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The Fear of the Unknown - The Clippers Coaching Search That Never Was

With everyone around here, myself included, deep in the throes of Blake-mania, we've been able to forget, for a while at least, one of the really big issues that was depressing us at the end of the season.  To wit: the Clippers coach and GM Mike Dunleavy Sr. remains the Clippers coach and GM.  (Incidentally, I'm calling for a moratorium on the use of the Dumbleavy moniker.  Not because it's insulting - I can tolerate some amount of rudeness in the name of cleverness.  But it's not nearly clever enough, and not even particularly accurate.  I don't consider him dumb in the least.  I realize that Stubbornleavy, Isoleavy, and Slowleavy don't sound as good.  But you're going to have to come up with something better if you want to use it here, people.)

My own views on the coaching situation went through an evolution over the course of the last couple of seasons, from supporting him through 07-08, to pointing out that his status should be considered in December, to calling for a change in February, to throwing the (NBA history) book at him in April.  But we made it to the lottery without a change, and then the ping pong balls aligned, and that night Andy Roeser left no doubt when he said in answer to my question that Dunleavy would be the coach when the team went to training camp.  So whether we've simply accepted the inevitability of it, or been distracted by Griffapalooza, the coach has been a relative non-issue around here for a couple weeks.

But something happened recently that brings this subject back to my front burner.  And you'll be surprised to know, it's not yet another reason that he should have been fired.

With Jay Triano in Toronto and Scott Brooks in Oklahoma getting the interim stricken from their titles, there were three coaching searches this off-season:  Washington, Philadelphia and Sacramento.  The Wizards acted quickly and got the best coach available (at least the best one to actually sign): former Wolves and Pistons coach Flip Saunders.  Philly and Sacto then found themselves interviewing more or less the same group of candidates: former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan,  Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau and Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis were in the running for both jobs, while former Suns and Sonics head man and Mavs assistant Paul Westphal was also an option for the Kings.  The Sixers were willing to spend a little more, and ended up with Jordan.  And as of today, Westphal is officially the new coach of the Sacramento Kings.

And this, dear citizens, is the inherent problem with making a coaching change.  There's simply no guarantee that the new guy is going to be any better than the old guy. 

Saunders appears to be a solid choice.  He's had some success in Minnesota and Detroit, and his players have always liked him.  Jordan is in my opinion a good choice as well, and in fact was always my first choice for the Clippers job had it been available.  However, with Saunders reportedly receiving a 4 year, $19M contract, and Jordan getting 3 years and $8M (his first season salary from the Sixers is a little low since the Wizards are still paying him from his last contract), neither would have been realistic candidates in LA, where the Clippers would have still been paying MDsr $11M over the next two years. 

The Kings appear to have been the only team shopping in the Clippers price range.  In fact, most reports indicate that Rambis was their first choice, and it's unclear whether they moved on because (a) he wasn't willing to commit to their 2 year, $3M offer or (b) he simply wanted to wait until after the NBA Finals to decide.  It doesn't seem like an unreasonable request, to wait about one more week at most, when the guy is a little busy with his current job right now.  So that makes me suspicious that Rambis wasn't thrilled with the job for that money.  (There's also a chance that Phil Jackson will retire if he gets his 10th ring, at which point Rambis would be a candidate for the Lakers job.  So yeah, seems like he might want to wait and see how that plays out.)

If the Clippers had fired their coach and conducted a similar coaching search this summer, I would have been happy with either Saunders or Jordan, though neither would have been likely given the price tag.  I would have been happy with Rambis, who I mentioned as a candidate back in December.  I would have been happy with Thibodeau.  Westphal?  Not so much.

What do I have against Paul Westphal?  Well, it's easier if you just go read the FanPost I wrote on Sactown Royalty when he first interviewed for the job.  Suffice it to say that his last head coaching job was at my alma mater, Pepperdine, where he proceeded to run a once proud Waves hoops program into the ground over the course of five seasons.  College coaching and NBA coaching are very different skill sets, to be sure.  But he was terrible - absolutely dreadful - in Malibu.  And I have no reason to believe that he'll be any better in Sacramento.

Citizen Zhiv would say "do nothing" which is what the Clippers did.  Why do nothing?  Because it can always get worse.  Now, that's a lame justification.  "I'm glad they stuck with the lousy coach they have because I don't trust them to make a good choice for the new coach."  But in essentially the exact same situation, the Kings (run by the Maloof brothers and Geoff Petrie, who certainly have a better reputation as decision makers than Donald Sterling and Andy Roeser) came up with Paul Westphal.  So while I still don't think the Duneavy should still have a job in LA, I'm (cold) comforted to know that it could be as bad or worse.