So far this NBA offseason, seven teams, including the Washington Wizards are looking for new head coaches. I’m not including the Atlanta Hawks because they do have Nate McMillian, an interim head coach who led them to the Conference Finals. Here are the seven teams with vacancies and who they at least reportedly hired, if applicable:
- Boston Celtics: Ime Udoka, Boston Celtics assistant coach
- Dallas Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach
- Indiana Pacers: Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks head coach
- New Orleans Pelicans: Still looking
- Orlando Magic: Still looking
- Portland Trail Blazers: Chauncey Billups, Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach
- Washington Wizards: Still looking
In the last week, four teams have filled their positions, most based on reports by Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania. The trend of hiring is clear: those who are current assistant coaches are getting hired pretty quickly, especially if they have previous relationships with the teams (Kidd was a point guard on the Mavericks when they won the 2011 NBA Finals) while Udoka and Billups were hired because of their relationships with star players. It also appears to help if the new head coach was a great player in his own right. Billups and Kidd are some of the NBA’s best point guards of the last 20 years. Kidd was hired to be a head coach right after his retirement.
That said, I have to acknowledge that Kidd’s and Billups’ hiring aren’t coming without controversy. The primary reason is because Kidd was convicted of spousal abuse while Billups was accused of rape during their playing days. It’s puzzling that the Blazers were tied with both of them in their search process, but it appears that they determined that their relationships outweigh the potential PR backlash when deciding to hire Billups.
Of the three teams that still have vacancies, the Wizards, Pelicans and Magic, Washington is the only team coming off a playoff appearance (and positive late regular season momentum). So if the new coach could keep Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook happy, that hire should be able to have at least one season with a team that should make a second-round playoff appearance in the playoffs, maybe even a little better with some luck. But if neither are happy, the Wizards could find themselves in a rebuilding situation at almost anytime, maybe even as soon as this summer.
Which direction will Washington go with their interviewing?
It seems like they are going after assistant coaches more than head coaches who recently got fired last year (ex- Terry Stotts). Boston Celtics assistant coach Scott Morrison is the only one confirmed to have interviewed because he said it himself. But it’s expected that they will interview Denver Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld, Jr. and Philadelphia 76ers assistant Sam Cassell. And many fans to this point believe Unseld or Cassell will be the next head coach.
Based on the current trend of hiring, this makes sense. A lot of sense. Both are assistant coaches. And both have ties to the Wizards franchise since they were both on the staff from 2009-11 together on the late Flip Saunders’ staff. Family ties aside, Unseld worked for the Wizards since 1997 where he worked up from being a scout to an assistant coach position. And in Cassell’s case, he did work with Bradley Beal during his early years (2012-14) and was an All-Star guard in his own right.
Who are the hottest candidates left?
Based on name recognition, it seems like San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Darvin Ham and yes, former Portland Trail Blazers head coach Stotts would be among the names. Since the Wizards have been tight-lipped about who they are considering, it is interesting to see that Hammon in particular is still available, after being a finalist for the Blazers job.
I personally thought she would get that job and that Portland would be the first team to hire a female NBA head coach. If it weren’t for Hammon’s sex, she fits the mold of the typical assistant coach who worked his/her way up the food chain to get that first head coaching job.
Why would the Wizards want to hire Hammon above the other rumored candidates?
First, she is one of the top assistant coaches in the league, and that’s first and foremost. And also they can sell her the fact that Washington has a playoff-ready team which Orlando and New Orleans aren’t. And finally, if they have Beal’s and Westbrook’s blessings, that would make such a hypothetical hire easier. Also, Hammon has been coaching a Spurs team that is in a transition of sorts, given that they missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
The Wizards hired Kristi Toliver to be an assistant for a couple seasons (2018-20) recently and they are the second team to name a female General Manager of their G-League team by hiring Amber Nichols last January. So it’s not like they wouldn’t be open to hiring a female head coach. Given that and barring Hammon’s personality just not working out with the Wizards, as Westbrook would say, “Why not?”
And finally, I’ll admit it: The Wizards can benefit from the good PR as well.
Of the teams with vacancies, the Wizards have the best market, generally speaking, a supportive ownership group that will likely give a head coach room to grow even if things change, and compared to Orlando or New Orleans, they are more likely to be able to compete for something right away. I’d think the Wizards position could be attractive for Hammon as well, though I’m biased for our area.
Anyway, I’ll close off this rambling thought and periodic NBA coaching update with this. Would you like to see Hammon as the Wizards’ head coach next season and think she can help this team more than other available candidates? Let us know in the comments below!