Portland Trail Blazers Coaches: Erik Spoelstra, Stan or Jeff Van Gundy, or Someone Else?

Dave,

What are our chances of landing Erk Spoelstra as a coach? Would he be a good fit in your view (given his PDX history)?

Dave,

Stan Van Gundy just got fired! The Blazers should go after him right away, don't you think? He's got an excellent record and got a raw deal in Orlando. He's just what the Blazers need.

Dave,

What would you think if the Blazers were to look into a coach like Jeff Van Gundy?

OK, here's my first question in response to all of these questions (and more) populating the inbox as of May 22nd, 2012: How do we know?

On name value alone all three are good candidates. Jeff Van Gundy has been mentioned by Blazersedge faithful forever and ever as a potential coach. Midway before this season, even before Nate McMillan was let go, I brought up Spoelstra and Stan Van Gundy as potential off-season candidates. There's nothing wrong with your radar, posers of questions.

However, we're talking in the abstract here, and the Blazers are not in an abstract situation. They're operating in a particular context with specific goals and game plan. The thing is, we haven't the foggiest clue what the goals and game plan are...at least not for the immediate future. Unless we know the specifics it's impossible to tell which coach would fit best, one of these three or someone else as yet unnamed.

If the Blazers do plan to rebuild all in one summer, expecting to fight hard in the playoffs next season. then they're going to need an experienced coach. Either of the Van Gundys would qualify. Considering the compromises they'll have to make in acquiring players talented enough to reach that goal, Stan might be a great choice to whip a fractured roster into shape.

If, on the other hand, the Blazers get shunted into draft-and-wait mode, fielding inexperienced players in need of tutoring and nurture, Stan Van Gundy could be a disaster. Here you start to think about Spoelstra and patience, although you also consider that you have half-price Spoelstra as your head coach already. You might want to just stick with that.

Until the Blazers' plans are solidified and revealed, we don't know what kind of coach we need. Any name you posit could turn out to be the opposite of what you want.

Also mixing up the process: the lack of a GM. Portland's history with general managers has been long and interesting. They had a super-strong GM with free rein in Bob Whitsitt, followed by a couple of lifetime execs with a mandate to tear down the team in Steve Patterson and John Nash. After that they went with boy wonders in Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho but each was heavily monitored and guided. We went from carte blanche to specific mandate to "we'll see" with each step in the succession making the GM weaker.

After Whitsitt's tenure the Blazers also had a strong, highly-paid, and respected coach in Nate McMillan. This created a de facto "Weak Mayor" system in Portland's hierarchy. Defining very loosely, that's a system where a single person holds the prime office in the city but their role is limited to general course-setting. The actual administration is done by others, usually a council or a professional city manager. The GM's may have made decisions on personnel but McMillan had the final word whether to play their acquisitions. Nate's profile was higher, his respect within the organization greater, and he ran the ship more directly than the General Managers he served under.

The cost of this environment has been a unifying course. The Blazers have made decent short-term tactical decisions but their grand strategy has been muddled. As we talked about the other day this will be one of the first issues a new General Manger will have to face. But what are the chances of that happening if the Blazers go out and hire another coach before their new GM is in place? Presumably said coach would be hired for his personal strength and under the assumption that he'd be able to captain the ship on a course matching his abilities and goals. If that ship has already sailed and is pointing towards a pre-determined port, why in the world would you need a navigator? How much credibility would a bigger picture have at that point?

Given the state of the franchise and its recent history, hiring a General Manager is probably the next step in the process. Once he's on board, his voice and vision will help determine the next coach. We still might not know the plan exactly, but the hire and the explanations surrounding it should reveal the team's general direction. Absent those things, any coach you name has to fall under the category of, "He's a good coach and...I don't know...this seems pretty good right now." That's not sufficient. The organization needs more.

But hey, if you insist that we throw names out why not kill two birds with one stone? Hire Jeff Van Gundy as General Manager, give him a strong financial/negotiating exec at his side to work contracts, and then hire Stan Van Gundy as coach. At least the guys Jeff picked up wouldn't have anywhere to run to whining when his brother chewed their butts off.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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