What came first, the coach or the draft pick?

Since the Denver Nuggets‘ 2014-15 season came to an end in mid-April, a day hasn’t gone by without someone asking who the Nuggets next head coach will be. Well, here we are over a full month later and no coach has been named. And in the time since the Nuggets removed Brian Shaw as head coach and replaced him (on an interim basis) with the affable Melvin Hunt, the Oklahoma City Thunder have jettisoned Scott Brooks and hired the University of Florida’s Billy Donovan and the New Orleans Pelicans have canned Monty Williams, despite Williams getting the Pelicans to their first playoff appearance in four years.

While no one has reported that Williams could get consideration for the Nuggets coaching vacancy, both Hunt and Brooks’s names have been mentioned frequently, alongside Alvin Gentry (who is assistant coaching alongside Steve Kerr for the Golden State Warriors right now) and former Nuggets / Suns / Knicks / Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni, he of the “seven seconds or less” offense. In fact, just a week ago our friend Chris Dempsey from The Denver Post broke down each of these four coaching candidates noting that they are the frontrunners for the job.

So why the delay in making a decision?

Some have suggested that the Nuggets had to wait for Gentry's Warriors to end their post-season run, but I don't buy that as a reason for the delay and I'm not a huge Gentry fan, even though he (sort of) has Colorado ties as he assistant coached the University of Colorado Buffaloes in the early to mid-1980s.

I believe the delay all comes down to what happens on Tuesday night. And for the uninitiated, Tuesday night is (sadly) the biggest night of the year to date for Nuggets fans, as the NBA will conduct their annual NBA Draft Lottery before the Warriors and Houston Rockets kickoff the Western Conference Finals … and we Nuggets fans will at long last know where the Nuggets are selecting in June’s NBA Draft.

But in addition to determining where the Nuggets draft, I contend that Tuesday will also determine who the Nuggets next coach will be.

For example, let’s say we get really, really, really lucky and the Nuggets land a top-three selection on Tuesday night, which they have a 15% chance of doing. (And I say “really, really, really lucky” because as my colleague Nate Timmons astutely pointed out last year, in the Nuggets franchise history they have never once moved up beyond where they were slotted to draft in the NBA Draft Lottery, and in fact usually end up selecting lower than they should.) With a top-three pick in hand, the Nuggets might consider drafting Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor or Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, all of whom could have an instant impact on an NBA team. Adding one of those guys to the Nuggets current mix of Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Jusuf Nurkic and the Nuggets might – just might – be thinking nearer term success versus longer term success. Nearer term success, of course, means a coach that the organization want to win now with versus later, a la Brooks, D’Antoni or Gentry.

Moreover, exactly which of the top three picks the Nuggets end up with could determine the coach hired. If the Nuggets luck into picks one or two, and thus go big with Towns or Okafor, perhaps a coach better suited for big men makes sense – i.e. not D'Antoni. But if the Nuggets end up at three and go with the electric point guard in Russell (the consensus third overall selection as of today), perhaps D'Antoni is the right fit after all.

Conversely, should the Nuggets end up drafting seventh as they're slotted to, or worse and draft further down from seven, they must seriously consider a full rebuild that gives them young players, draft picks and cap space flexibility in advance of the NBA's salary cap increasing in 2016. Were the Nuggets to end up at seven or lower, the rebuild process begins by trading Lawson to a fellow lottery denizen that wants to win now like Sacramento, Charlotte, Detroit or Indiana – all of whom could use Lawson and might be willing to part with their lottery selection to get him. Armed with two lottery picks, the Nuggets could begin the long road back to relevance and that takes a very different coaching mindset (read: expect lots of losing). In this scenario, the Nuggets organization should seek to build a culture of effort and energy rather than concern themselves with wins and losses, and thus the likes of Hunt or a college coach with NBA playing experience like Tony Bennett or Fred Hoiberg might make the most sense. Simply put, while I'm sure Brooks, D'Antoni and Gentry would love to get back on the coaching sidelines as soon as next season, do they really want a 50-55 loss season on their resume?

So as you watch Tuesday's NBA Draft Lottery – and hopefully many of you will alongside your fellow Stiffs at Jake's Food & Spirits – keep in mind that the results will not only determine where the Nuggets draft on June 25th but who the Nuggets next coach is going to be, too.