(Friday update: Mark Jackson will get a chance to convince Hawks owners he should be the next head coach. He’ll have some work to do to persuade everyone in the Hawks’ hierarchy he can do the job with no prior coaching experience but it’s significant that he will get to make his case. Part of Jackson’s pitch includes this 2008 academic study on successful NBA players also doing well as coaches.)
When the Hawks started their coaching search it looked like Avery Johnson was the hot, big-name candidate. As it turns out, Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau seems to be the key horse in the coaching carousel.
Now that Thibodeau reportedly turned down the Hornets and favors Chicago’s opening, it looks like Johnson is the favorite in New Jersey. When Johnson’s name first surfaced with the Hawks, the perception was that they wouldn’t spend the money to hire him. The Hawks dispute that notion, but if they really want Johnson they might have to put up the cash to prove it since Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov is so free-spending that he might be willing to lure Phil Jackson by topping his $12 million salary with the Lakers.
Getting back to Thibodeau, it’s interesting how he’s become a hot commodity. Obviously a lot of that has to be due to his reputation as a defensive specialist and his role in Boston’s success. But I’m also guessing that it’s because teams feel like they can get a good coaching prospect relatively cheaply and, as a bonus, gain the kind of buzz that gets fans excited even though he’s never been a head coach.
Dwane Casey has been a head coach before but he hasn’t generated the same kind of enthusiasm from the masses. Though Casey is said to stress developing a defensive culture , it’s hard to draw firm conclusions from his results as head coach of Minnesota. The T-Wolves were roughly the same in defensive efficiency during his first season of 2005-06 as they were the year before though they made significant improvements in effective field-goal percentage allowed and rebounding percentage. But it’s not really an equivalent comparison since only four of Minnesota’s top eight players in 2005-06 were the same as from 2004-05: Kevin Garnett, Trenton Hassell, Wally Szczerbiak and Eddie Griffin.
In Atlanta, Casey would inherit a group that has the physical talent to be a good defensive team but lacked the commitment. Woody talked a lot about defense and tried to create an atmosphere where players valued it as much as him but, from what I saw in my short time here, they never bought into it consistently. The assumption seems to be Atlanta will be a better offensive team simply by virtue of a change in approach and accountability but I think the defensive end is going to take a lot more work. The team’s personality is such that it’s going to be a challenge for the new coach to demand good defense and get it all the time.
Anyway, I’ve heard Garnett and Rashard Lewis both swear by Casey. Lewis, whom Casey tutored while an assistant in Seattle, recently endorsed his old coach. From Steve Aschburner at NBA.com:
“He’s a great coach. He’s a gym rat. He made sure I worked on my game all the time. He knows the X’s and O’s. He was a great assistant coach when he did the scouting report. He’s just one of those guys who eats, sleeps basketball.”