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Clippers Coaching Update - Such as it is

A little more than hree weeks ago, I posted about the state of the Clippers head coach search (if in fact you can even call it that).  It's time for an update, though not really because the Clippers haven't done anything.

If I had a point back on May 5th (and I'll admit, it's not always easy to tell) it was simply to analyze the situation a little, examine a few candidates, talk about timing, that sort of thing.  I was assuming that the Clippers, who were clearly in a go slow mode at that point, would pick up the pace some time after the drat lottery.  Well, three weeks later, and a week after the lottery, the Clippers are still going slow.  That's not to say that nothing has changed, because in fact a lot has. 

As far as I know, the Clippers have yet to actually interview a coaching  candidate.  There are rumors here and there about names that may or may not be on their list of candidates, assistants for other teams the Clippers have asked for permission to interview, that sort of thing... but no interviews have actually taken place.

Of course, there's one school of thought that says this is part of a master plan that involves allowing LeBron James to have input on the coaching decision.  I never saw the logic in that strategy (and I use the terms 'plan' and 'logic' and 'strategy' loosely here) as I mentioned last time.  Of course, that was before the John Calipari rumors surfaced, so at least now there's some conceivable end game as opposed to before.  But it still seems like something between a crap shoot and a pipe dream.  Call it a crap dream.

To recap the Calipari situation, soon after Vinny Del Negro was fired, stories surfaced that had LeBron signing in Chicago with the Bulls and Calipari taking over as head coach.  What's the connection, you ask?  Well, apparently they are close friends through their mutual friend, William Wesley, aka Worldwide Wes

The logic behind this rumor, such as it is, is tenuous in the extreme.  Let's ignore for a moment the fact that Calipari has denied any interest in coaching in the NBA again, has a contract in Kentucky, and went so far as to Tweet his reassurances to his Wildcat constituency that he wasn't going anywhere.  The more immediate question, it seems to me, is why LeBron would feel strongly in the least about having Calipari as his next coach?  They know each other.  Great.  So what?  I understand why Wes wants Calipari to get a $10M NBA pay day, since he recently applied to be a coach's agent.  Why does LeBron want it to happen?  It would seem that there would be lots of factors in this decision that would come before "I've got this friend, ok really it's a friend of a friend, and I was thinking that maybe it would be kind of cool if we worked together."  Calipari was lackluster at best the last time he coached in the NBA.  His forte in the college game is recruiting - the first overall pick in 2008 and likely in 2010 (Derrick Rose and John Wall) and the rookies of the year in 2008 and 2009 (Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans) were all recruited by Calipari (with connections supplied by Worldwide Wes, the story comes full circle).  And recruiting is, as we all know, a huge part of the NBA game.  Having a great recruiter as your NBA head coach is every bit as important as free throw defense. On the plus side, if Calipari returned to the NBA at least his new employer wouldn't have to worry so much about the inevitable NCAA investigation and sanctions.

And yet the rumor persists.  Of course, it's a beautiful rumor.  It involves the current MVP, every team with cap space and a head coaching vacancy, one of the most mysterious characters in all of basketball, and a lightning rod in his own right in Calipari.  And there seems to be enough smoke there that SOMEONE must be fanning the flames.  Is it just a coincidence that of the teams with coaching vacancies, the ones WITHOUT cap space are on the fast track to a decision (Philadelphia interviewed multiple candidates and has already hired Doug Collins, New Orleans is said to be ready to make an offer to Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau) while the coachless teams WITH cap space (the Clippers, Nets and Bulls) have done nothing.  It's as if they're saying, "I don't really believe that LeBron wants input on this process...  but holy crap, what if he does?  I guess it couldn't hurt to wait until July."

Aye, there's the rub.  It could hurt to wait.  Some names that may or may not be high on the alleged list of supposed candidates for the theoretical head coaching job in LA (oh wait, the job is real), are Thibodeau and Dallas assistant Duane Casey.  But as we've already said, Thibodeau is probably going to get a contract offer from the Hornets any day now, which he will probably accept, and Casey is said to be atop the list of candidates in Atlanta (the Hawks GM Rick Sund was GM in Seattle when Casey was an assistant coach for the Sonics).  One of the big problems with firing a head coach is the process of finding a replacement whose likely to be demonstrably better.  Allowing the other teams to hire the candidates on your short list before you've even started the interview process would not seem to be the best strategy to move forward.

My recommendation three weeks ago was that the Clippers should make the decision between the lottery and the draft, in order for the new coach to have input on draft day decisions.  Again, it seems like that's not going to happen, and again the team is suggesting that it's all part of "the plan".  Neil Olshey has said I have inferred from some things that Neil Olshey has said that he'd prefer to wait until AFTER the draft to hire a coach, because, you know, the new guy would just want some sort of voice in the process, and who wants that?  It's the "too many cooks spoil the broth" argument.  Olshey has expressed concern that a coach is going to feel compelled to draft for need under the pressure to win games - the nerve!  At any rate, Olshey is seems perfectly happy to be the one making the draft day decision - it's easier to reach a unanimous decision when only one person gets a vote, after all.  It seems more than a little shortsighted to me - it's not like we're talking about the eighth or ninth cook in this particular kitchen, and when you get right down to it, this is the head coach - he should have a say.

Be that as it may, the signs continue to point to the Clippers taking their time on this.  They've as much as said that they're waiting until after the draft.  And with free agency beginning only a week after that and the "LeBron picks the coach" scenario still in play no matter how ludicrous it seems, it seems pretty clear they'll wait into July as well. 

I guess the good news is that while some candidates are going off the market, others are coming onto it.  Mike Woodson, just fired by the Hawks, happens to be a former Clipper (he led the team in scoring a couple of seasons in the late 80s).  And then there is last season's NBA Coach of the Year Mike Brown - who certainly isn't going to be hired by the Nets or Bulls or Clippers until AFTER LeBron has made his decision, but who might be a decent choice when the dust settles. 

Finally, there continues to be intrigue regarding both Phil Jackson and Larry Brown.  The idea of PJ moving across the hall for a big contract from the Clippers (allowing him to stay in LA with his girlfriend) rather than taking a 60% pay cut from Jerry Buss (his girlfriend's dad - AWKWARD) seems plausible unti you remember a couple of things:  (1) Donald Sterling is NOT going to have the highest paid ANYTHING in the NBA - it just ain't gonna happen; and (2) Phil said some pretty nasty things about Sterling a couple of months ago, so the idea that they're now going to work together is a massive stretch.  As for Brown, a recent post by Ken Berger said that the Clippers were 'holding out hope' that Brown would be available and consider LA.  But as a wise man once said, hope is not a plan.