The big name coaches just keep coming for the Clippers

Jeff Gross

The Clippers seem to be in the driver's seat in looking for a head coach, with many good candidates to choose from and big names becoming available on a near weekly basis.

The off-season NBA coaching news continues to generate surprise after surprise. The Los Angeles Clippers, in need of a coach and apparently possessing the resources, the will and the talent to lure a top name for once, have many top choices. From the moment they parted ways with Vinny Del Negro, a couple of former Coach of the Year winners, Byron Scott and Nate McMillan, have been on the Clippers radar, and vice versa. The Clippers even made inquiries about the Van Gundy brothers, Jeff and Stan, both or whom have coached in the NBA Finals. Add in coveted assistant coach Brian Shaw, one of the most highly regarded assistants in the league and widely regarded as well deserving of a head coaching job, and the Clippers seemed to have plenty of good options to from which to choose.

And seemingly every week another highly successful NBA coach goes onto the market.

First it was Lionel Hollins of the Grizzlies, though his availability was not entirely unexpected given that his contract had expired and he seemed to be at odds with the team's new front office.

Then came George Karl of the Nuggets, joining Del Negro and Hollins as coaches who were dismissed directly after leading their team to the most successful season in franchise history. Karl's Nuggets won 57 games and posted the best home record in the NBA, Karl won the Coach of the Year award, all less than two years removed from the defection of a superstar -- and yet Karl, another NBA Finals veteran, is now without a job.

All that was missing was a coach who had actually won an NBA Title -- but given that there are only four of those still active, that was asking too much. Or was it?

News out of Boston is that Doc Rivers, with three years and $21M left on his contract, is not interested in starting over in Boston in a post-Pierce/Garnett era. If the Celtics decide to pull the trigger on an overdue rebuild (they can buy out the final year of Pierce's contract at a discount and Garnett is considering retirement), it might be without Rivers.

Rivers was the point guard on one of the most successful Clippers teams ever back in the 90s, and it would be a major coup for the organization to land him as their coach. They clearly have an interest, but as Broderick Turner points out in today's LA Times, there are many obstacles to hiring Rivers.

Not to mention, the way things are going, maybe they should wait a bit longer to see who else will be available. Maybe Gregg Popovich will suddenly decide that he hates Tex-Mex food and leave the Spurs after the Finals. Maybe Phil Jackson and Jeannie Buss will show up at Donald Sterling's next beach party in Malibu and they'll all become BFFs. With Karl and Rivers in play, Pop and PJ are the only big names missing.

And if all that weren't enough, the Brooklyn Nets yesterday followed through on their surprising interest in Jason Kidd and hired the just-retired player as their head coach. By my reckoning it's the fastest transition from the roster to the top chair since the days of Lenny Wilkens, Sonics player-coach. (McMillan became the head coach in Seattle two years after he finished playing which is the quickest transition I can remember in the past 40 years, but I'm probably missing someone.)

The Nets job was one of the most attractive out there -- perhaps the most attractive given the deep, deep pockets of owner Mikhail Prokhorov. The rosters for the Nuggets and Grizzlies are certainly attractive, but even though Sterling would be a consideration for any potential coach, it's not as if the ownership groups in Denver and Memphis are considered free-spending. And assuming Chris Paul re-signs, the new coach of the Clippers will have the core of his team in place for five seasons -- you can't ask for much more than that as a new head coach.

All of which leaves the Clippers as the front-runner for -- well, for whichever coach they want, it would seem.

Some have speculated that Sterling will pick one of the coaches with a contractual offset from another team, like Scott or Karl. At a book signing in Glendale last night, Phil Jackson said he viewed Scott as the front runner for this reason, though he thought his former protege Shaw would be the better choice. (Phil couldn't resist taking a shot at the Clippers.) I have to say though, this sort of reasoning is terribly flawed, certainly where Shaw is concerned. An established coach is going to command a higher salary and more years -- it's hard to imagine that Scott's offset from Cleveland is going to make up for the difference between his salary as compared to rookie head coach Shaw. Perhaps I'm underestimating the demand for Shaw, but in general rookie head coaches just don't sign for anywhere close to the same amount of money as veterans who have been to the NBA Finals. Of course, no matter what happens, there will be a "Sterling is a cheap bastard" angle to it -- if the Clippers choose Shaw, it will be because he's a first time head coach and would work for less. If they choose Scott or Karl, it will be because of the offset (which is completely ridiculous especially in Karl's case, since he will certainly not come cheap, regardless of the offset). If they choose someone other than Karl, we'll see stories about how the Clippers were too cheap to spend on Furious George. Short of hiring Rivers and keeping him the highest paid coach in the NBA (which remains a significant long shot), someone will have some reason that the decision was driven by parsimony.

The Clippers have begun the process of conducting face-to-face interviews this week, and the NBA Draft is two weeks from today. They have plenty of incentive to have a coach in place in time for the draft -- but if anything, the picture is more jumbled today than it was a week ago. The good news is that it seems like the Clippers are going to wind up with a "name" head coach, one who has had significant success in his coaching career, or possibly the up-and-comer Shaw. But if you think you know who that name is going to be, you don't -- unless your name is Donald Sterling.

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