It came as a bit of a surprise, but Monty Williams has been fired as the head coach in New Orleans.
This is now the best open coaching job in the NBA, and you only need two words to know why: Anthony Davis. This is a team with one of the top three players in the NBA (top five at worst). While there is work to be done. no other team with a coaching vacancy has that foundation.
But with that opportunity will come a lot of pressure on the coach — you have to get this team winning to keep Davis long term. There is pressure on the organization to make the right hire (and add talent to the roster). Next season the Pelican’s roster likely looks similar to this season’s, so a lot of the improvement will need to be internal, and that falls on the coach.
Also, this is a team that should have been better defensively than it was — 22nd in the NBA in defensive efficiency — so expect GM Dell Demps to look for a defense-first guy.
1) Tom Thibodeau. Yes, he currently has a job, and despite the flood of rumors around the league that he is done there when the season ends, we don’t know how it will shake out. Thibodeau’s name is the first that came up as a potential replacement around the league — and Thibodeau and his people reportedly would consider it if he is let go. Under him, the Pelican defense will get better instantly. There’s no way the Pelicans would find a better, harder-working coach — and one that has a relationship with Davis through USA Basketball. That said, owner Tom Benson would have to open up the checkbook to get him. Also, would the Pelicans be willing to give up a future first rounder to get Thibs out of Chicago?
2) Mike Malone. He was an assistant under Monty Williams for a couple years (not sure if that helps his cause). Malone’s .368 winning percentage in just more than a season in Sacramento wasn’t impressive, but he also didn’t have a roster that was going to do any better. What was impressive is how he was brought in after the Maloof brothers had virtually torched the place and from those ashes built up a real culture for the team. Those Kings had shown real promise before DeMarcus Cousins was hurt (then Malone was fired because the owner wanted to play more up-tempo). He’s a defense-first guy, and he got through to Cousins in a way no other coach has yet. He deserves another chance and would do a good job here, but the hire may not be high profile enough for some.
3) Scott Brooks. He certainly showed he could develop talent and bond with the stars as the coach in Oklahoma City. He’s taken a team all the way to the NBA finals. This is simply a guy who has proven he can do the job. (And if you want to live in a fantasy world where New Orleans has a shot at landing Kevin Durant in 2016, he helps there, too.) He checks off a lot of boxes for Demps. But the reasons he was let go in Oklahoma City — concerns about his conventional offense, and if he was the guy who could coach a team to a title — should give New Orleans a little pause.
4) Mark Jackson. His name will come up. It will come up for every opening. His players in Golden State loved him, and they won. He built the foundation that the Warriors grew off of this season. That said, even more than Brooks, he ran a conventional, predictable offense that was defendable. The bigger concern, he created an “us vs. the world” mentality in the locker room where the world included team management. There was a lot of friction. Do the Pelicans want to bring that into the organization? Or would they be better off looking at someone who wants another chance like Alvin Gentry?
5) Kevin Ollie. If Demps decides to go the college coach route, he could do a lot worse than the UConn coach. Ollie is a high IQ guy who comes with 13 years of NBA background as a player. Also, if you think you have a shot at Durant as a free agent (and I’m not sure that New Orleans does) he can help there, Durant is a big fan. The bigger question: does Ollie really want to give up one of the best gigs in college hoops?