Best potential NBA coaching hires with Lakers, Suns, Cavaliers and Grizzlies jobs still available
A look at Monty Williams, David Vanterpool, Tyronn Lue and a host of other coaching candidates
The Phoenix Suns fired coach Igor Kokoskov late Monday night after just one season with a young roster that had no chance of short-term success. This means there are now four teams with open jobs: The Suns, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Memphis Grizzlies. (The Minnesota Timberwolves are not on this list, as they are expected to retain Ryan Saunders, who was the interim coach after the firing of Tom Thibodeau.)
Here's a look at where these coaching searches stand and the candidates that are reportedly being considered:
Phoenix's top target is Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Monty Williams, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, who also reported that it has received permission to interview Portland Trail Blazers assistant coaches David Vanterpool and Nate Tibbetts.
Monty Williams: Phoenix's new vice president, Jeff Bower, hired Williams in New Orleans in 2010. Williams coached that team for five seasons, but lost the job after Anthony Davis' first playoff series ended in a sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. Alvin Gentry was hired away from the Warriors to be Williams' replacement during their title run, and delivered a message to Anthony Davis that "we're going to be right back here" when covered in champagne. The Pelicans won 30 games the next season and 34 the season after that, making Williams' 45 wins with a banged-up roster more appreciated in retrospect. Since then, he has been the lead assistant on Billy Donovan's Oklahoma City Thunder staff and Brett Brown's Sixers staff, spending two years in the San Antonio Spurs front office in between.
David Vanterpool: It is only a matter of time until Vanterpool gets a shot -- he has been getting interviews since Sam Hinkie was looking for a coach for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2013. He is close to Blazers guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum personally and professionally, having worked with them extensively since their respective summer-league debuts. Vanterpool has spent the last three seasons as Terry Stotts' lead assistant, and he has done a little bit of everything in basketball. As a player, he played in China, Italy and Russia in addition to stints in the NBA and a couple of stateside minor leagues. Before Portland hired him in 2012, he spent a couple of years with the Thunder, the first as a scout and the second as director of pro personnel.
Nate Tibbetts: Tibbetts was on Byron Scott's Cavs staff from 2011 to 2013 after six seasons coaching in what was then known as the D-League. He always seems to be a candidate when teams are looking to hire a rookie coach, and was a finalist for the Atlanta Hawks job last summer. In 2016, ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz described him as "an understated but vital presence in Portland," and someone who routinely gives players "cheat codes -- nuanced observations such as opposing players' tendencies or a play call from the other bench."
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers will meet with Williams for a second time on Thursday, per The Athletic's Shams Charania. They also met for a second time with former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on Wednesday, interviewed Miami Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard on Tuesday and interviewed former Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd on Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times' Brad Turner. Kidd, however, might not have a real shot at getting this gig.
Tyronn Lue: He won a championship with LeBron James, but he wasn't the right fit for the Cavaliers' post-James rebuild. If Los Angeles wants someone who understands its superstar and has his respect, then Lue makes sense. His teams in Cleveland were rocky in the regular season, but he showed an ability to navigate the distinct challenges that arise in the playoffs. Presumably, a reunion would mean a greater emphasis on matchup-driven basketball, with James dictating most of what happens on offense. There has been some reported reluctance on the Lakers' part, however, to make a hire that would make it look like James is running the show.
Juwan Howard: After six years under Erik Spoelstra, it might be Howard's time to show off his gravitas as a head coach. It's unclear if Los Angeles would take a chance on a rookie coach, but Howard has worked with James and played with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka at the University of Michigan. He interviewed with the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets last summer, and Spoelstra has credited him for his skill work with up-and-coming big man Bam Adebayo.
Jason Kidd: The Hall of Fame point guard isn't the most popular candidate because of his old-school approach and the mixed results that marked his one-year tenure with the Brooklyn Nets and three-and-a-half-year tenure with the Milwaukee Bucks. In Brooklyn, his "superteam" started slowly, winning 10 of its first 31 games before turning things around and winning a playoff series. In Milwaukee, he presided over the league's most improved team in his first season on the strength of an extremely aggressive defensive scheme. The Bucks missed the playoffs the next year, though, and their defense deteriorated drastically. According the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke, the Lakers met with him as a favor to his agent.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the "early stages," in the words of the New York Times' Marc Stein, of what will be a "long process," in the words of the Associated Press' Tom Withers. They appear to be targeting up-and-coming coaches -- ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski has linked them to Howard, Vanterpool, Tibbetts, Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Jamahl Mosley and Utah Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen. They also have interest in former Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff, per Stein. Cleveland, by the way, has strongly denied the report that owner Dan Gilbert has spoken to Rick Pitino about the job, via cleveland.com's Chris Fedor.
Jamahl Mosley: The Mavs assistant has a background in player development dating back to his days with George Karl's Denver Nuggets. He spent the last five seasons in Dallas, and was its defensive coordinator this past season. Before his coaching career, he played professionally for four years, globetrotting from Australia to Spain and Korea. He has history in Cleveland, too; he was an assistant coach there under Byron Scott and Mike Brown from 2010 to 2014.
Alex Jensen: The Jazz assistant has been seen as a future head coach since his D-League days -- he spent two seasons coaching the Canton Charge, the Cavaliers' affiliate. The Utah native played with Andre Miller on the Utes team that went to the NCAA title game in 1998 and, after a professional career mostly spent in Turkey, he coached under Rick Majerus at Saint Louis for four seasons, which led to the Canton job. Jensen has played a large role in the development of Rudy Gobert, having worked closely with the Defensive Player of the Year candidate since his rookie season.
J.B. Bickerstaff: I hesitate to judge Bickerstaff harshly for Memphis' disappointing season, and I don't know whether or not he's a good head coach yet. The Grizzlies excelled defensively, but the offense was a mess, largely thanks to an assortment of injuries and a roster that didn't have much shooting. He couldn't keep them in the playoff mix long enough to prevent the front office from pivoting to a rebuild, but a bunch of players -- Joakim Noah, C.J. Miles, Avery Bradley, Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright -- played better individually after arriving in Memphis.
Jordi Fernandez: If the Cavs are looking for someone with a background in player development, it makes sense that they'd consider Fernandez, their player development coach from 2009 to 2013. After that, he spent two years in Canton, the first as an assistant and the second as head coach. Mike Gansey, Cleveland's assistant general manager, told the Denver Post last year that Fernandez is valuable because he can relate just as well to Hall of Famers and G Leaguers at the end of the bench: "You talk to him for five minutes, and you feel like you're his best friend or you're an important person."
Little is known about the Grizzlies' coaching search, other than that it will be led by new vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman and president Jason Wexler. They have not finished overhauling their front office, per ESPN, even after hiring Rich Cho and Glen Grunwald. In the absence of substantive reporting about this particular team, here are four other coaches who could be in the mix for the open jobs this summer, starting with a name familiar to Memphians.
Dave Joerger: Halfway through the season, I picked Joerger as the Coach of the Year because of how much the Sacramento Kings had sped up -- in terms of their development process and in a literal sense. The Kings played at a breakneck pace without turning the ball over frequently and built an identity around second-year guard De'Aaron Fox. You won't hear much criticism about Joerger as a tactician, but he found himself in clashes with management in Memphis and Sacramento. While he should get another opportunity, it's not clear if there is an open job that makes sense for him in the immediate future.
Ettore Messina: A finalist for the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks jobs last summer, Messina also interviewed with the Hornets a year ago and interviewed with the Grizzlies and Houston Rockets in 2016. He has decades of experience internationally and is one of the most accomplished coaches in the world, so it would not be surprising if he ended up being Gregg Popovich's successor with the San Antonio Spurs. Messina has been on Popovich's staff since 2014.
Becky Hammon: Another Spurs assistant and potential Popovich successor, Hammon joined the staff the same year Messina did, but was around the team for the prior season, too. As the six-time WNBA All-Star rehabilitated her torn ACL, she worked for San Antonio in an unofficial capacity, attending coaches meetings and practices. Hammon interviewed for the Bucks job last summer, and Popovich has compared her to Steve Kerr and Doc Rivers, other former players whose feel for the game translated to the sideline.
Adrian Griffin: The lead assistant in Toronto, Griffin is no longer strictly a defensive coach. While he was a stopper as a player and has been known for his work on that end of the court as an assistant coach for the Bucks, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic and Thunder, he has played an all-around role in the Raptors' success on both ends. Jimmy Butler famously shouted him out when accepting his Most Improved Player award in 2015, and Griffin has interviewed for jobs in Houston, Orlando, Utah, Cleveland and Philadelphia over the years.
Other names to watch: Darvin Ham, Jay Larranaga, Stephen Silas, Ime Udoka, Jarron Collins, Darren Erman, Chris Jent
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