Earlier this week, I shared my thoughts on Mike Brown’s termination after just one season. While I understood the statement the franchise was making after all of the declared playoff expectations pre-season, I couldn’t help but feeling that Mike Brown was a scapegoat for a lot of other problems with this front office and the roster as currently constructed. However, that’s in the past now, and what the Cavaliers need to do, in my opinion, is go through an incredibly exhaustive search of the college ranks as well as top assistants throughout the league and former head coaches. In that search, they must determine who can install a system that players can buy into and aligns properly with the front office’s vision for the roster.
Here’s a rundown of where I’m at with some of the discussed candidates.
If the Cavaliers can get any of these four guys, I’m completely on board with them. These are a combination of highly-successful young coaches and an experienced coach with a wealth of success.
Age and health: those are the only drawbacks to George Karl in my mind. In a world where Karl’s health is a non-issue, I’d kill to have a strong leader such as Karl that has been deep into May and June with several different teams. He led the Kemp-Payton Sonics to the NBA Finals and the Conference Finals an additional time. In Milwaukee, the Glenn Robinson-Ray Allen Bucks made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the Iverson Sixers in seven games in 2001. His Nuggets made the playoffs in each of nine seasons, though they made it past the first round just once in that time. The one exception with Denver included beating New Orleans and Dallas in five games each and falling to the Lakers in six games in the 2009 Western Conference Finals.
Karl’s coached Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell, Chauncey Billups, Allen Iverson, and Carmelo Anthony among other star players. He’s been a popular coach in some of the NBA’s smaller markets. How often does a 1000-win NBA coach come right out and say that he WANTS to be in Cleveland? Karl can command the respect that Mike Brown failed to.
In Karl’s nine seasons in Denver, he had a top five offense four times (including first in 2011), but his teams didn’t neglect defense either (11th in defensive efficiency in his final year, five top-11 defensive squads).
This great profile on ESPN’s True Hoop depicts Karl’s coaching style. You couldn’t WRITE a better fix-it-quick-strategy for what ailed the Cavaliers. Karl HATES two-point jumpers and the basketball sticking. His teams can be up tempo, and they must move the ball on offense. Karl isn’t afraid to stand up to his players when there is a lack of effort. He’s shown the ability to integrate young players into a rotation (looking at you, Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev, and this year’s draft pick). Pushing the ball, driving to the rim, and getting to the line are all staples, and they’re all things the Irving-Waiters backcourt must do more of.
Karl is 63 years old, and he would become the second oldest active coach behind Gregg Popovich. Still, part of me wouldn’t mind seeing Karl turn this franchise around and spend four or five years in the role, heading to retirement with a handoff succession plan.
While Ollie seems like a long shot at this point, it’s easy to see why he should command so much attention. In just four years of coaching (two as head man at UConn), he’s already risen up and taken a seventh-seeded, guard-heavy Huskies squad to the National Championship. Many people thought UConn would lose in the first round. They couldn’t possibly beat the only top seed left, the senior-laden Florida Gators.
“You cannot overstate what Ollie’s passion and mentality brings to a team, especially one like this, that had been through so much hardship. But like love, passion doesn’t win basketball games.
The beauty of Ollie’s coaching is how you see what he’s taken from other coaches, what he’s learned from the NBA and what’s he has discovered from being a reserve over 13 years of NBA action. As Bill Raftery so astutely pointed out Sunday, Kevin Ollie has watched a lot of basketball in his life – he’s seen it all.”
The post goes onto talk about Ollie’s ability to draw up out of bounds play (instant baller status in Cleveland after Mike Brown), substitution patterns, foul discipline, and exploiting matchups. You know, all of things we killed Mike Brown for not being.
The Huskies ranked 39th in adjusted offense and 10th in adjusted defense, according to KenPom.com. In addition, UConn was 15th in effective field goal percentage defense and 8th in 2PT FG% defense. Ollie’s team played at a snail’s pace, ranking 263rd in the category. On their march to the title, Connecticut beat two seed Villanova, four seed Michigan State, and third seed Iowa State in their bracket before taking down Florida in the national seminfinal and Kentucky in the championship game.
Ollie would be a home-run hire of the highest order, though it looks like the odds are slim.
At a program like Iowa State, Hoiberg is poised for either a move to a larger college program or the NBA. Hoiberg is just 41 years old, but he took the Iowa State job four years ago and after a 16-16 rookie campaign has taken the Cyclones to three straight NCAA tournaments and is 4-3 in tournament games with a Sweet Sixteen appearance with this year’s team, losing a close game to the eventual national champion UConn. Hoiberg also has some front office experience with Minnesota from his time in between the end of his playing career in 2006 and the start of his coaching career in Ames.
This season, his Cyclones ranked 6th in adjusted offense and 72nd in adjusted defense, per KenPom. Iowa State turned the ball over at the eighth lowest rate in Division I, and they slotted 18th in effective field-goal percentage on offense. Additonally, his team played at the 16th quickest tempo in the NCAA last season. They lived and died by the long ball with seven players making at least 22 threes on the season and five with 43-plus.
I admittedly didn’t know much about Adrian Griffin until I read this piece about him from Sporting News. Here’s an excerpt.
“My journey has taken me through every facet of the game,” Griffin said. “I have been on the outside looking in, working my way up, I have been overseas, I was a starter in the league, I was buried on the bench, I have been cut—everything imaginable in the league, I have been through it.
“It helps me relate to players. I can tell them how to handle different situations. The NBA is a grind, the 82 games, the travel, the pressure, the expectations, so I call on my experience and past knowledge to build a bond with the players.”
During that time, he played for legendary coaches, ranging from Rick Pitino to P.J. Carlesimo, from Jeff Van Gundy to Don Nelson. He has had two stints as an assistant coach, first with Skiles in Milwaukee, and now with Thibodeau and the Bulls.
“Great, great,” Thibodeau said of Griffin. “I am hopeful that he’ll get more consideration, head-coaching opportunities. He has done a terrific job, he is strong in all areas, he is a great communicator, leader, and a great teacher. I’m hopeful, I’m hopeful for him, I think he’s deserving.”
I’m a HUGE Tom Thibodeau fan, and I firmly believe that the Cavaliers get past the Celtics in 2008 if not for Thibodeau’s flawless defensive gameplans designed at suffocating LeBron James. Thibodeau helped get the Bulls homecourt advantage in the playoffs without Derrick Rose and after Luol Deng was traded. This guy does more with less than anybody in the league. He’s a defensive mastermind, and if Chicago was stupid enough to cut ties with him, I’d be all over him.
That leads us to Griffin, who has been described as “a player-friendly Thibodeau“. It’s pretty impressive to have a grizzled NBA vet near obtaining his PhD. Griffin also was an assistant under Scott Skiles in Milwaukee, so he’s been a part of two coaching systems that are all about no-nonsense.
Hollins is an interesting candidate that did not appeal to me at first. However, when I went back and looked at how those Grizzlies teams as constructed got deep into the playoffs with successful regular seasons while lacking a true star player, it was quite impressive. Hollins wouldn’t be a huge departure from the defense first style employed by Mike Brown, which would be a drawback to some folks. The Grizzlies improved from 21st in his interim season to 19th in 2010, 9th in 2011, seventh in 2012, and finally 2nd in 2013. His offensive numbers were far from impressive, but his team did not rank in the bottom ten in offensive efficiency with the exception of his interim takeover year. When he was fired in 2013, his team was 17th in offensive efficiency.
“Three point shots represent approximately 25% of the shots attempted in the NBA. When Mark Price was a rookie, three point shots were about 5% of the shots attempted in the NBA. Even in the ABA’s last season, three point shots, considered by the NBA at the time to be a gimmick, were only about 4% of shots attempted.
This shift towards high percentage shots in the paint and high reward shots outside the three point line, were exactly Mark Price’s strengths as a player. It’s hard to conceptualize, but Price was a more efficient shooter than Stephen Curry. In today’s league, with a value shift towards his strength, Price would be a much more valuable player than he was as a four time all-star who was voted in the top 10 in the MVP race for 4 years and received First Team All-NBA honors in an era with incredibly talented point guards.
Does this mean that Price could or would coach the style of play that would have most successfully exploited his own talents as a player? That’s unclear. What is clear, however, is when one of the greatest shooting gurus ever to live has also shown that he can coach and teach that style of play and that style of play also happens to be the prevailing offensive theory in analytics, it’s worth taking a close examination of whether he’s the right coach for your young team.”
Price would an incredibly popular choice in Cleveland, no doubt about it. His shooting and teaching skills would be a huge plus. I don’t doubt that he could help drastically improve this team’s three-point and free-throw shooting and improve the pace. However, while I wouldn’t necessarily be upset with this hire, I caution against it because of the unrealistic expectations that would be placed on arguably the most popular player in franchise history. What if it doesn’t go well for Price? It could be an ugly end to a relationship that the Cavaliers need to maintain. I think Price is a great basketball mind, but I just don’t know if he has enough time as a seasoned assistant coach for me to hand the keys over to him right now. I’d love to bring him in as lead assistant if he gels with the head coaching hire’s system, however, and maybe that’s a possibility.
Vinny Del Negro
Vinny suffers from the “Mike Brown syndrome” in that most people would argue he was only successful because of Derrick Rose in Chicago and Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in Los Angeles. On paper, VDN’s resume looks adequate. His Clippers were ranked 4th in offensive efficiency in his final two years. He coached his teams (between Chicago and the Clippers) to four playoff appearances in five seasons. The Clippers won 40 games in the strike-shortened season of 2011, and they then won a franchise-record-at-the-time 56 games in his final season. The Clippers were also eighth in defensive efficiency in 2013.
There are worse hires out there than Del Negro certainly, but he’s a coach that has warts of not advancing as far in the playoffs as some of his teams perhaps were expected to.
Most other current NBA assistants
It’s no secret that there’s been a large number of top assistants hired into head positions of late, including Steve Clifford, David Joerger, Jeff Hornacek, Mike Malone, Brett Brown, and Mike Budenholzer. There’s only so many guys in those ranks from the Poppovich, Van Gundy, Thibodeau, Rivers, etc. coaching trees that are truly deserving of a shot. Like Griffin, there may be other guys being talked about less that are deserving, but that will have to be at the determination of the Cavalier front office in the interview process and through references.
If the Cavaliers do go with a lesser known name, they better not be a doormat when it comes to player interaction, and they need to bring a clearly defined system that can be picked up and transplanted without issue when the head coach is no longer part of the equation1
For this category of coaches, I ask, “You fired Mike Brown, FOR THIS!?” These guys either have a lack of success or are painfully one-dimensional to the extent Mike Brown was accused of being and then some.
Alvin Gentry is a well respected man around the league. He has a wealth of experience, and he impressed many with his time in Phoenix. There’s an obvious link between David Griffin and Gentry, which prevents his name from leaving the discussion. However, hiring Gentry would be a settle job of the worst kind and a franchise-crushing blow. In parts of 12 seasons as head coach, Gentry only has two playoff appearances. They include a first-round exit in 1999 with Detroit and a trip to Western Conference Finals with Phoenix in 2010, falling to the Lakers in six. Outside of the 54-win season in 2010, his teams did not win more than 40 games in any season with him at the helm. That’s a long and highly unsuccessful track record.
No. NO, NO, HELL NO! Mike D’Antoni has proven time and time again that his system cannot and will not win in the postseason. He had some of the most immensely talented teams in Phoenix with Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, and Joe Johnson, and they always crumbled against teams that slowed the pace and bellied up with defensive effort. The guy considers defense an afterthought, and installing him into a desired defensive culture would make me go nuclear! THE worst candidate mentioned in any breath for this job. Period.
His last six years in New York and Los Angeles have been complete meltdowns. In 2005-07, his teams made it out of the first round each year with two conference finals trips. His defenses in those years ranked 17th, 16th, and 13th respectively by efficiency. In terms of points per game, they were 30th, 28th, and 23rd.
Calipari already failed as a NBA head coach once, going 72-112 in parts of three seasons before being fired 20 games into year three with the New Jersey Nets following a 3-17 start. He’s obviously showed an ability to recruit and win at the college level, but how will he do without elite top talent at every position? His ties to LeBron James are well documented. Still, I would only consider Cal for the job if LeBron James walked through the door at the exact same time and they had a contract signing party in Cleveland.
David Griffin is now tasked with choosing the leader of the team on the floor for the next several years. Kyrie Irving’s tenure in Cleveland depends on getting this hire right. One and done or two and through is NOT an option here. The franchise’s relevance hinges upon it.
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Jumping sports, we’ve seen how spectacularly this has failed with the Belichick coaching tree. It’s the man, not the system, in some cases. [↩]
Kirk Lammers grew up on the Marblehead Peninsula and is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. He now lives in Northeast Ohio, and you can find him at the ballpark, at the Q, or far too often on Twitter (@WFNYKirk)."