The Washington Wizards are moving into the second round of interviews as they continue to search for a new head coach with four names being reported by ESPN on the short list. All four are NBA assistant coaches, which tracks with how Washington has operated throughout this process.
Wes Unseld Jr. of the Nuggets, Darvin Ham of the Bucks, Charles Lee also of the Bucks and Jamahl Mosley of Dallas are the four, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. All four are assistants on good teams that do not have NBA head coaching experience in their past.
The Wizards are almost three weeks into their search and, while it may seem like it's taking a while, that makes sense considering they appear to be set on hiring a first-time head coach. In order to find the right person, more vetting is involved, as they haven't been a head coach for another NBA team and therefore don't have a win/loss record attached to their name.
There are also a lot of assistants around the NBA, far too many for general manager Tommy Sheppard to have close relationships with them all. The Wizards began by casting a wide net and interviewed around a dozen candidates in total in the first round, NBC Sports Washington was told.
Sheppard said at the beginning of the search he was planning to take his time to find the Wizards' next coach. In the meantime, four jobs have been filled. The Dallas Mavericks had their head coach leave and then found his replacement all during the time the Wizards have been searching.
But as the list obtained by ESPN shows, there are still plenty of qualified candidates out there. Unseld Jr., Ham and Mosley have each been NBA assistants for a decade-plus. Lee is younger, but is quickly rising the coaching ranks and is from the Washington area.
In a way it could be good timing to be looking for an up-and-comer to be their next head coach. As one league insider pointed out recently, there has been a bit of a logjam in head coaching hirings with a lot of assistants still waiting their turn.
Last offseason, there were seven openings and four went to men with previous experience as NBA head coaches. Another went to Steve Nash, who was able to skip the line because of his legendary playing career.
In 2019, three of the five openings went to people with NBA head coaching experience. All of this has also followed a period of rare coaching stability, as the 2016-17 NBA season saw no head coaches fired midseason for the first time in 46 years.
Those factors have had a domino effect on NBA assistants, as more recycling of former head coaches has meant fewer jobs going to first-timers. But that back-up could benefit a team like the Wizards, as they could end up finding a head coach who is past due for getting his or her opportunity.
So far this summer there have been four head coaches hired. Two of them have not been NBA head coaches before; Ime Udoka who took over in Boston and Chauncey Billups who was hired by Portland. Billups, like Nash, had his name and resume as a player working in his favor.
If the Wizards do hire a first-time head coach, as all signs indicate currently, they could look for a previous NBA head coach to serve as an assistant on their staff. The Nets brought in Mike D'Antoni to help Nash, while the Hawks made a similar move with Nate McMillan behind Lloyd Pierce. McMillan ended up proving to be a perfect insurance policy, as he took over for Pierce who was fired midseason and led Atlanta to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Wizards continue to do their due diligence in hiring their next head coach. For now, it hasn't had much of an effect on their offseason plans, other than with pre-draft workouts. The team retained a few of its assistants and player development coaches to run pre-draft workouts, according to a person familiar with their process.
Those coaches are the only ones being kept from the assistant staff, at least so far, and it's on a short-term basis. Whomever is hired as head coach will then be able to build their own staff.
Sheppard said he would like to have someone in place as head coach by the time free agency begins on Aug. 2. That way, prospective players will know what to expect when they consider playing for the Wizards.
So, sometime in the next three weeks or so, the Wizards should arrive at their decision. Maybe now that they are in the second round, the pace will pick up.