With Josh Kroenke and the Denver Nuggets in search of a new direction for the team, you have to wonder if they'll have a new head man in place before July 12th. Why July 12? Well, that's when Summer League in Las Vegas is set to begin and the Nuggets are once again participating.
Last summer, George Karl had assistant coaches Chad Iske and Jesse Mermuys (before Mermuys took a job with the Rockets) manning the head coaching duties of the summer squad that featured Jordan Hamilton, Kenneth Faried, Evan Fournier, and Quincy Miller. We could see Hamilton, Fournier, and Miller on the summer team once again, plus which ever rookie the Nuggets take with the No. 27 pick on June 27th and perhaps an undrafted rookie free agent or two.
It would be nice if those players had a staff in place to give them some direction on what the new coaches will be looking for. Will Iske, Melvin Hunt, John Welch, Patrick Mutombo, and Ryan Bowen be back with the team next season? One would think the Nuggets would want these questions answered before these young players head to Las Vegas.
My thoughts on some of the coaching candidates we've heard about thus far:
Lionel Hollins: He's a take no nonsense coach who butted heads with team management last season. Hollins was outspoken about the Rudy Gay trade and practically refused to play 24 year-old Ed Davis whom the team acquired via trade with the Raptors (he averaged 9.8 minutes in Feb., 18 minutes in March, 16 minutes in April, and recorded seven DNP-CDs in the post-season).
Some Tweets today from Memphis columnist Geoff Calkins:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Wise or not, management wanted a coach who they felt would be in the foxhole with them. They didn't want a guy who told them to go suck eggs</p>— Geoff Calkins (@geoff_calkins) <a href="https://twitter.com/geoff_calkins/status/344439021423968256">June 11, 2013</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Again, I would have kept Hollins anyway. But he badly overplayed his hand. Ed Davis? "They" won't tell me who to play?</p>— Geoff Calkins (@geoff_calkins) <a href="https://twitter.com/geoff_calkins/status/344439229398540288">June 11, 2013</a></blockquote>
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Kroenke has stated that he wants to find a general manager and coach that will both be on the same page. Would a hard-nosed guy like Hollins fit that mold? Hollins sounds like a guy that wants to win at all costs and wants to be left to coach his team how he wants. Kroenke has stated that he will not dictate to which ever coach he hires, but at the same time we've been given the impression that one of George Karl's faults was not developing his younger players.
Who knows what led to the prickly situation in Memphis, but like Denver - the team experience its best season ever (most regular season wins with 56 and their first trip to the Western Conference Finals) and still decided to go in a different direction. I've also had a chance to listen to Hollins speak and he's a very well spoken man and knows what a basketball teams needs to do in order to be successful. He's a big team chemistry guy and a coach who believes that his players must know their roles in order to succeed.
If you want to know more about Hollins, he was featured in the excellent book The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam that chronicles the Portland Trail Blazers during the 1979-80 season, but delves into a lot of history before that season. Hollins played for Portland during that time and you get a good feel for him as a player and a person from that book.
Brian Shaw: Why hasn't Shaw been named a head coach yet? From Brett Pollakoff of NBC's Pro Basketball Talk:
he's had plenty of interviews with teams for a head coaching spot - nine of them, to be exact - he's no closer now than he was when he was winning championships as a member of Phil Jackson's coaching staff with the Lakers.
And this article was written before this off-season - on Nov. 30th, 2012 to be exact. So, you can add at least three more interviews to those nine when you include the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, and Denver Nuggets. Ric Bucher of CSN Bay Area.com had even more to say on Shaw from that same Pollakoff article:
Shaw's calling card is that he learned the Triangle under Phil Jackson, he of the 11 championship rings. Shaw helped win three of those rings as a player and two as an assistant coach. Several teams who have interviewed him say the Triangle is the offense he has proposed. The consensus around the league is that Shaw is the NBA equivalent of a great Concorde pilot: his resumè says he's good at flying something no one believes can get off the ground.
As one of the GMs who has interviewed him explained: "The Triangle has never worked for anyone, anywhere, other than Phil, and that was only when he had Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. Let's face it, how many of his assistants have gone on to be successful head coaches? Whether it's fair or not, the perception is that it was all Phil and the Lakers' ability to get whatever they needed. Another part is that the Lakers didn't hire Shaw when they had the chance. If they didn't think he could make it work for them, with all of their resources, can you really go to your owner with a convincing argument as to why he's going to make it work for your team?"
Not the most flattering stuff, but I've also heard people saying that Shaw may no longer be married to the idea of the Triangle Offense ran by Jackson and created by Tex Winters. And before you write Shaw off from your preferred list - check out what Paul Klee of The Gazette (Colorado Springs) reported from sources around the league about him:
"He's the whole package - player development, X's and O's."
"He's a West Coast guy, through and through. I can't see him going to Brooklyn."
"(Indiana) would miss him. Vogel would miss him. He's a big part of what they do."
"He's been instrumental in the development of Paul George."
"He's a players coach. Guys listen to him. They don't have a choice; he has the (NBA championship) rings to prove it."
Sign me up.
The NBA types didn't mention that Shaw once dated Madonna. Hiring Shaw would not be like a prayer; it's the closest bet to a sure thing as there is in the NBA.
"He likes to fish," one NBA scout told me. "He loves the outdoors."
Melvin Hunt: The hire from within has been hit-or-miss from what I've seen around Nuggets Nation. He has drawn interest from the 76ers with their new GM Sam Hinkle being familiar with him (interviewed him when Hinkle was with the Rockets) and the Nuggets will look at him too. Some folks think that Hunt would not be the different voice the Nuggets might need because he was on Karl's staff. While others like the idea of Hunt - he of the defensive minded school. Just because a guy comes out of a coaching tree does not mean they are like the guy who they were working for. Nate McMillan was a player under Karl and an assistant coach - when he got his shots with the Seattle Sonics (2000-2005) and Blazers (2005-2012) he was a defensive minded and slow it down on offense guy - nothing like Karl.
With Hunt, he has been all over the league and well, all over the world. Check out his bio from Nuggets.com:
Before joining the Cavaliers [where he spent five seasons] staff, Hunt spent one season (2004-05) as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and five seasons with the Houston Rockets (1999-2004). While with the Rockets, he served two years as a video coordinator/scout and two years as an assistant coach before spending his final year as the team's college and international scout.
Prior to working in the NBA, Hunt coached on both the collegiate and high school levels. He began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Temple High School (TX) before moving to the college ranks where he was the lead assistant coach at Incarnate Word University in San Antonio.
Hunt earned his Bachelor's degree in business administration and a Master's degree in education from Baylor University where he spent four years on the basketball team. He was a four-year letterman and a three-year starter for the Bears from 1987-91 and helped lead his team to both the NCAA and NIT tournaments. Following his graduation, Hunt played professional basketball in the Caribbean and Mexico.
A native of Tallulah, Louisiana, Hunt has spent time in Asia, Russia, Lithuania and South Africa during recent offseasons as a part of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders
Karl spoke very highly of Hunt and said he had a head coaching voice - meaning he's a guy that can get the attention of his players. Hunt is also a very hands on guy. At practices this season he would often stay well after practice was over working with players on shooting drills and even playing some one-on-one with them. He's a charismatic guy that carries himself well, knows the game, has experience for days (good relationship with Rudy Tomjanovich (former head man for the Rockets and Lakers)), and has a passion for the game.
David Fizdale: The current assistant coach with the Miami Heat has yet to be linked to the Nuggets, but he's a hot candidate in the NBA world. Fizdale was rumored last season to be a candidate for the Blazers job, but he re-upped for two years with the Heat instead. He's only 38 years-old, but has said he'll consider leaving the Heat for the job opportunity. From the Miami Sun-Sentinel:
"I'll listen," he said, in his fifth season with the Heat. "If it's the right situation, this summer, I think after a year of going through this again, learning more, really spending more time with Coach Rothstein, with Spo, with Pat, I feel a little closer to being ready for that, from the standpoint of knowledge and what to expect."
Yet even while being linked to the Philadelphia 76ers' opening and mentioned in other coaching searches, he said the focus is singular.
"I ain't even thinking about it. Right now, if they haven't contacted me, it's not even a thought in my mind right now," the veteran of similar assistant stints with the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks said. "Because I haven't been contacted, head-coaching job don't even exist to me. I'm so focused on this.
We're not sure when the Nuggets will hire a new head coach, but hopefully something will get done before the July 12th Summer League date which is just about a month away.
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