As exciting as the opening round of the playoffs can be, this time of the year is also special in the NBA for another reason: the league’s annual coaching carousel starts.
Chicago is one city that won’t be affected by changes on the sidelines, as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau (finally) signed his contract extension, but this season is set to see several changes throughout the league.
With the regular season over, four teams have already made changes, as Charlotte fired Mike Dunlap, Detroit relieved Lawrence Frank of his duties, former Bulls coach Doug Collins resigned in Philadelphia and in Cleveland, Byron Scott was let go and was already replaced by former Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown, who was sacked by the Lakers early in the season.
Besides the three vacancies to be filled, more upheaval is expected to occur, as dismal teams in places like Sacramento and Phoenix — former Bulls guard Lindsey Hunter, the Suns interim head coach, could be on shaky ground after the organization fired general manager Lance Blanks, who was perceived to be his biggest ally — could be looking to make a change.
Even teams that made the postseason, such as Atlanta, Milwaukee and Brooklyn, the Bulls’ first-round opponent — the latter two teams both have interim coaches, hired in the middle of the campaign — could have new faces on the bench next season, according to league scuttlebutt.
There are a handful of other situations around the NBA where head coaches are supposedly on the chopping block or are in situations they could opt to depart for various reasons — for example, Rick Adelman potentially leaving Minnesota due to his wife’s health concerns — which could make it almost half the league that has new leadership next season.
Deserving former head coaches like the aforementioned Brown and Nate McMillan, reportedly a candidate for the Pistons’ vacancy, are being mentioned, but here’s hoping that longtime assistant coaches, such as Indiana’s Brian Shaw and San Antonio’s Mike Budenholzer. If they desire, the low-profile assistants on the Bulls’ coaching staff, who are obviously working under one of the league’s best in Thibodeau, get opportunities to at least interview for openings, creating some new blood in the pool of candidates.
[MORE: Bulls recognized in voting]
Regardless of what occurs, it’s always interesting to note the timing, as lottery teams can be aggressive in getting the affairs in order far in advance of the NBA Draft and free agency, while playoff teams have a smaller window — candidates who are working on staffs in the postseason have similar dilemmas — to get things together.
On to the mailbag:
You have everyone in the league healthy and available: Who gets the last shot down 1 with 5 seconds to play?
Ronnie, I’d go with Kobe Bryant. His track record is unimpeachable and I’m pretty sure he has actual ice water in his veins. In fact, even in his current state, if he’s willing and able to be on the floor for just those final five seconds, I’d think hard about going to him.
Is past playoff experience undervalued, overvalued or valued just right?
Randall, I don’t think you can overvalue previous experience in the postseason, especially when a player’s been successful. The confidence garnered from either stellar individual performances or team success is big in the playoffs. Still, there’s no way to gain experience but to get experience and some players, regardless of whether or not they’ve had it before, simply rise to the occasion without prior knowledge of things go in the postseason. Experience is great, but the ability to step up when it counts and not be afraid to fail is even better, in my opinion.
Is Derrick practicing in team 5-on-5 situations, or is the team trying to get the guys who are playing more chemistry?
Geoff, practices at this point of the season aren’t much more than walk-throughs, stretching, basic drills and film sessions, but Derrick is a participant. I wouldn’t read too much into that, though, as he’s been practicing for months now. What he isn’t doing is scrimmaging, as the postseason isn’t the time for banged-up teams to be doing that. But chemistry isn’t really the issue right now. Derrick’s getting plenty of reps and working out a lot with Bulls staffers, the same way players like Marquis Teague and Malcolm Thomas are, although his activity incorporates both rehab and development.
Deron Williams really struggled early in the year. Why has he been more efficient/better of late?
Dan, the simple answer is he’s in shape. He started the season admittedly overweight and had some nagging ankle injuries, as well. But let’s not forget that he was an elite point guard in his Utah days and with an improved supporting cast and experienced players around him, he has more weapons at his disposal. He always had the ability, but now the Nets are clicking and he’s been the main reason why.
Is Jimmy Butler, at times, TOO unselfish? Shouldn't he be more aggressive offensively?
Marco, Jimmy certainly isn’t a selfish player, but being a young player on a team with plenty of veterans, I’m sure he doesn’t want to overstep his boundaries. As the season has progressed, his role has changed dramatically and while he was a good scorer in college, it’s a big jump to being someone an NBA team relies on to produce points. At the same time, Jimmy has to be remain assertive to give the Bulls an additional offensive threat — one who provides a different dimension, with his athletic slashing, than any of his teammates — and force defenders to play him honestly.