General manager Tommy Sheppard and his staff are keeping an open mind as they embark on a search for the next head coach of the Washington Wizards, following the decision on Wednesday not to renew Scott Brooks' contract. They will consider a wide range of candidates from different backgrounds. They will also have to compete with five other teams with head coaching vacancies.
What could make the Wizards' opening unique is the presence of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, and not just because they are very good players who, like on any NBA team, will rely on chemistry with their teammates to succeed. Those two give the Wizards a fairly specific competitive timeline due to their age and contracts.
Westbrook is 32, next year is his Age-33 season. Both he and Beal have player options in their contracts for the 2022-23 season. Given the dollar amounts, Beal seems more likely to opt out of his. Regardless, the competitive window the Wizards have puts a big emphasis on next season.
They want to win sooner than later and that could present the Wizards with a decision to make about how much they value previous head coaching experience. Traditionally, a team with their goal to win now would probably opt for someone who has done it before.
Sheppard, though, thinks there are a variety of ways the next head coach could fit the roster they have.
"You want the qualities that you think are going to amplify the needs of your team. You look at the modern NBA and what’s going on, who’s in the [playoffs], who’s still playing. It’s a great snapshot of what the NBA is. You have very diverse coaches, you have former players, you have people that came from Division II colleges. It’s just a reminder that there’s no clear path of how to get there, there’s no magic formula," Sheppard explained.
"There’s no one great person that’s going to solve all this. I think it’s about the staff you put together. Everybody, if you’re a first-time head coach or a coach that has coached a thousand games, you still have to still go coach the next game. No matter your resume to that point that got you there, you still have to go out and do these things."
Indeed, coaches of all different kinds have both succeeded and failed at the NBA level. The Pacers struck out this season with first-time head coach Nate Bjorkgren, but so did the Pelicans with the seasoned Stan Van Gundy. Meanwhile, the Nets are finding success with first-time head coach Steve Nash, while the Hawks, Sixers and Suns are finding luck with guys who have coached before at other stops.
Experience can also correlate with cost. Less experienced coaches often can be signed for less money and fewer years, while the more experienced coaches require longer, more lucrative contracts. The latter could be viewed as a detriment if the Wizards see any potential for a rebuild if the Beal and Westbrook experiment doesn't work out.
Sometimes, NBA head coach openings are a bit more straightforward. Either you get someone young who can usher a rebuild or someone experienced and ready to immediately lead a contending team.
The Wizards are sort of in between those needs, which makes their search for a new head coach possibly a bit more complicated.