1. Coaching Carousel: Cavaliers
Five teams have filled their coaching vacancies since the end of the regular season.
Two teams -- Cleveland and the Los Angeles Clippers -- still have openings.
The latest in ESPN.com's series of Free Agency Dimes looks at the hires and potential hires on the NBA's coaching carousel and how they factor into the Summer of 2010 free-agent bonanza.
If there was a coach out there whose hiring would clinch the signature of LeBron James on a new contract, by now Cleveland would have spent whatever it took to hire him. Or her.
On that point we can all agree.
As for everything else
James' future has already become a minute-to-minute game of "Watch This Space," despite the fact that he won't actually become a free agent for almost three more weeks. If it's not the likes of President Obama (Bulls) and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Knicks) making public pleas for their teams -- on the same day -- or a visit to LeBron's castle from Larry King and CNN, it's the Cavs fueling the frenzy themselves with the rapid-fire exits of head coach Mike Brown and GM Danny Ferry.
Which brings us back to Cleveland's increasingly fast-moving, dizzying and complex coaching search.
The Cavs want to sign Tom Izzo to a five-year deal worth a reported $30 million, apparently without knowing for sure that his presence will entice James to re-sign.
But Izzo isn't sure he can go through with taking the job -- even though all signals entering the weekend pointed to him leaning that way -- because he fears he'll get stuck with a LeBron-less roster.
And LeBron's only input on the matter, courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Brian Windhorst, is that his preference is playing for a former NBA player, which hasn't stopped the Cavs from pressing Izzo for a yes but also explains why they've spent much of the week maintaining a dialogue with ESPN analyst Byron Scott.
The Cavs, according to sources close to the situation, expect to know by Monday whether Izzo will give in to the all-out recruiting pitch he's received from Michigan State grad Dan Gilbert.
A word of caution, though: Izzo accepting the job, sadly, would still leave us with countless questions and interpretations about what his hiring means unless LeBron lets us know what he's thinking right away. (Yeah, right.)
Is Gilbert willing to spend this much on a coach who's never worked in the NBA because he knows more than we think about his chances of re-signing LeBron? Or is he willing to spend this much on a big-name coach to ensure he'll have a universally respected face of the franchise on the payroll next season, with or without James?
Is Izzo the one, at 55, who can do what allegedly can't be done and make the virtually unprecedented transition from elite college coach to elite NBA coach? Or is hiring a guy with no NBA pedigree -- with James desperate to start winning championships after going ringless in his first seven seasons -- actually encouraging LeBron to leave no matter how highly regarded Izzo is?
Would Gilbert really dare to hire Izzo without some sort of affirmative dialogue with LeBron or Team LeBron? Or are we truly down to an Izzo-or-Scott decision for the Cavs and thus done, at last, with the notion of a LeBron/John Calipari package deal?
Why couldn't Larry King's interview have been a week later to ask about some of these things?
2. Coaching Carousel: Nets
Avery Johnson was given the sort of chance in Dallas most first-time coaches don't get. When Mark Cuban asked him to take over for Don Nelson in March 2005 -- after a very brief apprenticeship -- Johnson suddenly found himself in charge of a elite team at age 39.
After a couple of seasons in TV, Johnson, 45, has been handed another opportunity that's pretty irresistible.
The set-up might not be as unreservedly inviting as it was with the Mavs, but there's little doubt Johnson just landed the best of the four jobs he's interviewed for this spring. There's only one direction to go with the best 12-win team in league history, given New Jersey's copious salary-cap space to use for roster upgrades this summer and the quality building blocks already in place -- center Brook Lopez and point guard Devin Harris -- to go with the No. 3 pick in the draft later this month.
There's also the small matter of teaming with front-office chief Rod Thorn and the Nets' new billionaire owner from Russia.
Let's just say, to put it politely, that the outlook isn't nearly as bright in those other cities where Johnson sought work: Philadelphia, Atlanta or his native New Orleans.
But working for Mikhail Prokhorov likely requires Johnson to deliver in grand and relatively fast fashion. He's sure to bring leadership, structure and intensity to a young team that badly needs all of those things, but Prokhorov says he wants a championship in five years or less. Who's going to tell the big guy it's not nearly as easy as he makes it sound?
To get anywhere close, New Jersey will to make some major personnel scores, whether that's using its cap space for signings or trades.
Johnson, meanwhile, will have to manage people better than he did in Dallas, accept far more input (especially offensively) than he did in Dallas and ultimately prove down the road in the playoffs that the gaudy .735 winning percentage he amassed in three-plus seasons with the Mavs isn't his only link to the big names -- Mike Krzyzewski, Phil Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy -- that were associated with this job before he got it.
It says something, though, that Harris -- as ESPN.com reported in early April -- made a hard internal push for the Nets to hire Johnson. That's even though Johnson rode him relentlessly in Dallas and even after Harris wound up in New Jersey because the Mavs preferred Jason Kidd in February 2008.
Never mind that the Nets, as sources maintain, were preparing to shop Harris in trades had they landed the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Kentucky's John Wall won't be slipping to the Nets at No. 3, Harris is still a Net and his reunion with the fiery Johnson starts now.
And while Johnson's bumpy co-existence with Kidd in Dallas might be an issue when it comes to the fantasy of recruiting LeBron James, given how close James and Kidd are from their Team USA days, we still say Prokhorov's presence and reputation will get the Nets on the radar of any marquee free agent. No matter who's coaching.
The Nets still have to spend at least two seasons in Newark waiting for the long-proposed move to Brooklyn, but free agents have always chased money and championship opportunity above all else. The safe best is that they're going to listen, at the very least, to an international playboy with bottomless pockets and Jay-Z as a minority partner.
3. Coaching Carousel: Hawks
If keeping Joe Johnson was the Hawks' lone aim, there's a case to be made that they just should have kept Mike Woodson.
You don't have to live in Atlanta to know the depths of Woodson's devotion to Johnson. You have undoubtedly heard that Woody's predictable play-calling was routinely referred to as the Iso-Joe offense. You can't be surprised by the suggestion that Johnson would want to keep playing for Woody, who catered to his No. 1 option as few coaches do.
But hanging on to Johnson is not Atlanta's sole goal. The Hawks know they'll have trouble spots to address even if Johnson stays this summer, judging by their embarrassing surrender in the second round against Orlando, when they absorbed a four-game sweep by a combined 101 points.
Pessimism reigns leaguewide about the Hawks' ability to hang onto their All-Star swingman this summer, but I've been repeatedly told that there are folks in the organization that matter who would not be crushed if Johnson moved on, taking the fresh-start vibe to another level.
Yet the only unanimous sentiment here, whether or not Johnson leaves, is that Atlanta needed a new voice and approach on the bench after six seasons of Woody, although it remains to be seen now whether Woodson holdover assistant Larry Drew can supply that fresh thinking. The Hawks decided Friday night to promote Drew instead of hiring presumed favorite Dwane Casey from the outside to reunite with Hawks GM Rick Sund, who worked extensively with Casey in Seattle.
ESPN.com reported earlier this week that there's some sentiment within the upper reaches of the organization that Drew can be the Eastern Conference's answer to Alvin Gentry. You'll recall that Phoenix initially passed over Gentry when it replaced Mike D'Antoni, only to wind up handing the job to Gentry halfway through the 2008-09 season. This season confirmed that Gentry was the right choice all along, as the Cinderella Suns advanced to the Western Conference finals.
The flaw in that comparison is that the Suns hired Terry Porter first to replace D'Antoni. Suns insiders concede that Gentry might not have enjoyed the same instant success had he followed D'Antoni directly as opposed to succeeding Porter, who proved such a drastically poor fit in his brief reign that he lasted only 51 games.
Gentry's hiring and a return to a system closer in nature to D'Antoni's was immediately met with celebration from Suns players and fans after the struggles under Porter. Yet it's difficult to imagine Drew getting a similar reception. Although he's well-liked and well-respected in the Hawks' locker room, Drew is bound to be dismissed by the Atlanta public as a coach too closely connected to the Woodson era, even though he was a respected NBA assistant long before he landed on Woodson's bench.
Those who know Drew best say he'll inject the built-for-speed Hawks with some needed offensive creativity and get them playing faster than the stubborn Woodson ever did. They also say he'll reach Josh Smith and Marvin Williams like Woodson never could, and that knowing Atlanta's personnel so well gives him a head start no one else would enjoy.
Until all that actually happens, though, Hawks management has to know that criticism is coming for what will surely be blasted as the safe, inexpensive hire. The backlash obviously increases if Johnson bolts and the Hawks can't adequately replace him in a sign-and-trade.
4. Coaching Carousel: Hornets
Monty Williams might have been the most unheralded candidate of the eight interviewed by the Hornets in a search that began with high-profile New Orleans native Avery Johnson as the presumptive favorite. The NBA's new youngest coach also takes over knowing he wasn't the Hornets' first choice, since he had to wait for Tom Thibodeau to turn the Hornets' job down.
Yet you might be hearing about this team all summer anyway.
Not because of its coaching hire. Not as a free-agent entity, either. The Hornets remain a leaguewide curiosity because, even after last season's virtual giveaways of Rasual Butler and Devin Brown to avoid paying luxury tax, New Orleans is back in tax territory with a projected payroll of more than $70 million in 2010-11.
Rival executives will continue to try to convince the Hornets to make Chris Paul available in trades, pointing to the fact that Williams can simply slide the promising Darren Collison and his modest $1.4 million salary into that spot. When those teams get shot down, look for the Hornets -- based on the hints we've received from more than one exec -- to make Collison available as long as the interested party is willing to take back the cap-clogging contract of Emeka Okafor, James Posey or Peja Stojakovic with Paul's backup.
Williams legitimately does rank as one of the league's better bench prospects. He got his start under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio's 2004-05 championship season and quickly progressed to the point that he was doing a fair bit of the in-game coaching for Nate McMillan in Portland this season after an Achilles tear cost McMillan much of his mobility.
The reality, though, is that the focus will be elsewhere in New Orleans for the foreseeable future. We all undoubtedly await resolutions to the Hornets' obvious desperation to shed payroll to create some roster flexibility -- as well as the ongoing uncertainty regarding the proposed sale of the team from longtime owner George Shinn to minority owner Gary Chouest -- more than we want to see how Williams and CP3 mesh.
Which might not be such a bad thing for a 38-year-old coaching rook.
5. Coaching Carousel: Bulls
I've always viewed the theory with a healthy dose of skepticism, even before I was so advised by sources with knowledge of the Bulls' thinking.
Hiring Tom Thibodeau as coach puts the Bulls in prime position to sign LeBron James?
Just because both Thibodeau and James are either represented or advised by CAA's William Wesley?
Provocative (and convenient) theories. I'll go as far as conceding that hiring a fellow CAA client certainly won't hurt the Bulls in their LeBron pursuit.
But the Bulls know it's no guarantee. They didn't spin all the LeBron/John Calipari package-deal talk into the idea that substituting Thibodeau for Coach Cal would promise a similar outcome.
Wouldn't Thibodeau have held out for more than a three-year deal worth a reported $6.5 million, with only the first two seasons guaranteed, if his arrival clinched a package deal with LeBron?
It was inevitable that Chicago's seemingly sudden interest in Thibodeau, after New Orleans offered its coaching vacancy to Boston's defensive guru, sparked suggestions that the Bulls had free-agency motives for flying into L.A. on the eve of the NBA Finals to convince Thibodeau to turn the Hornets down.
But the Bulls -- still stinging from how they lost out to New York on Mike D'Antoni in May 2008 because they moved too slowly -- privately insist that it was merely the Hornets' offer and the prospect of missing out on a top target again that made them so frantic to intercept Thibodeau before a pre-Finals deadline New Orleans had imposed.
ESPN.com's Chad Ford reported earlier this week that the Bulls -- though they did research the matter to make sure LeBron wouldn't be turned off by Thibodeau's presence -- have no expectations of a quid pro quo arrangement with CAA's Wesley and James. Ford also reported that the Bulls "were willing to settle for a LeBron-neutral approach and that LeBron neither endorsed nor rejected Thibodeau."
So what kind of coach, with or without James, can the Bulls expect? Although Thibodeau has never been a head coach in the NBA, many of his peers already look at him that way, acknowledging his work ethic and experience on top of his well-chronicled impact on the Celtics' defense as Doc Rivers' associate head coach. He's also known for connecting well with players, as seen by the response he gets from Boston's veterans as well as the admiration Kobe Bryant has for Thibodeau after years of having to deal with his schemes.
Given that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has been reluctant to pay top-tier coaching money since Phil Jackson's departure in 1998 -- which is another reason Chicago moved slowly when D'Antoni was available -- it would appear that the Bulls got the best available coach in their preferred price range.
It also looks as though Reinsdorf clearly believes that the presence of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah as future teammates, along with the lure of a big market like Chicago and the Bulls' championship history, is more important to the Bulls' ability to impress prospective free agents than splashy coaching selections. We'll see.
6. Coaching Carousel: Clippers
The long-suffering loyalists who willingly call Clipperland home were getting understandably frustrated by the slow (non-existent?) pace of the Clippers' coaching search until something happened this week that turned frustration into full-blown exasperation and outright fury.
It emerged Tuesday, through Peter Vecsey's original report in the New York Post, that billionaire entertainment mogul David Geffen wants to buy 51 percent of the Clippers from Donald Sterling with Geffen also reportedly promising that LeBron James will sign with the Clips in free agency if Sterling sells.
In other words? Forget the bench.
The mere fact that Geffen is interested -- whether or not LeBron could really be roped in -- would have been enough to whip Clippers diehards into a frenzy. They've longed for Sterling's exit for years, not unlike certain higher-ups in the league office who secretly harbor the same dream, but never imagined that someone with Geffen's connections and reputation would make a bid.
The problem, of course, is that Sterling won't budge from his decades-long vow to never sell anything, let alone the NBA franchise that ranks as the only asset in his portfolio that keeps him relevant. It doesn't bother Sterling at all that his customers are openly begging him to surrender a 51 percent stake to Geffen. Or that his relevance around town is Sterling's well-earned reputation as the league's most bumbling owner.
Sterling would indeed rather keep the Clippers and operate them as he always has rather than sell a controlling share. He apparently won't even consider keeping up to 49 percent along with his courtside seat, which would keep him involved and potentially re-brand him as a local hero provided that the combination of a takeover by a major power broker in the entertainment business, L.A.'s significant salary-cap space, proximity to all things Hollywood and the Clips' promising roster could actually tempt James away from Cleveland.
A source close to the situation told ESPN.com this week that one proposed scenario has Geffen trying to convince Sterling to sell at least 49 percent of the Clips, as long as Geffen also receives first right to buy majority control when Sterling's ownership reign finally does end. A similar arrangement just played itself out in Washington, where Ted Leonsis completed his purchase of the Wizards from the estate of the late Abe Pollin, which is the transition Pollin essentially arranged back in 1999 when he sold the NHL's Washington Capitals and 44 percent of the Wizards to Leonsis.
But there has been no indication yet that Sterling is willing to part with even a fraction of his franchise.
As team president Andy Roeser told the Los Angeles Times this week: "Mr. Sterling has never expressed a desire to sell any part of his team. Because it is an asset of remarkable value, it's true that there have been countless inquiries over the years. But the Clippers have never been for sale."
They will, though, eventually have a coach. We promise. But for now we refer you to our pre-Finals update from the coaching carousel, since little has changed in the past week, with the Clips convinced they have no reason to rush.
Cleveland was the only other team in the league with openings as of Friday, but the Cavs were down to a final two: Tom Izzo and Byron Scott. L.A. has shown interest in Scott, but another of its potential targets -- Dallas Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey -- is still available after the Atlanta Hawks choose longtime assistant Larry Drew as Mike Woodson's successor.
7. Two's A Crowd?
Will the Hornets have to ship either Chris Paul or Darren Collison out of town? (See Box 4)
8. Coaching Carousel: 76ers
The Sixers have had a new coach for 21 days. They filled their vacancy faster than anyone. That was the easy part.
Philly pulled off what Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit have tried and failed in recent years by convincing Doug Collins to leave television for one more bench gig, which makes senses on multiple fronts. Collins (A) is a hugely popular Sixers alumnus whom local media types (and thus fans) have been clamoring for, and (B) has a history of getting more out of young players than most coaches and improving his team's win total dramatically in Year 1.
Examples? The Bulls won 10 games more in Collins' first season than they did in the previous season. The improvement rose to 18 wins in his respective first seasons with the Pistons and Wizards.
It's going to take more than Collins' arrival, though, to get the city excited about this team again. Even the combo of Collins and the No. 2 overall pick in the forthcoming draft probably can't do it.
The starless Sixers have sadly slumped to fourth in town in the relevance standings, with the Eagles forever locked into the top spot and the Phillies and Flyers either winning or contending for championships. Unless Evan Turner is an instant smash -- or unless Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski can pull off the (highly) improbable by shedding the contract of Elton Brand (or perhaps the more-movable Andre Iguodala instead) for some payroll flexibility -- Collins will be asked to revive Brand's career and/or nudge Iguodala to a level of consistency he's never maintained.
How easy do those requests sound?