BOSTON -- Every NBA offseason has its all-too predictable coaching carousel that introduces us to a few new faces in the fall.
But this offseason saw more change than usual, with 10 new head coaches about to roam the sidelines for the 2016-17 season.
And most of these coaches inherited teams that struggled in some capacity, whether it was failing to make the playoffs or squeaking into the postseason only to endure an early exit.
Of the 10 new coaches, only three (Mike D’Antoni in Houston, Nate McMillan in Indiana and David Fizdale in Memphis) take over teams that were in the playoffs last season. But of those three teams, none were seeded higher than seventh in their respective conference playoffs.
Still, each man was hired for a variety of reasons . . . with the most obvious being to win more games than their predecessor.
Here we take a look at four new coaches who have the potential to make the greatest impact on their respective new teams.
Mike D’Antoni, Houston
Things will go really well, or they will totally be in the crapper with this hire.
That’s how it is with D’Antoni-coached teams.
D’Antoni’s style of play went over well in Phoenix with Steve Nash leading the charge. Not only were the Suns fun to watch back then with Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, but they won a lot of games.
The Suns won 50 or more games in four straight seasons. He was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2005. Nash was a two-time league MVP (2005 and 2006).
And then he left for New York.
Four seasons with the Knicks produced one playoff appearance (2011) and too many headaches to recount. It was by all accounts, a disaster.
Clearly a glutton for punishment, D’Antoni found himself coaching the Los Angeles Lakers. That turned into a bigger train wreck than the one he had with the Knicks.
So while D’Antoni’s penchant for pushing the pace offensively does make for entertaining basketball most of the time, the Rockets seemed to have needed someone who is more of a defensive task master in order to get them to be more than just a team getting one of the last couple of playoff spots. Having a porous defense was one of the chief reasons ex-Celtics legend Kevin McHale was fired.
But many of the same arguments against D’Antoni’s system were alive and well in the early to mid-2000s when he was with the Phoenix Suns and they made deep playoff runs an annual tradition. So there is precedent for his style of play working at a high level.
But if it doesn’t, the Rockets will find themselves once again playing a season-long game of catch-up as they try to land one of the last playoff spots
Scott Brooks, Washington
Depending on who you ask or what you read, John Wall and Bradley Beal have issues.
How to handle that dynamic is one of the many reasons why hiring Scott Brooks was the right call for the Wizards. Having coached (or managed the egos, depending on how you want to spin it) Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City for eight seasons, Brooks knows as well as anyone how to get the best out of superstar talent and deal with all that comes with how to handle superstar players. Wall is a three-time all-star (2014-2016) while Beal is a blossoming talent that has been injury-plagued, but still showed enough potential for the Wizards to sign him to a five-year, $127.2 million deal in July.
But having been a role player in the NBA and an assistant on just about every level of play, Brooks has an innate understanding of how important the pieces around star players has to be. As good as Wall and Beal may be, he needs to get the most out of Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. as well as bigs like Ian Mahinmi and Marcin Gortat. Having a good feel for how to handle both superstars in that respective role, and role players will go far in Brooks’ quest to get the Wizards back into the playoffs this season.
Luke Walton, Los Angeles Lakers
Walton is one of the three coaching newbies (Kenny Atkinson in Brooklyn, Fizdale in Memphis) to have never been a head coach, although you have to put an asterisk next to Walton after filling in as the Warrior’s head coach while Steve Kerr to start the 2015-16 season.
Walton did more than help guide Golden State to a good start. He led them to the best start (24-0) in NBA history and passed the reigns back to Kerr with a 39-4 record, which was the second-best record all-time after the first 43 games played. He returns to a Lakers team that he spent 10 seasons playing for, having won titles in 2009 and 2010. But more than memories, Walton, now 36, brings a fresh face with a proven track record of success that’s undeniable. By no means are the Lakers now all of a sudden a powerhouse in the making because of Walton’s arrival. But considering who they have talent-wise now, it won’t be long before Walton will have the Lakers back into the postseason doing what the Lakers are used to doing . . . making deep, meaningful playoff runs.
Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota
This is by far the biggest wild-card team out West this season. While the Timberwolves on paper may seem too young to be of any playoff significance right now, having Thibodeau as the head coach and president of basketball operations, makes them a team that may come of age sooner than you think.
Each of the last two Rookie of the Year award winners played for the Timberwolves, a clear indication of how they stack up to their respective peers. But when you see Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns play, the potential for them is kind of scary if only they knew how to defend at a higher level. In comes Thibodeau who may be the best defensive mind in the NBA right now.
Throw in whatever Thibodeau tells you being barked/screamed/yelled by the living legend himself -- Kevin Garnett -- and it’s pretty obvious that the Timberwolves are going to be at worst a playoff contender in the West.
We hear all the time about how the NBA is a player’s league. That’s true, but coaches have to make sure players are put in the best positions to get the most out of their talent. The biggest challenge for Thibodeau will be balancing his front-office power with coaching a team that has more than just talent but the kind of talent that thrives in his style of play. The Timberwolves will be one of the youngest teams in the league once again this season, but at least with Thibodeau they have a leader of the pack who will take them far and soon make them a legit power out West.