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If not Nate, then who?



In most recent edition of the NBA Coaches Dead Pool, issued after Lawrence Frank was yanked off the stage after His Orchestra went 0-16 (not very wunnerful, apparently), the winner of the traditional "who's next?" poll, with a large plurality of the votes (34%), was our very own Nate McMillan.  While it appears that readers of The Pool may not be correct in their prediction, as word out of the Windy City is that Vinnie Del Negro will be fitted with concrete shoes and thrown into Lake Michigan, and that this will happen Any Day Now.  Derrick Rose is openly complaining about "the system", the Bulls are an unhappy crew despite some decent talent, and he's never looked particularly competent holding a clipboard.  Compared to Del Negro, Nate is Red Auerbach.

And obviously, the season-ending injury to Greg Oden might have bought McMillan some time.  Expectations for the season are probably a bit lower, and one of the major challenges facing the team--how to integrate #52 into the offense--is now a moot point.  But there are still issues--the perimeter defense is terrible; Steve Blake's current role with the team is unjustified by his play, there are rumors of other players being unhappy, and a few veiled criticisms have been tossed Nate's way by his players, most notably Brandon Roy.

While I'm not ready to pronounce Nate dead meat, it's clear that his course is now a rocky one, and nearly half the ship's crew is in the infirmary.  I like Nate--I rate him only behind Ramsay and Adelman in the pantheon of Blazer coaches (the rating only considers a coach's Blazer tenure, in case folks are wondering about Lenny Wilkens' absence from the top of the order) and I consider him a key part of the Blazer turnaround.  But he's well past the half-life of an NBA coach, events outside his control have intervened--and I think (and the Pool concurs) that it's a good bet that Nate will be gone by season's end.  Not 100%, but I'd say even money is against Mr. Sonic.

With that in mind--who is available?  Given that we're midseason, I would expect that any current NBA or NCAA head coach is not available, so no fair suggesting Pops or Jackson or SVG or Coach K.  While we would love to have one of these guys, chances are they aren't coming here anytime soon.

One option would be to go with an interim coach for the year, which probably means either Dean Demopolous or Monty Williams, the two guys on Nate's staff with the experience, temperament, and health to serve as an NBA head man.  Neither have had the gig before, so promoting either would be a bit risky--OTOH, the last time the Blazers promoted an assistant was a fellow named Rick Adelman.  In general, I wouldn't hold anything that has happened as an assistant against either men (lots of folks have been criticizing Demopolous in particular for the current road trip--it seems clear that he's basically sticking to Nate's game plan, which is probably the most reasonable thing for him to do).  With an interim coach, you can give them an extended interview, and have the inside track of retaining them if they work out (and no big money contract to worry about if they don't).

Assistants on other benches who might be tempted, and who are worthy of mention:

  • Tom Thibodeau (currently with Boston).  Widely regarded as the architect of the Boston Celtics' defense.  Hasn't sought out a head job yet--but could be picking his spots, and the Portland job might be a spot worth picking.
  • Mike Budenholzer (currently with the Spurs).  Pops top assistant.   Probably has a good relationship with KP for that reason.

Other coaches who are available, who aren't believed to be retired (or dead), and who aren't complete crud, are:

  • Byron Scott (still being paid by the Hornets)
  • his replacement in Joisey, the aforementioned Lawrence Frank (who I can't really blame for the 0-16 start, even though coach Kiki has won a few games now).  Also still getting paid by his former team and might well be enjoying a vacation.
  • Jeff Van Gundy.  Last seen coaching Houston.  Knowledgeable coach, but has a habit of wearing out his welcome.
  • Mike Fratello, Hubie Brown, Doug Collins.  Please, none of these.
  • Two ex-Minnesota coaches, Randy Wittman and Dwane Casey, the latter of which is another McMillan protege.
  • Terry Porter.  Had rough runs in both Milwaukee and Phoenix; would probably get a courtesy interview due to his Blazer roots.
  • Avery Johnson.  Like McMillan in many ways, took the Mavs to the Finals before ticking off his locker room. 
  • Paul Silas.  Another "bad cop" coach in the McMillan mold, last seen coaching Cleveland before LeBron threw him under the bus.

One other name:

  • Ettore Messina.  Euroleague coach widely rumored to be in the running for the Toronto job a while back--given that Triano isn't working out well, he may STILL be next in line for this gig.  Would be quite the risky move to go after him, given his lack of experience in US basketball.  But highly regarded.

No poll on this post, as I'm looking more for ideas and discussion.

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