1. Mike Brown, Los Angeles Lakers –
Surprised to see Brown here, at the top of the list? You shouldn’t be. No coach on the list walks into a better situation, from a wins and losses perspective. The rest of the coaches on the list combined won’t work with as much top shelf talent as Brown will in his first season guiding the Lakers. Sure, he has that whole “following in the footsteps of a legend (Phil Jackson)” thing to deal with. Folks that love to point to the failures of Brown’s Cleveland teams in the playoffs are conveniently overlooking the fact that he coached back-to-back 60-win teams in this league and also coached in the NBA Finals during his tenure with the Cavaliers. The man knows how to run a team and he’ll have plenty of success with the Lakers. Whether or not it’s championship-level success depends on much more than just Brown’s performance.
2. Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers –
Vogel waited nearly as long for official confirmation that he would have his interim tag removed in Indiana as Rambis did for his official walking papers in Minnesota. We’re still trying to figure out why it took so long in both instances. Vogel showed with his performance that he was more than ready for his shot to run a team. He guided a disheveled Pacers team into the postseason after replacing Jim O’Brien and then made Bulls fans sweat, just a little bit, in the first round of the playoffs. If the Pacers had better options, said options never presented themselves throughout the process. In fact, some could argue that Vogel’s top assistant, on-time Lakers heir apparent Brian Shaw, is as solid a hire as any of the head coaches chosen this summer.
3. Kevin McHale, Houston Rockets –
The day his name surfaced in the Rockets’ coaching search I spotted McHale, a former colleague and one of my favorite people of all time, walking down a hallway during the first round of the playoffs in Portland. I asked him point-blank, “back to coaching … what are you thinking?” He just smiled then and said “we’ll see.” And we shall. I have no doubts McHale is a good fit for the Rockets. But the Rockets are fighting the toughest battle of any team on this list trying to break out from the pack at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff standings and into the top eight every year. Without a superstar to anchor this crew, McHale will have to push all the right buttons if the Rockets want to see their playoff dreams realized.
4. Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors – Kudos to the Raptors for doing what so many other teams the past few years failed to do and recognize that Casey earned a second shot as a head coach in this league. It certainly helps to walk through the door with a ring on your finger and that Larry O’Brien trophy on your resume, courtesy of a virtuoso performance during the Mavericks’ playoff run. After watching Casey’s defensive schemes chew up the opposition throughout the playoffs, you wonder how well it might work with a Raptors team that cannot compare to the Mavericks. Casey’s tasked with rebuilding the Raptors psyche and defensive constitution. If he accomplishes either one he’s a genius. If can manage both, they’ll be in the playoffs before long.
5. Mark Jackson, Golden State Warriors –
Jackson’s placement at the bottom of our list has much more to do with his predicament than it does with our belief that he’s ready to tackle the job of head coaching in the league. (Jerry West felt the same way, and that’s always good company to keep when decisions are being made.) Like all first-timers, Jackson’s belief in himself and his abilities far outweigh the reality of his situation. To put it plainly, Jackson inherited a roster that’s need some serious tweaking. And since that cannot happen anytime soon, a little thing called the lockout, Jackson can only fantasize about what it is he could do if the circumstances were different.