The Washington Wizards are 0-3 in a season where they are expected to make a playoff push. But despite adding Russell Westbrook and Raul Neto, the team is still blowing fourth quarter leads and turning wins into losses. We have seen this soap opera perennially, with analysts and some reporters saying, “calm down, everything will be okay.” But as Wizards fans, we know how this soap opera usually ends.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Scott Brooks is the odds-on favorite to be the first NBA head coach to get fired midseason. And even if Brooks isn’t the first, the chances are good that he’ll be fired before the first half of the season is done anyway. Barring a secret Ernie Grunfeld-esque extension, Brooks is effectively a lame duck, even if he has one of his personal favorite players, Westbrook on his side again.
There is no doubt that many, if not most Wizards fans, want Brooks fired. But Becca Winkert, the Director of WizardsXTRA asked a legitimate question to those of you on the fire bandwagon.
To everyone saying the wizards should fire Scott Brooks, here’s my question: Who is currently available and would be capable of replacing him as head coach?— Becca Winkert (@BeccaMVP) December 28, 2020
Remember it’s about timing, too.
I can’t answer for all fans. But since I am on the “Fire Brooks” bandwagon myself, here is my answer to Winkert’s question about timing: There is no good time to fire a head coach. When it has to be done, it just has to be done. A Brooks firing must be done quickly, but he must also go with dignity.
As for the availability of coaches, I think this Wizards team can be a great fit for an up-and-comer who wants to write his or her own legacy in D.C. But we can’t worry too much about coaches from outside the organization until this season is over.
The Wizards have rising young talent in Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, and this squad has more than enough talent to make the playoffs with Bradley Beal and Westbrook. But again, to me, coach availability is something to figure out for the 2021 NBA offseason, not right now. I won’t get into the outside figures whom some people want to see at the Congress Heights practice facility next to ESA for that reason.
In the short term, the Wizards’ bench has several people who could take the interim job right away, even though it’s unclear whether they would remain in Washington next season if Brooks were fired in the coming weeks. Here are the coaches on the bench right now whom I could see be the interim head coach, along with their pros and cons.
Tony Brown, Associate Head Coach
Why: In general, if the head coach is fired, his or her lead assistant is often tapped to be the interim head coach. So if Brooks is let go, Brown is the favorite to be the head coach based on the hierarchy.
Brown is also the only coach on the Wizards’ bench who has been an NBA team head coach. He was the interim head coach of the Brooklyn Nets in their 2015-16 campaign when they had an 11-34 record. Don’t blame him solely for the record, since that was a time of transitional period for them. Deron Williams left in the prior summer and Joe Johnson was released midway through that season.
Why not: Like Brooks, Brown has been on Washington’s bench since the 2016-17 season and is his right hand man. If the Wizards decide to let go of Brooks very soon, it isn’t uncommon for the lead assistant to be fired too.
Why: Christian, if he was offered the top job midseason, has professional head coaching experience. He was the head coach of the Capital City Go-Go from 2018-19 where the team went 25-25, though it wasn’t enough to make the G-League playoffs. He is regarded as a rising coach and is on track to be a head coach somewhere, soon.
Why not: Like Brooks, Christian has ties with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He served as an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Blue G-League affiliate from 2014-18, which overlaps some of the time when Brooks was still the Thunder’s head coach.
I can’t say what’s on Christian’s mind, but like other young coaches, he may be weary of wondering whether the Wizards’ head coaching job at this time is too high of a risk to his career. If the chances of him getting fired by a new coaching regime this summer are higher than 50-50, he may not want the job if he were ever asked.
Why: Pack was the Wizards’ Summer League head coach in 2019. He has served on staffs for several teams, including the New Orleans Pelicans (twice), the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder. He has become a popular name on social media to take the role after a non-scientific look at Twitter the last few days.
And if all that weren’t enough, Pack played for the then-Bullets in the 1995-96 NBA season during his long playing career.
Why not: Like the other coaches I went on this list so far, the affiliation with the Brooks Era Thunder can be a curse if you want the next coach to have nothing to do with the current head coach to the extent possible. Pack’s time with Oklahoma City was from 2013-15.
Why: Gaines has the most head coaching experience on the bench, where he was the Phoenix Mercury’s head coach and general manager from 2008-13 where his teams won a championship in 2009 and went to the Western Conference Finals in 2010 and 2011. His teams ran high-paced offenses that were consistently at the top of the WNBA, led by Diana Taurasi when she was in her prime. He has also coached a number of other stars like Penny Taylor, DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree, Cappie Pondexter and Brittney Griner.
As for his NBA coaching resume, Gaines was an assistant for the Phoenix Suns in 2013 as well as 2015-16 before going to the New York Knicks from 2016-18 when Jeff Hornacek was coaching both teams. Gaines was considered for the interim head coach role for the Suns in 2016 when Hornacek was fired, but Earl Watson ultimately took the role.
Finally, if you don’t like anyone with Brooks connections, Gaines had none until he joined the Wizards. That said, he has a direct connection to Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. In 1989-90, Gaines played for him while as a guard for the Continental Basketball Association’s Omaha Racers. If you don’t believe me, here’s an archived link from The Tulsa World!
Why not: WNBA head coaching performance means little to nothing to the NBA for head coaching jobs, based on history. Despite winning an WNBA title over a decade ago, Gaines has yet to become an NBA head coach.
And as for his WNBA resume, Gaines’ last two years with the Mercury were not good despite having some combination of Taurasi, Taylor, Bonner, Dupree AND/OR Griner.
In 2012, the Mercury effectively tanked for the first pick in the draft the following year where they would draft Griner first overall. And in 2013, he was fired by the Mercury after they went just 10-11 in the first part of the regular season despite being championship favorites.
And to my point on how WNBA coaching experience translates into the NBA, no head coach in their league has ever become a full-time NBA head coach afterward. Bill Laimbeer left the then-Detroit Shock (now the Dallas Wings) midseason in 2009 to try to get such a role. But he could only get an assistant role on the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since then, Laimbeer has returned to the WNBA where he is now the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces.
Michael Cooper, a long-time Los Angeles Sparks and Atlanta Dream head coach has been the closest to being a full-time NBA head coach. He was the Denver Nuggets’ interim head coach for 14 games in the 2004-05 season. But even though he was a successful WNBA coach and former NBA player, he wasn’t able to get a team job.
I think a WNBA head coach will be a full-time NBA head coach in the future. I’m not sold on Gaines being that coach, but I can see him being an interim one.
The Wizards have a number of people on their bench who could be a good fit as the interim head coach, though it’s unclear whether that coach would do enough to stay onboard beyond this season. That said you never know, maybe an interim coach is the one who takes the team to the playoffs. Do you feel any of these coaches could be a longer-term fit in Washington? Let us know in the comments below.