Analyzing the New Head Coach Hires This Offseason
Updated: Oct 9, 2021
Every offseason, the NBA head coach carousel spins around and around. From underachieving contenders to frustrated bottom-feeders, no coach is truly safe at any given point (unless your name is Gregg Popovich). Here are the seven new NBA head coaches going into next season.
Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks
Out of the candidates interviewed, Tom Thibodeau was certainly the most qualified man to fill the vacancy at head coach for the Knicks. Winning Coach of the Year in 2011 and boasting a career win percentage of 58.9, Thibodeau entered the NBA in 1989 as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is best known for his defensive strategies and meticulous preparation, sometimes drawing comparisons to NFL mastermind Bill Belichick. However, his extreme attention to detail has created tension with front offices in the past.
Thibodeau's authentic personality should be good for the young Knicks team. Stars like the late Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Joakim Noah all attribute components of their development in the pros to Thibodeau's leadership and no-nonsense approach. Perhaps he can harness that same magic with RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and Kevin Knox. It is very possible that his energy could give this season in New York a different feeling than years prior, many of which have been torturous for ever-optimistic, disillusioned fans.
Steve Nash, Brooklyn Nets
The hiring of Steve Nash came as a shock to the entire basketball world, one that keeps very few rumors under wraps. A legendary player known for his elite playmaking, this will be Nash's first attempt at coaching from the sideline. It will be intriguing to see how he manages two of the NBA's biggest stars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Friends off the court, Irving is a mercurial teammate who has failed thus far to establish his ability to lead a team, while Durant is a more quiet and reserved presence who leads by example.
Evidence of Irving's ever-intriguing thought process can be seen in a comment he made about Nash a few weeks ago, claiming he doesn't "see us having a 'head' coach." Whether that's a slight dig at Nash's hiring or excitement about the new dynamic in Brooklyn is yet to be seen. Nonetheless, the sky is the limit for the star-studded Nets.
Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls
After coaching in Oklahoma City for five seasons, Donovan and the Thunder parted ways after their intentions of rebuilding were made clear. The veteran head coach demonstrated his adaptability following Russell Westbrook's departure, leading the Thunder to Game 7 in the first round of the Orlando playoffs. Chicago's hope is that Donovan will change the languor that previous coach Jim Boylen cast on their young core of players.
Donovan has already taken steps towards reworking the culture, as he let go of four assistant coaches at once before coaching a single game. Last season, the development of Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen seemed to stagnate. If Donovan can reenergize the two young forwards and utilize Zach LaVine's offensive capabilities to their full potential, Chicago could be a team to watch in the future.
Tyronn Lue, Los Angeles Clippers
Lue was hired in hopes that he can lead the Clippers to their roster's potential: a championship. Serving as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers last season, Lue knows exactly where his team fell short in the playoffs. Rumors circulated that the Clippers failed to develop chemistry off the court, but the new coach believes their shortcomings were due to injuries and unfortunate timing.
Paul George played only 48 regular season games due to shoulder issues, and Kawhi Leonard didn't participate in training camp at full speed. In Orlando, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and Patrick Beverley all left the bubble at one point. During games, players would yell at each other for various mental mistakes. Hopefully, Lue's championship experience with the Cavaliers will rub off on the Clippers this coming season.
Doc Rivers, Philadelphia 76ers
Shortly after his departure from Los Angeles, Philadelphia eagerly hired Doc Rivers to helm their ongoing experiment with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. How can the two coexist on the floor together? Should Simmons convert to power forward full-time? When will Embiid take his conditioning seriously?
The 76ers front office hopes that the veteran Rivers can address these concerns, as they would like to hold onto their two superstars. They need to bring in shooters that can catch a cross-court Simmons pass and knock down a 3-pointer. Rivers has a reputation for handling big NBA personalities well, but also infamously is prone to playoff collapses. Say he leads Philadelphia to the Eastern Conference Finals. Unless they bring in some fresh talent this offseason, that could very well be their ceiling.
Nate Bjorkgren, Indiana Pacers
This will be Bjorkgren's first opportunity as an NBA head coach, and he plans on overhauling his team's strategies. "You're going to see a lot of movement on both sides of the ball, different guys handling the ball, pushing it up the floor," Bjorkgren said on an introductory Zoom call. "We want to utilize the 3-point line." Learning under Nick Nurse, the 45-year-old coach has evidently adopted his selfless leadership.
The main question of this year's offseason is whether Victor Oladipo will stay in Indiana. The 28-year-old's trade value is at a low following a quadriceps tendon rupture and subsequent disappointing play. If there's one thing we know about Nick Nurse's style, it's that he doesn't need a bonafide star to succeed. Bjorkgren could implement that committee approach in Indiana while relying on TJ Warren or Myles Turner for a scoring punch.
Stan Van Gundy, New Orleans Pelicans
The most recent hire on this list, Van Gundy agreed to a deal with the Pelicans on Wednesday afternoon. In his 11 and a half years of head coaching experience, he has a win percentage of 57.7. Van Gundy's NBA coaching experience has been a tale of two careers; he led the Orlando Magic to five straight playoff appearances (including a Finals appearance) from 2007 to 2012, but missed the playoffs three out of four seasons with the Detroit Pistons from 2014 to 2018.
Van Gundy is known as a no-nonsense coach; he isn't afraid to address problems before they get out of hand. Additionally, his defense has been lauded in the past, a trait that the young Pelicans have yet to buy into. He is a fan of Lonzo Ball's potential as a hybrid point guard -- a good sign for the cohesiveness of New Orleans' core in the future. If Van Gundy can develop an above-average defensive unit, the Pelicans' coming seasons will be exciting to watch.