It’s June 8th, and the Brooklyn Nets are still without a head coach after letting P.J. Carlesimo go on May 5th after a first-round loss to the Chicago Bulls. With all of the candidates out there (we think!), we take a look at the top 3 choices from three of our writers.
My #3 choice for Brooklyn Nets coach is…
Devin Kharpertian: Lionel Hollins. I’m torn on Hollins for a few reasons — he’s gotten great results out of a team in flux, coaxed a Defensive Player of the Year-worthy performance out of two brilliant defenders (Tony Allen and actual winner Marc Gasol), developed Mike Conley from an afterthought to the forefront, and overseen a team that’s grown and improved in each season he’s led the roster.
But if Memphis has grown so well under his tutelage, why are they ushering him out so vociferously? How much of the team’s development is thanks to him, rather than the players themselves and Memphis assistants (notably Dave Joerger, in line to be Hollins’s successor)? Did he oversee a natural progression, or maximize it?
Benjamin Nadeau: George Karl. For someone who sits atop the NBA Active Wins list as coach, Karl sure hasn’t had a ton of success in the playoffs. In fact, Karl has only made the NBA Finals once, and more importantly, has lost in first round 14 times. While Karl’s regular season success is impressive, the Nets’ window isn’t open for long, and can’t afford three or four more first round losses. Karl is a great coach, one who almost certainly guarantees a winning record, but with this Nets roster, it would be a shame if they didn’t have one anyway.
Max Weisberg: Jerry Sloan. If you prefer toughness and structure — on both offense and defense — Sloan is your man. The 71-year old could bring his .603 winning percentage and 26 seasons of experience into any NBA locker room and command respect from the moment he walks through the door. Not only has Sloan said he would listen if the Nets called, but Deron Williams has seemingly given his former head coach an endorsement; saying that he would welcome the chance to play for him again.
So why is Sloan just the third best option? Well, he’s 71-years old, has been living on a farm in Illinois, and hasn’t coached in the NBA in 2 1/2 seasons. Questions remain about his interest in coaching, and he would become the oldest head coach in NBA history if hired.
My #2 choice for Brooklyn Nets coach is…
Devin Kharpertian: George Karl. Karl’s sudden departure from Denver made him instantly the highest-qualified candidate on the market — he hasn’t had a losing season since 1988 (note: that’s before I was born) and despite his lack of playoff success, has a track record of maximizing offensive teams with a commitment ball movement, drawing fouls, and smart shot selection.
One question: his teams have generally been defined by their players, and the Nets may need someone who’s going to take more control. It’s also worth noting that Karl’s record in the playoffs is subpar — 80-105 isn’t as terrible as it looks, because you’re playing the best teams in the league, but he’s lost more often than you’d hope given how often he’s made the playoffs.
Benjamin Nadeau: Lionel Hollins. I’m very surprised to hear that the Memphis Grizzlies have little to no interest in bringing back the man who gave the franchise their first Western Conference Finals appearance. He demands respect, something that Avery Johnson lost, and does a fairly good job at managing his rotations, something P.J. Carlesimo struggled with.
However, much like Johnson or Doc Rivers, Hollins has often has done poorly at finding their younger athletes playing time. Every year, Williams, Johnson and Wallace get older, and if the Nets want to be a contender, they need to get their young players more court time.
Max Weisberg: George Karl. At first, I was up in arms when reports surfaced that the Nets were not interested in the most recent NBA Coach of the Year Award winner. But upon further examination of Karl, there are some things that raise a few eyebrows. There’s the fact that Karl’s Nuggets this season were 38-3 at home (in the altitude) and just 19-22 on the road. He was seemingly outcoached by Mark Jackson in the playoffs this season, and has made it out of the first round just once during his nine-year tenure in Denver. But then again: he just won Coach of the Year and led the Nuggets to their best season ever. His teams have also finished at or above .500 in each of the last 21 seasons (!) he has coached. THAT is why George Karl is choice number 2.
My top choice for Brooklyn Nets coach is…
Devin Kharpertian: Brian Shaw. I worry this sounds like a ringing endorsement rather than optimistic curiosity. Shaw is highly respected around the league by players and coaches alike, but he also had a half-decade of interviews for open spots go nowhere. Shaw’s expected to bring Phil Jackson’s famed triangle offense with him wherever he goes, which could be devastating with Brooklyn’s offensive talent… or it could crash and burn, leaving Shaw scrambling for his next option. Shaw’s track record with players is stellar, but not as a head coach. I think Shaw is the best man for this job, because if he’s successful with this roster, he becomes the coach that can stick around with this team for a decade-plus. But with the pressure of being “the” guy in Brooklyn, I hope he wouldn’t succumb to the same pressures that led to Avery Johnson’s downfall.
Benjamin Nadeau: Brian Shaw. For a man who has never headed a team before, he sure is wanted, isn’t he? Shaw, it seems, has his pick of the litter — and the Nets should be doing everything they can to attract Indiana’s current associate head coach. It seems like every Pacers player has stressed how much they love Shaw this year and his presence is valued. With his potential triangle offense, Brooklyn would see far less iso-ball and way more ball movement. That alone is worth cheering on Shaw’s hire.
Max Weisberg: Brian Shaw. I can’t gloat about his Coach of the Year awards, his Hall of Fame status, his proven offensive system, or even his head coaching experience. He doesn’t have any — and that may be the reason why he’s my first choice. The 47-year-old assistant is known to gain tremendous respect among players. Here’s a quote from Shaq that sums up why Shaw is the best option out there: “People need to realize this is a new era and B-Shaw speaks that language. He’s my age, but he understands how it goes. He knows how the players go, how they tick. All these guys who have losing records come and try to do the same (expletive). It’s not going work.” A long-term solution who will likely bring toughness and structure — Shaw is Brooklyn’s main man.