The NBA's unorthodox offseason began Oct. 12 this year, the day after the Lakers won Game 6 to exit the bubble as champions. Since then, we've seen plenty of coaching upheaval but little else concrete to go on. It's still unknown when opening night for the 2020-21 season will take place. NBPA executive director Michele Roberts has suggested late January or early February as a preferable window – the NBA initially targeted Dec. 1, but commissioner Adam Silver recently acknowledged that the league is "better off getting into January." It's also unclear when free agency will officially open. We do know that the NBA Draft will take place on Nov. 18, and that beforehand teams will conduct virtual interviews, request medical information, and watch video of shooting drills, strength and agility testing, and more. Today’s column sticks to one topic with relative certainty – coaching news.
Clippers - The Clippers fired Doc Rivers after his team blew a 3-1 lead and lost to the Nuggets in the semifinals, though it didn't him long to find a new job (see below). The blame doesn't fall squarely on Rivers, of course. Patrick Beverley never quite found his rhythm (beyond trash-talking) due to a left calf injury. Paul George shot just 39.8% from the field in the postseason and was honest about his mental health struggles. "The bubble got the best of me,” he said during the quarterfinals. “I was in a dark place. I underestimated mental health, honestly. I had anxiety. A little bit of depression. Just being locked in here [in Orlando] ... I checked out." Perhaps no caveat was more ruinous for L.A., though, than the disappearance of their dynamic duo off the bench – Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell combined to average 21.7 points vs. Denver, compared to 36.8 during the regular season.
Tyronn Lue was promoted from assistant coach to the head job, and his first order of business might be building trust and cohesion off the court. It was reported in The Athletic that special 'superstar treatment' for Kawhi Leonard rubbed some teammates the wrong way: "Players like [Patrick] Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams ... bristled when Leonard was permitted to take games off to manage his body and to live in San Diego, which often led to him being late for team flights." For his part, Leonard has reportedly "clamored" behind the scenes for L.A. to upgrade their PG spot with a true playmaking guard. Throw in free agent decisions, scouting for the draft, tweaking the coaching staff and more, and Lue has a lot to accomplish.
In fact, it sounds like he'll alter almost every aspect of the Clippers' gameplan. It's worth quoting this entire paragraph by Jovan Buha and Joe Vardon of The Athletic, "Some changes that Lue will bring to the Clippers next season include better ball movement and a faster pace, league sources said. The Clippers will experiment more on the defensive end, mixing in more zone coverages and varying pick-and-roll schemes. The younger players on the roster — Ivica Zubac, Landry Shamet, Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele — will be given larger roles and more minutes. The Clippers plan to stagger Leonard and George’s minutes more, as well as testing out different role players around them to see what lineup combinations work best." The Clippers are a team to monitor closely during the preseason.
Increased pace is good news for fantasy values across the board, while the emphasis on developing young players is great news for Zubac and Shamet, in particular. The Clippers evaluated coaching candidates with a short checklist of qualifications, one of which was the ability to "empower and develop young players." That extra playing time needs to come from someone else, which suggests Marcus Morris (31.0 minutes) and Lou Williams (28.3) may see a dip. Despite all the work ahead of Lue, as far as new head coach jobs go, this one is cushy. He's already familiar with the franchise and inherits a hugely talented roster with multiple All-Stars in their prime. It'll once again be championship-or-bust for the Clips in 2020-21.
Sixers - To nobody's surprise, coach Brett Brown was fired soon after Philly was swept in the first round by the Celtics. Brown was guiding a flawed roster playing without Ben Simmons, and this was partially a 'fall guy' situation. He didn't help his own cause by sticking with a post-heavy offensive gameplan vs. Boston, though, and Philly's players appeared to be going through the motions for long stretches. Regardless, they quickly paid up for Doc Rivers, the 11th-winningest coach in NBA history (943) and second among active coaches only to Gregg Popovich (1,277).
Rivers' arrival should be a good thing for fantasy managers, as he oversaw the 8th-fastest-paced team last season and wants his new team to play faster. That's compared to the Sixers who were 20th in pace. Part of that is personnel-driven, with Philly leading the NBA in a wide margin in post-ups due to Joel Embiid's presence in the middle. However, even Embiid seems anxious to push the pace and get away from a steady diet of post-ups. The only potentially bad news for Embiid is that Rivers is already hinting at load management, but that was a given. Rivers quickly hired Dave Joerger as an assistant and will fill out his staff in the coming weeks.
It surprises me that GM Elton Brand still has his job after a series of deeply questionable transactions. He signed Tobias Harris to a max contract (five years, $180 million). Under his leadership, the Sixers lost Jimmy Butler to the Heat, with Butler explaining, "On any given day, me as a person and as a player, I didn’t who the [expletive] was in charge [in Miami]. I think that was my biggest thing. I didn’t know what the [expletive] to expect whenever I would go into the gym, whenever I go into the plane, whenever I got into the game." Brand's acquisition of Al Horford looks just as sketchy. Horford simply didn't fit alongside Joel Embiid (and likely never will), making him a 34-year-old backup center who will earn a guaranteed $54.5 million the next two seasons. Philly may want to trade Harris and/or Horford to create financial breathing room and bring in more complementary pieces for Simmons and Embiid, but the trade market for those contracts simply may not exist.
The Sixers' front office will look different going forward, however, as they've hired former Pacers senior VP Peter Dinwiddie and Magic director of scouting Prosper Karangwa. Dinwiddie will serve as executive VP of operations, while Karangwa will be the VP of player personnel. That's a wealth of experience in key positions that should bolster Brand and assistant GM Ned Cohen as they attempt to take their team to the next level.
Pacers and Rockets – In a case of acute whiplash, the Pacers fired Nate McMillan a mere two weeks after giving him a contract extension. McMillan's team was hobbled by injuries in the postseason, so it's hard to blame the coach, but perhaps their quick exit was the cause of management's about-face. Regardless, Indiana quickly got to work interviewing "a double-digit amount of candidates." Among those interviewed were Pelicans assistant Chris Finch, Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren and Chauncey Billups. The headliner was Mike D'Antoni, who formally left the Rockets in mid-September and "believes he'll be" one of three finalists for the Pacers' job. If he does get the job there will be plenty to discuss from a fantasy perspective, but let's cross that bridge when we get there.
UPDATE: In a bit of an upset, Indiana will hire Nate Bjorkgren for their head coach job, rather than Finch, Billups or D'Antoni. It's been reported that D'Antoni could join Steve Nash's staff in Brooklyn, a possibility that looks more likely with the Pacers' job off the table. As for how Bjorkgren's arrival might impact fantasy values, it's hard to speculate since we've never seen him lead a team before. Yet another situation to watch closely during training camp and the preseason.
The next coach of the Rockets inherits a team built precisely for D'Antoni's micro-ball approach with P.J. Tucker at center. They also have $111.5 million committed to four players next year, requiring them to find bargain-bin role players to surround their star guards. And they'll be without Daryl Morey, the architect of this team and the Rockets' GM since 2007. That's a steep climb for any coach. Reported finalists for the job include Jeff Van Gundy, Rockets player development coach John Lucas, and Mavs assistant Stephen Silas.
Nets - Steve Nash took the head job from interim coach Jacque Vaughn, even though he's never coached at any level. He admitted that he "did skip the line" by jumping to a head coach job, but defended his hiring by pointing to his record on the court. "I think leading an N.B.A. team for almost two decades is pretty unique," he said. Nash famously led the Suns' "seven seconds or less" offense, so the general assumption is that he'll try to push the pace (Brooklyn ranked 10th-fastest last year). Then again, Kyrie Irving pushed back against the notion that the Nets will overhaul their approach. “We don’t need someone to come in with their coaching philosophy, change everything we’re doing, change up the wheel," he said. Later, he added, "I don’t really see us having a head coach. KD could be a head coach. I could be a head coach." Good luck, pseudo-head-coach Nash.
Pelicans - The Pelicans fired coach Alvin Gentry very soon after leaving the Orlando bubble with a 2-6 record. As of Oct. 15, the latest news from Shams Charania is that New Orleans has whittled their stack of candidates down to four. That number was trimmed further, to three, when Tyronn Lue took the Clippers' head job. Former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson has been mentioned as a possibility for New Orleans, but it sounds like Stan Van Gundy is the favorite to take the reins. SVG had a very successful run with Orlando from 2007-2012, but didn’t fare as well in four years with the Pistons, compiling a 152-176 record (0.463 win percentage). He’d be taking over one of the most exciting teams in the league, both in terms of the ‘fun factor’ as well as their untapped potential, and there’s a distinct possibility that we’ll see both Van Gundys pacing the sidelines in 2020-21. Fun times.