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The Clippers coaching search

The Clippers have been taking their time in looking for Vinny Del Negro's replacement, but if they want to have a head coach in place in time for the NBA draft, they will need to get the process moving.

Ronald Martinez

The Clippers have always been a relatively tight-lipped organization. A week after making the decision not to bring Vinny Del Negro back, and several weeks after losing in the first round of the playoffs, the team has yet to actually interview a coaching candidate -- or at least no one has said anything about it if they have. For what it's worth, the word is that the Clippers would like to have a coach in place for the June 27th draft. Assuming that means in time to have input on the draft, which is just four weeks from tomorrow, they'd best be moving forward with the process.

There are plenty of coaching rumors: there are always rumors. But for the most part, those rumors are more or less the ones you would have expected if you'd imagined a Clippers coaching search four months ago. Lionel Hollins' name on the list is a bit of a surprise, and Alvin Gentry seems to be getting discussed a little more than I would have thought (probably because of his own interest in the job), but other than that, it's the usual suspects: Byron Scott, Brian Shaw, Mike Malone, the Van Gundy's, Nate McMillan, etc.

It should be noted that it is at least a fairly high-rent district in which the Clippers seem to be shopping, but again, that's to be expected. The bargain choice would have been to keep Del Negro -- if you are going to hire a new coach to keep the likes of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin happy, then that hire has to be a name, and names cost money. For what it's worth, Ramona Shelburne reports that the Clippers are "thinking big" for their next coach. Shaw and Malone are both assistants looking for their first head coaching job and as such might come a bit cheaper, but they are also in demand this off-season, so the price will likely be set by the market.

Speaking of the market, the Clippers are far from the only team looking for a coach this summer. By my count, there are at least nine teams and possibly more who will change their head coach this summer. The jobs currently open are with the Clippers, Nets, Sixers, Bucks and Pistons.

There are also four teams who have already hired head coaches:

  • Former Cavs and Lakers head coach Mike Brown in Cleveland;
  • Jazz assistant Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix;
  • Lakers assistant Steve Clifford in Charlotte;
  • Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta.

In addition to those nine teams who will certainly have new head coaches next season, there are at least three more where the situation is somewhat up in the air:

  • In Sacramento, the new ownership group will almost certainly install a new front office and a new head coach, meaning that Keith Smart will not be back;
  • In Toronto, Bryan Colangelo has been reassigned and it's unclear whether the new front office will keep Dwane Casey;
  • In Memphis, Lionel Hollins is a free agent and has been at odds with the new front office, not to mention that he is in high demand.

The Clippers have already watched four coaching candidates spoken for. As it happens, they probably weren't very interested in any of the four, though Budenholzer is certainly one of the assistants frequently mentioned as a potential head coach, but even so, patience may not be a virtue in this process. LA has the advantage of being arguably the best job available (though you could make a case for Brooklyn, where the older roster is balanced by a free spending owner) so the high profile coaches will have incentive to at least make inquiries about the job before signing on anywhere else.

Peter Vecsey recently tweeted that Malone was a "living lock" to get the Sacramento job (new Kings owner Vivek Ranadive was a part-owner of the Warriors where Malone served as an assistant) and with Phil Jackson now working as a management consultant in Detroit, his former assistant Shaw is considered likely to land with the Pistons.

So where does that leave the Clippers search?

The leading candidates for the LA job, as we've already mentioned, are exactly who you might expect.

  • Lionel Hollins -- The Grizzlies head coach is still employed in Memphis through June 30. The scuttlebutt is that the Grizzlies are not likely to give him permission to talk to other teams before then, indicating that they'll try to reach an agreement with him. If the parties decide to part ways, Hollins will be courted by the Nets and the Clippers among others.
  • Alvin Gentry -- Fired in Phoenix halfway through the season, Gentry has already coached the Clippers once. He led the Suns to the Western Conference Finals a couple years back, but in fact his track record regarding the post season is pretty weak. In 12 seasons as a head coach, he's only had a winning record three times, only been to the playoffs twice, and only been out of the first round once. I'm not sure how he qualifies as a high profile hire, but he and the Clippers are at least familiar with one another.
  • Nate McMillan -- McMillan was ousted in Portland in 2012 at the same time that they traded away most of their assets and decided to start over. He's got a .514 winning percentage as a head coach, despite many seasons coaching a Blazers team that was continually beset by injuries to their best players. He's won exactly one playoff series as a coach, but considering the talent level and the injuries, I feel he's been an overachiever as a coach. As an assistant on Team USA he has worked with the likes of Paul, Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom. He also coached Jamal Crawford for 43 games last season, though that was not the most happy of partnerships.
  • Mike Malone -- Currently an assistant with the Warriors and before that an assistant for Monty Williams with New Orleans, where he developed a close working relationship with Chris Paul. He's widely regarded as ready to move up to the first chair, but may be in line for the Sacramento job. Despite the rumors that he's a "lock" for the Kings, the Clippers have apparently gotten permission to interview him.
  • Byron Scott -- Arguably the most accomplished head coach on the list (at least of the ones who are definitely available), he took the Nets to back-to-back Eastern Conference Championships a decade ago. He also coached Paul for five seasons in New Orleans when CP3 first came into the league and the two remain very close. Scott led the Hornets to Paul's best ever season in 2008 with 56 wins and within a game of the Conference Finals.
  • Brian Shaw -- Shaw won some rings with the Lakers as a player, then moved straight to Phil Jackson's coaching staff upon retirement. He's long been on the radar as a potential head coach in the league, and he's currently the top assistant on a very successful Indiana Pacers team that is battling Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers are not likely to give anyone permission to interview Shaw until they are eliminated from the playoffs. Once that happens, the Pistons will probably make a hard push for Shaw on Jackson's recommendation. Shaw has a relationship with Odom from their time together on the Lakers.
  • Jeff Van Gundy -- JVG hasn't coached in six years, but he's still a young man at 51. He's been courtside broadcasting games for those six years, and is ABC's top analyst -- he seems to like it, and it's not clear whether he wants to return to coaching. It would take the right job, but certainly the LAC job would be intriguing to almost any coach. The Clippers may be reaching if they think they can lure JVG back to the sidelines -- and rest assured he won't come cheap -- but it's worth a shot. He's a defense-first coach which is very much what this team needs. He has a .575 career winning percentage and took his teams to the playoffs in seven out of nine seasons as a head coach, including a trip to the NBA Finals with the Knicks in 1999.
  • Stan Van Gundy -- Jeff's older, grumpier, pudgier brother, SVG was fired in Orlando in the final days of the Dwightmare. He took a team that consisted of Dwight Howard and not much else to the NBA Finals in 2009 with offensive and defensive schemes perfectly suited to his personnel. Whether he could sculpt schemes to other personnel remains to be seen (we've seen with Mike D'Antoni has sometimes coaching success can be limited to the right combination of talents at the right time). His .641 career winning percentage is impressive to say the least. The only problem is that he's stated that he does not intend to coach next season, and has hinted that he may never coach again. Still, as with his kid brother, it doesn't hurt to ask, and if the Clippers can lure him back to the sidelines it would be a major coup.

Those are the eight names most commonly associated with the Clippers job at this point.

For what it's worth, Las Vegas has the following odds on the Clippers head coaching job (courtesy of Bovada):

Who will be the next Head Coach of the Los Angeles Clippers?

Alvin Gentry 3/1

Brian Shaw 3/1

Lionel Hollins 4/1

Byron Scott 5/1

Nate McMillan 11/2

Stan Van Gundy 10/1

Jeff Van Gundy 10/1

I'm not sure why Gentry should be considered the front runner: other than the fact that he would like the job, I've seen no indication that he's a favorite. Those odds on the Van Gundy's are pretty surprising really. If you're going to Vegas any time soon, do not bet on either Van Gundy at those odds -- that's a sucker bet.

Will Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling really pony up the money, and more importantly the long term contract, that will be necessary to secure the right coach? He'd better. He may not like it, but it's a cost of doing business, and as the Clippers inch ever closer to the luxury tax, DTS may find that the right coach is his most economical way to add wins.

Who will the Clippers end up hiring? That's difficult to say. I don't see either Van Gundy coaching next season, I believe the rumors that Malone is headed East on I80 and I expect Shaw to wind up in Detroit. Hollins will most likely remain in Memphis, but if not I think the Nets will offer him a big contract that the Clippers will not be willing to match. By process of elimination, that leaves Gentry, McMillan and Scott from our original list, though there could of course be a dark horse in the mix (Shelburne has heard that the Clippers have asked to speak to a current head coach, though that could be Hollins). That list is fine with me, since McMillan is very near the top of my personal wish list. But if I were inclined to make a bet, I think I'd put my money on Scott.