Coaching jobs on the line
The coaching hot seat is getting warmer in Indiana and Golden State. Although both Frank Vogel and Mark Jackson have guided their teams into the postseason, the pressure is on them to advance deep into the playoffs, or else.
Meanwhile, a few coaching spots are vacant in New York, Minnesota and Utah. Which available coaches would make for good fits? Our experts break it down.
1. Fair or unfair: Frank Vogel is coaching to keep his job.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: In the world in which we'd love to live -- a world of peace, prosperity and abundant resources -- it would be unfair. In the cold reality of today's NBA, where coach of the year awards and trips to the conference finals aren't enough to keep jobs, it's fair. The Pacers' record has improved every season since he got the job in 2011. They established their initial objective of securing the No. 1 seed in the East. But if he can't fix these leaking pipes, it's time for a new plumber.
More on ESPN.com
Who has what it takes to be an NBA head coach? Kevin Arnovitz pinpoints the candidates rising up the coaching ranks. Story
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Unfair. Since the day he got the job, he's done nothing but exceed expectations. Two subpar months (more closely linked to the acquisition of Evan Turner than any coaching missteps) should not overshadow that. If he does get axed, he won't go unemployed for long.
Ramona Shelburne, ESPN.com: Fair. Harsh, but fair. Indiana was assembled to go for it all this season, and when championship expectations are raised, a troubling late-season swoon and early exit in a weak Eastern Conference playoff field would be unacceptable. The Pacers have been in a tailspin for months. Even if it's not entirely Vogel's fault, it's his job to fix it.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Harsh, but fair. The Pacers, since last summer, have been making the sort of win-now moves they don't typically make. Expectations weren't simply raised externally. They expect a lot internally, too. Larry Bird has been as aggressive as we've seen since last summer because he thought he was assembling a team that could win a championship. If the Pacers don't right themselves in a hurry and finish the season far closer to that level than they look right now, lots of folks are at risk to get caught up in a shake-up, including Lance Stephenson and maybe even Roy Hibbert. Vogel knew the stakes in Indy this season. Everyone did.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fair. There have been 18 coaching changes in the league since the start of the 2012-13 season, some teams having done it twice. It's a results-oriented business for which the coaches are paid fabulously high salaries. The Pacers had huge expectations, which Vogel knew and encouraged. He's done a great job in that role and, as is the nature of the league, raised the expectations on himself.
2. Fair or unfair: Mark Jackson is coaching to keep his job.
Adande: By the standards established for Vogel, it's fair. Similar situation as Vogel: improvement every season. For Jackson, there's additional pressure because he has a new-school ownership group that has poured half a billion dollars into the franchise and arena. The only thing the owners haven't bought is patience.
Elhassan: Unfair. Even the most critical Warriors fan has to admit that Golden State's final win total is only mildly disappointing. Jackson has successfully turned around the culture and brought defense to the Bay. There are concerns about his offensive play calls and serious questions about his staff, but the result of this series (without Andrew Bogut's services) should not be the standard by which his employment is judged.
Shelburne: Unfair. And this is coming from someone who bought into the preseason hype about the Warriors and picked them as a sleeper team to come out of the West. But watching them up close, you can see why Golden State was a sixth seed this season. Good as this team is, it lacks a reliable third scorer and even its best two offensive players are subject to poor shooting nights. Jackson, though, continues to connect and inspire this team like no other. That's special, and not something to be discarded lightly.
Stein: Nothing has changed to move me off the position I've had on this one for months: Serious pressure on Jackson strays toward unfair because he's on the short list of coaches getting full buy-in from a team that -- let's not forget -- is well short of full strength in this series against the Clippers without Andrew Bogut. Firing a guy who gets that sort of buy-in is very risky, irrespective of Jackson's perceived shortcomings, because it's not easily replicated. Rumbles persist in coaching circles that Joe Lacob would prefer Steve Kerr in that chair to Jackson -- and it's an owner's prerogative to work with a coach he wants to work with -- but that's coaching. It's probably as far away from fair as anything in basketball.
Windhorst: Fair. It seems like Jackson is the victim to a degree of working for an owner who has little tolerance for wheel-spinning, and the Warriors might end up with a season of lost ground after a major offseason investment. This may have an impact on the hiring of another coach down the line when they consider what it's like to work for Joe Lacob. But winning 50 games isn't enough in the competitive West sometimes; ask George Karl and Lionel Hollins.
3. Which available coach would be the best fit for the Knicks?
Adande: Since Phil Jackson has established that he wants someone who shares his outlook on basketball, Steve Kerr makes sense. So would Jim Cleamons, Jackson's former assistant with the Bulls and Lakers who's currently on Larry Drew's staff in Milwaukee. Jackson wanted Brian Shaw to succeed him in Los Angeles, but it would be too messy to try to pull him out of Denver after his first season with the Nuggets.
Elhassan: Steve Kerr. Phil Jackson reiterated Wednesday that the triangle would be coming to the Big Apple, so that eliminates a lot of hopeful candidates with no experience. Kerr has intimate knowledge of the triangle from his time in Chicago, but more importantly, he shares Jackson's ability to communicate and connect with people -- and motivate them -- from diverse backgrounds.
Shelburne: The Knicks are locked in on Steve Kerr, and I can see why. Don't let Phil Jackson's talk of not being able to coach anymore fool you; he's going to be very hands on. From what I hear, Jackson is planning to be at training camp, "supervising," from the jump. He needs a young coach who understands him and his ways. If Kerr passes, I'd love to see Luke Walton in that role. He has the perfect temperament to handle such a bold move, and he's basically Jackson's basketball son.
Stein: I don't subscribe to the "Duh, it's Phil" theory because I don't think his heart is in coaching anymore. So the Knicks wouldn't be getting that Phil. I like the Steve Kerr concept. I think he's secure enough in himself to handle the Gotham media cauldron and he has the close relationship with Jackson that's going to be a must here. Can't see Jackson hiring someone he doesn't know well. Plus I'd love to see if Mentor Phil and Student Steve can come anywhere close to replicating the Pat Riley/Erik Spoelstra dynamic. Different circumstances, but a fun experiment to cover.
Windhorst: I've talked to Kerr about his basketball philosophies. He believes in playing through the big men with a more traditional inside-out offensive system like the triangle. Remember, he did trade for Shaq as the GM in Phoenix. I do believe he would be a good match to work with Jackson because of their history together and the way they see the game. Also, because Jackson has little executive experience but lots of coaching experience and Kerr has little coaching experience and lots of executive experience, this would be a nice fit. Kerr is also smart enough to rebuff the Knicks for a while; everyone in the league knows the more you say no to them the more zeros get added to the offer.
4. Which available coach would be the best fit for the Wolves?
Adande: This would be a great job for a college coach, because they will need a great recruiter to a northern outpost that isn't a prime free-agent destination. Even though this coach would have the added tool of promising retail-value payments, building through the draft is a more viable option for the Timberwolves. A youthful team would be another reason to hire a college coach. Fred Hoiberg's ties with the franchise, plus the proximity to his home state of Iowa, make this a good fit.
Elhassan: That depends! If you're planning on keeping Kevin Love and staying competitive, then Clippers associate head coach Alvin Gentry would be a great pick as someone who has coached successful teams with precocious point guards and shooting bigs. If the plan is to rebuild, I'd go with a younger, energetic coach like Dallas assistant Kaleb Canales, who was well-liked in his short stint as interim head coach in Portland.
Shelburne: I know the Wolves are looking at college coaches to start their search, but I'd love to see what George Karl could do with that team. They have the personnel to play his up-and-down style and a low-post threat in Nikola Pekovic to give them some dimension. Alvin Gentry would be another solid choice. Gentry is the kind of coach who walks into any situation and becomes the most popular guy in the room. He also has a history of resurrecting disappointing teams, as he did with Phoenix after Mike D'Antoni left and Terry Porter was fired.
Stein: Stan Van Gundy. We've been reporting for the past few days that the Wolves want a college coach if Flip Saunders is going to stay in the front office, but they need a win-now coach to give them the best shot at keeping Kevin Love. The problem is that SVG, by all accounts, really enjoys spending time with family and working in broadcasting, which figures to make it tough to persuade him to come bail out a long-suffering franchise in snowy Sota. But I have no doubt he'd be great there. Two immediate priorities for the Wolves are developing Ricky Rubio into a more well-rounded player and establishing a consistent defensive foundation. Rick Adelman, for all his undeniable strengths, did not supply the Wolves with sufficient energy from the bench or a defensive mindset. Van Gundy would check both of those boxes. In bold.
Windhorst: The best idea might be to ask Kevin Love that question. Flip Saunders has said Fred Hoiberg is not a candidate, which probably means Saunders already asked and Hoiberg said no. It's going to be hard to get a big name like Stan Van Gundy to move to Minneapolis to work in the winter without knowing whether Minnesota is going to have Love long term; same goes for the college names like Tom Izzo and Billy Donovan. The Wolves may be interested in Thunder lead assistant Rex Kalamian, who worked as an assistant there before.
5. Which available coach would be the best fit for the Jazz?
Adande: Lionel Hollins. He squeezed a firepower-deficient Grizzlies squad into the Western Conference finals and swears he isn't married to the grinding style he had to use there. He could bring discipline and teach winning to a young team, in addition to relaying experience from his playing days. Jeff Van Gundy would be a great hire for the Jazz. But for a guy who seems so much happier and healthier in the broadcast booth, and who provides so much entertainment to the viewing audience, his ABC gig seems like the best spot.
Elhassan: I don't know if he's available, but I love the Ettore Messina rumor. It's time for someone to think outside the box when it comes to hiring a head coach, and Utah is in the position to be bold as a small-market, lottery team with young talent.
Shelburne: GM Dennis Lindsey wants his guy, so expect this hire to come from the Spurs coaching tree. With that young roster, you have to find a young coach in the Scott Brooks style who can grow along with the team. Jim Boylen seems to be the early clubhouse leader, but I have a feeling a lot of interesting young names could pop up.
Stein: I'm being thoroughly selfish and nominating Ettore Messina because it's a groundbreaking concept I'd love to chronicle. The Jazz have always done things their own way. With the strong backing of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik in the front office, Utah strikes me as the sort of situation that could really work for the first head coach born and raised outside of traditional NBA borders. Is Messina too intense and demanding to adapt to an 82-game world? Can he develop young players on American soil? Will NBA players give him a chance? All valid questions, but it's the sort of gamble I could see Utah having the gumption to take in the wake of a gamble that did not pay dividends (last season's decision to keep ownership favorite Ty Corbin and let Jeff Hornacek flee to Phoenix).
Windhorst: Do you know the last time the Jazz hired a coach from outside their organization? Try Tom Nissalke in 1979. So this is a flat-out guess. Normally when teams change coaches, they go a different direction. So they may look for a new-age mind who isn't a former player. Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga is a hot name in that field. Also they could look within their division to Trail Blazers assistant David Vanterpool. Both almost got jobs last season. The best man for this job, though, already has one. That is Jeff Hornacek.