Let me start this by saying, I’m not wishing for anyone to lose their job. Given the fact that Scott Brooks’ contract expires at the end of the month, it’s at least reasonably likely the Wizards will have a new head coach for the 2021-2022 season.
During Thursday’s end-of-season media availability, Tommy Sheppard said they would make that decision based on “performance” and the opportunity to take the team to the next level. I take that to mean that if Sheppard thinks he can upgrade, he will. But I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Brooks back on the Wizards’ sidelines next season either.
On this week’s Bleav in Wizards podcast, Larry Hughes and I discussed what the profile of the ideal coach might look like should the Wizards decide to make a change. During his NBA career, Hughes played for a lot of coaches.
In Philadelphia and Charlotte, he was coached by Larry Brown. With Golden State he played for several coaches: P.J. Carlesimo, Garry St. Jean, Dave Cowens, and Brian Winters. In Washington, he played for Doug Collins and Eddie Jordan, as most of you will surely remember. In Cleveland, he played for Mike Brown. In Chicago, he played for Scott Skiles, Pete Myers (for one game), Jim Boylan, and Vinny Del Negro. He also played nine games for Stan Van Gundy in Orlando when he tried to make a post-injury comeback.
I rattled all of these names off just to make the point that Hughes has played for pretty much every type of coach you can think of, with every type of background, and in every type of situation. I trust his judgment when it comes to identifying who might be the best fit for the Wizards’ current situation.
In the earlier part of the show, we discussed the boost that Doc Rivers has seemingly given the 76ers and how finding the right coach for the right situation can lead to a meaningful jump for a team. I asked Hughes if Rivers had more cache with his players because he was a pretty good NBA player in his own right.
Hughes believed it certainly didn’t hurt but thought it had more to do with his track record as a head coach. He also pointed out that a good portion of Rivers’ players probably haven’t even seen video clips of Rivers as a player. Some of them may not have even known Rivers had been a player prior to him becoming their coach.
Hughes believed that the major credibility Rivers has comes from his past experience leading several future Hall of Fame players and being able to pass along what worked and didn’t work for them. Shake Milton is more likely to take a piece of advice if he knows it helped Chris Paul improve his game. Joel Embiid might be more willing to tweak his game if he knows it helped Kevin Garnett finally win a championship.
Hearing similar first-hand anecdotes could help convince well-established stars like Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal to alter their games in a way that might be more conducive to postseason success (i.e.: playing just a skosh more defense). Whoever coaches those two next needs to be able to get them to buy into whatever stamp they’re trying to put on the team.
According to Hughes, the ideal coach doesn’t necessarily need to have decades of head coaching experience. Being from a well-established coaching tree and having learned from successful head coaches is important in his opinion.
Two names that immediately came to mind that had playing experience and have learned from other successful coaches are Sam Cassell and Darvin Ham. Cassell was the better player and could speak directly from personal experience to Westbrook and Beal. He also has familiarity with Beal from his time as a Wizards assistant. That ultimately might make Cassell the more attractive name to fans.
Ham, however, has just as much coaching experience and played for almost a decade in the NBA. For anyone that doesn’t remember Ham as a play player, he was a tough, no-nonsense kind of guy, which Hughes also confirmed. In my opinion, the Wizards could certainly benefit from that type of mindset.
Hughes believes that this group of Wizards would strongly benefit from an openly fiery head coach. The key personalities on this team are fiery guys and some of the more low-key players like Rui Hachimura seem to play their best when they’re hyped up. Hughes couldn’t speak to Ham’s coaching temperament but found Ham to be fiery as a player.
We aren’t saying these are the only two names the team should consider. Hughes feels the team should have lots of conversations with candidates and ensure that their coaching style matches with the organization’s vision for the team. But in vacuum, we wouldn’t mind seeing either Cassell or Ham show up on their short list of guys to consider.