<
>

If Nets want a GM and a coach, Stan Van Gundy advises to hire GM first

Even if the Nets were sure they wanted to hire someone like Tom Thibodeau, it might be in their best interest to hire a GM first and let the new boss make the decision. Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets are starting over again and smartly taking their time with their search for a new general manager and head coach.

Owner Mikhail Prokhorov has said that his preference is to hire two separate people for the jobs as opposed to a head coach wearing both hats with the help of some of his own personnel people around him.

So far, all indications are that the Nets' hierarchy, led by Chairman of the Board of Directors Dmitry Razumov, is searching for a general manager and a coach and could hire a GM first. Hiring a general manager first could eliminate certain high-profile coaching candidates depending on which general manager the Nets hire.

The best available coaches, especially the ones with options, want to work for a general manager that they have a previous relationship with or can trust (see Tom Thibodeau).

Of course, on the flip side, hiring a coach first with the intention of hiring a separate general manager -– and not giving a big-name coach dual power -- also could be a recipe for disaster.

"I don't think you can hire -- if you're going to hire two people, you can't hire the employee before the boss," said the Detroit Pistons' Stan Van Gundy, one of the few in the NBA who has dual titles of coach and president of basketball operations. "That just doesn't make any sense to me. And that's immediately going to create tension, right there, [that] the guy that's your boss, that you report to ... didn't hire you?

"I mean, we see it in college coaching all the time. It's tenuous, anyway, but if you were there before and there's a new AD coming in, good luck to you. The guy's looking for the first sign [to fire you]. Whereas if the guy hires you, he's got a little more tendency to give you the benefit of the doubt because it reflects upon him. So if you're going to hire two, to me you've got to hire the GM first. He's got to have say in who he has as a coach."

Recently, I asked some coaches, agents, executives and players which is more important in today's NBA -- to hire a premier coach such as Thibodeau first and give him a president title and let him bring in his own personnel person or hire an experienced GM first and let him bring in his own coach even if it's not a big-name guy. There were arguments for both sides.

In the NFL, teams often build by hiring the GM first, which makes sense given how large NFL rosters are and all that entails running a football team. But in the NBA, many argued that, in the majority of cases today, having a successful coach is more important than a solid general manager. The coach is the one who commands the respect and gets the players (in particular the star players) to play hard and also can sometimes be the difference in attracting elite free agents. The best coaches obviously want input over the roster.

"Hiring a coach and having the coach help pick the GM so that they can work together [is more important]," one NBA team official said.

Certainly, it is important to have an executive who will smartly run the team to not just be competitive now but for years to come. Someone who can unearth quality talent and have a very sound plan -- something that is extremely important for the Nets, who do not control their own first-round pick until 2019.

But the coach is the one who has the bigger daily impact on wins and losses and establishing the culture of the team. An excellent coach such as Thibodeau can take a decent roster, milk it and make sure that team is playing hard every night.

The coach also will be the face of the franchise because he is the one who is out in front, dealing with the media and getting the team's message across to the fan base on a daily basis. Remember, Brooklyn is an image-conscious franchise.

Prokhorov's history suggests he likes to make splashy moves. Sources have said that Thibodeau is a coach the Nets have been eyeing for some time and he certainly qualifies as a sexy name. After what happened in Chicago, Thibodeau will want management he trusts and one that will allow him to do the job the way he wants.

David Blatt, former Cavs coach and former Russian national team coach, is also a name mentioned with the Nets, according to a source. And Kentucky coach John Calipari will continue to be pushed by Nets CEO and friend Brett Yormark. However, Calipari will command a lot and one source recently described a potential Cal-Nets reunion as a longshot as of now. Of course, much can change from now to whenever the Nets close in on a coach.

After going through their share of coaches -- from Avery Johnson (who was hired before former GM Billy King) to Jason Kidd to Lionel Hollins -- in the past three and a half seasons, the Nets need a GM and coach to be on the same page from a vision and stability standpoint. They'll need personalities and egos to mesh and co-exist.

"There's challenges both ways," Van Gundy said of a coach doing both jobs versus having a GM and a coach. "When you have two guys, the challenge is that you really have, as my owner [Tom Gores] says, you really have a synergy between the front office and the playing court, and you're on the same page. I think that's obviously a bigger challenge and always will be with two people other than one.

"With one guy the challenge is probably you've got one dominant perspective on how things should be done, and you can lose sight of the big picture if you don't watch it. I think you've got to structure it in a way that you've got a lot of other people with input that you're listening to, because from the coaching perspective, you're always going to want what's best for today. And so you need some people to sort of bring you back to earth on that."

Can the Nets hire an established and experienced general manager, and a big-name coach if the two don't have a previous relationship? Probably not.

Could the Nets go the same route as the Knicks and offer a boatload of money to someone who carries as much championship weight as Phil Jackson does and then let that person make all the decisions and hire his own coach? Sure. But how many of those type of candidates are out there, who are worth a fortune, all that control and are willing to take on Brooklyn's bleak asset-less future?

There is always the possibility of hiring an up-and-coming candidate to be the general manager such as Denver assistant GM Arturas Karnisovas or Houston's executive VP of basketball Gersson Rosas and let him hire an experienced coach with whom he has a relationship.

The Nets, who also have former Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo as a strong candidate, were given permission to interview Rosas according to ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins. Rosas, by the way, has worked with Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy while in Houston. The Nets have also been given permission to interview Karnisovas, a source confirmed to ESPN.com's Mike Mazzeo.

"The front office, usually they want the big picture, two, three years from now," Stan Van Gundy said as he broke down both roles of coach and GM. "And we do play the games today, so you've got to have some perspective there [from the coach], too."

It's a good thing the Nets are taking their time. Picking the wrong GM could eliminate them from landing the best coach.

And that could be just as disastrous as trading away all those first-round picks.