomore next year, remains among his four children.
Don’t be surprised if Rivers, whose contract expires after the season, waits until after the expected lockout to make a decision on his future. If Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy or Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra don’t meet their teams’ expectations in the playoffs and either job opens, Rivers could become a leading candidate.
If Rivers leaves, Celtics assistants Lawrence Frank and Armen Hill could be among the candidates to replace him.
Jay Triano, Toronto Raptors: The Raptors believe Triano did the best possible job under difficult circumstances by developing a young team hit hard by injuries early this season, a league source said. The players like Triano, but the Raptors finished with the league’s third-worst record at 22-60 after losing Chris Bosh(notes) in free agency. He also hasn’t led them to the playoffs in three seasons.
Triano has a one-year contract option for next season that has to be exercised June 15, but two complicated issues cloud his situation. The contract of Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo expires on June 30. Also, the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan expects to sell its 66 percent stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, owners of the Raptors and NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, over the next few months. Those issues have brought confusion as to who will decide Triano’s fate.
Kurt Rambis, Minnesota Timberwolves: Rambis is expected to be fired, but it’s uncertain when the decision will be announced, several league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Rambis is 32-132 in two seasons with the T’wolves, including an NBA-worst 17-65 this season with the league’s youngest team. Minnesota general manager David Kahn declined to talk about Rambis’ future in a news conference on Wednesday, but cited the team’s lack of improvement since All-Star weekend.
One Wolves player told Yahoo! Sports that Rambis’ game plans were often confusing and the coaching staff didn’t seem to be on the same page.
Another league source described Rambis’ chances of keeping his job as “slim,” saying the only thing that could save him is if Wolves ownership doesn't want to eat the remaining money on his contract and hire someone new with a possible lockout approaching.
Former NBA point guard Mark Jackson was the runner-up to Rambis in Minnesota’s coaching search two years ago, but it’s unclear whether team officials would prefer a more experienced candidate.
Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers: The Pacers have been impressed by the job Vogel has done since taking over for Jim O’Brien in late January and he has a “good chance” of being promoted to full-time head coach, said a source with knowledge of the team’s plans. Vogel could help his cause if the Pacers are competitive against the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.
Indiana doesn’t appear close to making a decision. If Vogel doesn’t return, former Pacers assistant and Cavaliers coach Mike Brown could become a strong candidate.
Rick Adelman, Houston Rockets: Adelman and the Rockets could soon agree to an amicable divorce, several league sources said.
Adelman and owner Les Alexander don’t exactly see eye-to-eye. The veteran coach also could be attracted to a possible opening on another team that would offer him a better chance to win.
The Rockets want their coach to play their young players and embrace their creativity in the free-agent market, which doesn’t sound like a team adamant about winning immediately. Adelman, who turns 65 on June 16, was in the last year of his contract this season. Injuries to Yao Ming(notes) – and Tracy McGrady(notes) in past seasons – prevented him from ever coaching the roster he envisioned he’d have in Houston.
If Adelman doesn’t return, the Rockets could pursue Brown. Elston Turner, Adelman’s longtime assistant, also figures to be a candidate for some of the league’s openings.
While Brown could be linked to some of the most prominent openings, there will be no shortage of candidates for teams this summer from a pool that includes Jackson, Turner, Frank, former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson, former Rockets and New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, Dallas Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey, Milwaukee Bucks assistant Kevin Sampson, former Charlotte Bobcats coach (among others) Larry Brown and possibly Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Kobe healthier than a year ago
While the Los Angeles Lakers are entering the playoffs with concern about Andrew Bynum’s(notes) and Matt Barnes’(notes) knees, the good news for the franchise is Kobe Bryant will be healthy at the start of the postseason this time around.
Bryant entered the playoffs with serious knee and finger issues last season. That isn’t the case now as the second-seeded Lakers, after three days' rest, will open the first round against the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday.
“I knew I needed surgery on my knee at the end of the year,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. “So it was like sort of putting Band-Aids on it until June trying to get through with it. Now I feel completely healthy.
“I’ll be stronger, have a lot more energy and can do more things on the court. Last year I was very limited to what I could do.”
Bryant averaged 26.5 points and 43.5 percent shooting from the field in the Lakers' last eight games of the regular season. He played in only three April contests last year in which he averaged 22.3 points on 30 percent shooting.
“It was a nervous time because I think myself and Ron [Artest] were the only ones that hadn’t had it and Andrew [Bynum],” Bryant said. “The doctors were pretty nervous. My dad was at the game and they asked my dad if I had the vaccine. He said I had, so it put everybody at ease a little bit.”
Owners of the NHL's San Jose Sharks and the HP Pavilion arena appear to be spearheading hopes of bringing an NBA team to San Jose. Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose told Yahoo! Sports that Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment Enterprises reached out to the Maloof brothers, owners of the Kings, about bringing the franchise to San Jose to no avail as the Maloofs are intent on moving to Anaheim. The HP Pavilion holds 18,500 seats for basketball with 66 suites. It hosted a regional in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament last year and hosted the Golden State Warriors during the 1995-96 season while their arena in nearby Oakland was renovated. "We have all the ingredients for [basketball]," Reed said. "We just need someone that wants to buy a team and put them in the arena. That’s all.” …
Kansas freshman guard Josh Selby will probably get drafted outside the lottery, one NBA assistant general manager said. Selby entered the draft this week and is expected to hire an agent. “Josh probably should’ve went back to school since he didn’t play well this year,” one NBA scout said. …
Washington's Isaiah Thomas says he still has not hired an agent, but has no plans of returning to school. The 5-foot-8 guard isn’t certain if he will take part in the pre-draft camp in Chicago and is confident he will overcome concerns about his height. “Height is not an issue, especially the way the NBA game is now,” Thomas said. “You really don't see guards posting up like Gary Payton back in the day full court. It's just something that I have to overcome and prove to these scouts and GMs that it's not a liability. I'm gonna prove that." Thomas will work out with fellow Seattle native and mentor Jason Terry(notes) of the Dallas Mavericks this offseason to prepare for NBA. …
When asked if the NFL's labor issues could have an affect on the NBA's pending labor situation, Lakers guard and players union president Derek Fisher(notes) said: "A lot of lot of issues that are being dealt with on the NFL side are giving both NFL owners and NBA players a little bit of a glimpse of what's going to happen in our negotiations." …
Frank Hamblen was a Kings assistant coach when the franchise played its first game in Sacramento in 1985 after moving from Kansas City. He was in attendance for possibly the last game in Sacramento as an assistant with the Lakers on Wednesday. “The Sacramento people are finding out how the Kansas City people felt,” Hamblen said. "[Then-Kings ownership] took the team away from Kansas City and left their fans high and dry. It’s a sad day for fans when their franchises leave, if indeed this one does.”