June 25, 2009

So What Now?

An issue that I haven’t really addressed yet is that Kevin McHale is no longer with our organization. I think, based on the response from my fellow Wolves bloggers, you have already gathered that we’re all very ecstatic about his departure. The cloud of failure is beginning to clear, the sun has started to breath life back into Minnesota’s professional basketball team. After inhaling the beautiful fresh air, us Wolves fans are now looking across a beautiful new horizon. The possibilities seem endless. We have a couple of good, young players, a fresh attitude in the front office, and a plethora of draft picks with which to build around our core.

There’s one thing missing at this point: Who the hell is going to lead this blossoming group of youngsters? I have to admit McHale did a good job last year on the bench, considering he didn’t want to be there and his best two players were hurt for most of the season. But it’s not like he’s got big shoes that need to be filled – well, except with cement, over an open body of water. Alas, you can’t kill a walking corpse, but I digress. So who then will lead this young troupe of basketeers? There are a lot of names out there – a lot of proven guys, who’ve done some great things. There are some up and comers – diaper dandies, as a certain basketball talker might say. I just don’t know!! “But Dave,” you say, “you must have an opinion, a light to shine on this chasm, filled with coaching options…” Oh, but of course I do – when don’t I! So let’s get into this mess.

P.J. Carlesimo, Sam Mitchell, and Jeff Van Gundy are all out there. They’ve all had success at the NBA level, this we know. Of course we also know that all three have been involved in some sort of physical altercation with their players – PJ got choked by Spree, Mitchell threw punches at Skip To My Lou, and we all remember watching JVG cling to Zo’s leg for dear life while he and Grandmama failed repeatedly to hit each other with their fists. Probably not a good trait for a coach to have while trying to teach youngsters how to act. So they’re out.

There are a few other ex-coaches out there like Mo Cheeks, Eddie Jordan, and Eric Musselman. Not much success in that group – I actually think Eric Musselman is a “pro” blogger for some janky basketball website (like me, but smarter, and more well paid).

There are also a number of ex-players who are serving as assistants right now that are on their way up in the coaching world. Kurt Rambis is fresh off a title with the Los Angeles Lakers and has already turned down overtures from the Sacramento Kings. Mario Elie, Patrick Ewing, and Ty Corbin are all considered to be on their way to head jobs eventually. Don't forget Bill Laimbeer – he who said, “I don’t fight, I agitate and walk away” – won a title as the head coach of the WNBA’s Detroit Shock. I just don’t see the youngsters as ready for the big time quite yet, and Laimbeer isn’t a “people person.”

I’d be interested in Kurt Rambis but there’s no way he’s about to pick up and leave L.A. when he’s considered the heir-apparent to the ship that Phil built. Tom Thibedeaux, the defensive master in Boston, has been a hot name the past couple years but I’m not convinced he wants to be a head coach at all, and certainly not before they’re done winning titles in Boston.

So that’s a lot of people who are out there. There’s a lot of people who are available. But who’s out there, available, and desirable? Realistically, not many, sad to say.

Mark Jackson is one of the names most often mentioned in connection with the Wolves head coaching vacancy. He and Kahn do share an Indiana connection, although I don’t think they were there at the same time. He was a tough-as-nails point guard who had no problems starring at Madison Square Garden night in and night out. Jackson has been flexing his basketball knowledge with ABC and ESPN, calling games, with most “pundits” thinking he’ll easily make the transition to the bench successfully. I’m not totally sold on him, but I wouldn’t be sad if he got his first shot with us.

Terry Porter hasn’t had much luck, or success, since his early days in Milwaukee. He was cut loose after a philosophy shift in Cheesetown and got the axe amidst the Phoenix Suns debacle of a year ago. He is an ex-Wolf, but not in any way part of McHale’s Sinking Navy. I have to think he’s an outside shot at best, although his knack for coaching defense keeps him in the mix.

Avery Johnson is a name that has been mysteriously absent from all the coaching changes over the past year. I haven’t even heard his name since he was being considered in Phoenix and Chicago before last season. It strikes me as strange that a guy, considered by many to be one of the up and comers in NBA coaching, has not been mentioned at all regarding the open jobs in Sacramento, Phoenix, or Minnesota – two of which have filled now. It makes you wonder what happened. He fits what the Wolves are said to be looking for: a young, tough coach, who can teach. I wouldn’t be surprised if they announced him as head coach with not so much as a breath of a rumor beforehand.

Reggie Theus is another young coach with some talent and experience. He was in a difficult situation in Sacramento which required him to perform with nothing on his roster, in a tough Western Conference, and for demanding ownership. He had a good amount of success at New Mexico State prior to getting his first gig in Sacto, but is he ready for a second shot? It’s hard to say. I love him as a lead assistant, which would give him a chance to learn some more, and then give him another shot at the head spot. That said, I think he’d be a good fit in Minnesota, if for no other reason than they have a ton more talent than Sacramento did two years ago and he seems to communicate well with the players.

See what I mean about it being pretty thin? There are names, guys you know, but not anyone I’d really be excited about having as my head coach. I spent the better part of today looking at all the ex-coaches, ex-players, current assistants, and college coaches, to see what I could find for candidates for the Wolves. There are a lot of names out there, but not many I can make too compelling an argument for.

There was, however, one name that consistently kept surfacing – almost stubbornly so. It’s not a name you would expect me to put on this list, quite the opposite in fact. He hasn’t had a lot of success at the pro level, although he definitely has some experience, including some in the playoffs. He has consistently done well in the college ranks, although he’s embroiled in a bit of controversy at the moment. I know, you’re thinking Calipari aren’t you? Good guess, but not him. And it’s not Pitino either, although he’s not really in any kind of trouble. For now. Think further west. Got it? That’s it, it’s Tim Floyd. Hey, before you stop reading, let me explain, because lord knows I’m as surprised about this as you are.

He’s relatively young, he’s demanding of his players (on the court anyways), and he’s proven he can successfully adjust to major roster changes year in and year out. Losing your star player every single year has got to be tough. USC has sort of become an NBA-Player factory, so we can assume he knows how to manage this generation of NBAers (on the court). He can coach talent, we know that for sure.

“Jesus Dave, have you even looked as his NBA record?”

Yes. I have. And it’s not very good. He even admitted he was terrible. But look at more than just the numbers. He was the guy that followed Michael and Scottie and Phil Jackson in Chicago. He was forced to coach an expansion team in a city that expected, no, DEMANDED, a champion. Not to mention the lock-out shortened season and a crazy owner. So three seasons in, he’s toast, and had moved on to New Orleans. A 41 win season, a first-round exit in the playoffs, and another philosophical change within the organization spelled his doom there. What I wouldn’t do for a .500 season and a return trip to the playoffs right now.

So he’s now five years wiser and maybe ready for a return to the NBA. The situation he’d be coming into carries much less pressure than his beginning in Chicago. The roster is pretty loaded (well, after the draft anyways) with solid, young talent, which he proved he could manage at USC. He’s a player’s coach who knows the game of basketball and showed he could handle the glitz and glam of Los Angeles just fine - so he'll be fine in the media-friendly city of Minneapolis. I’m not saying he’s the answer but I’m not saying he isn’t either.

Call me crazy if you will but, if it were my team, I’d give Floyd a good, long look.

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