What's next for the NBA's coaching carousel? Lakers move to hire JJ Redick

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Thursday, June 20, 2024

With NBA draft andfree agency just weeks away, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Los Angeles Lakers havehired JJ Redick to become the franchises' next head coach after UConn's Dan Hurley turned down the initial offerlast week.

After the Washington Wizards removed the interim tag and named Brian Keefe as their new head coach on May 29, just two teams -- the Cleveland Cavaliers and theLakers-- were without head coaches. TheDetroit Pistonsmade it three when they fired Monty Williams despite the five years and $65 million left on his contract.

Mike Budenholzer's move to the Phoenix Suns' sideline came after the franchise fired Frank Vogel in early May. The Brooklyn Nets have already confirmed their decision, bringing in former Sacramento Kings assistant and current Canadian national team coach Jordi Fernandez to be their next coach. TheCharlotte Hornets will tap Boston Celtics assistant Charles Lee for what sources told Wojnarowski will be a four-year deal.

Who will join them among new faces on the sideline next season? Here's the latest intel on the two remaining jobs, the top candidates and the challenges ahead for each franchise.

Coaching vacancies

Detroit Pistons

  • 2023-24 record: 14-68 (15th in the East)
  • Previous coach: Monty Williams (fired after one season)
  • Lead executive: Trajan Langdon (hired May 31)

State of the franchise: Here's the good news: It's hard to see things getting any worse.

Over the past four seasons, the Pistons have combined to win 74 games. The last time Detroit won a playoff game -- the 2008 Eastern Conference finals -- only a handful of current NBA players were even in the league, and Detroit's young core was entirely in elementary school. Since then, the Pistons have made the playoffs three times -- getting swept out of the first round in each of them -- have just one winning season and are now on their eighth head coach.

The last part is particularly galling, given Detroit shelled out what was, at the time, the richest contract in NBA coaching history for Monty Williams just one year ago. But after he helmed the Pistons to the league's worst record and set a new NBA record for consecutive losses by a single team, owner Tom Gores chose to move on from Williams and general manager Troy Weaver.

That will give the Pistons a chance to correct the underlying issues that have befuddled them throughout this run: a lack of both stability and alignment, two things Detroit would be wise to finally attempt to get right this time around.

There are a couple potential reasons for optimism about this situation for someone walking into it. The Pistons have some intriguing young players at their disposal, from 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham to guard Jaden Ivey, forward Ausar Thompson and center Jalen Duren -- plus the No. 5 pick in this year's NBA draft.

There's also potentially up to $60 million in salary cap space this summer to work with.

Still, solving this won't be an overnight task. Even after 16 years in the wilderness, breaking that playoff winless streak still seems unlikely in the near term.

Cleveland Cavaliers

  • 2023-24 record: 48-34 (4th in the East, eliminated in conference semifinals)
  • Previous coach: J.B. Bickerstaff (fired after four seasons)
  • Lead executive: Koby Altman (hired in 2017)

The state of the franchise:Bickerstaff led the Cavaliers to a winning record in three straight seasons but was fired after following up last year's desultory first-round loss to the New York Knicks with a seven-game series victory over the Orlando Magic and a quick exit at the hands of the top-seeded Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

But this team is well positioned for the next several years. Three of the team's four young pillars -- Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen -- are under contract, while Donovan Mitchell is extension-eligible this summer. Max Strus and Georges Niang brought shooting and veteran leadership as free agent signings, and Isaac Okoro showed offensive growth this season while remaining a plus wing defender.

Despite the Cavs' small market, owner Dan Gilbert has shown throughout his tenure that he will spare no expense to deliver winning basketball to Cleveland. If this team remains in contention, it's unlikely any players will be lost because Gilbert isn't willing to spend.

Meanwhile, the biggest question mark in Cleveland is whether Mitchell will sign a contract extension to remain with the franchise beyond the one guaranteed year left on his deal. If he doesn't, Cleveland's Kyrie Irving situation from seven years ago should serve as a reminder that Gilbert likely won't allow Mitchell to walk as a free agent after sending several draft picks (plus Lauri Markkanen) to theUtah Jazzfor him two years ago.

Even if Mitchell returns, there's at least some question about the direction of the roster. The Cavs have two small ball-dominant guards (Garland and Mitchell) and two non-shooting big men (Mobley and Allen), with each set of players having overlapping skill sets. Will Cleveland's new coach believe they can make them work? Or will they try to push for a different vision for the roster?

Who could get the job:The Cavs have secured permission to interview several assistant coaches from around the league. Sources told Wojnarowski that the team will talk withNew York Knicks associate head coach Johnnie Bryant and the Miami Heat top assistant Chris Quinn. In addition, Wojnarowski reported thatGolden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson and New Orleans Pelicans assistant James Borrego were also on the Cavs' list.

Bryant has spent four years on Tom Thibodeau's staff and previously worked his way from player development coach to a front-of-the-bench assistant with the Utah Jazz, where he worked closely with Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell for six years.Quinn, an Ohio native, has spent 10 years on Erik Spoelstra's staff with the Heat after an NBA and European playing career.

Atkinson, the former Brooklyn Nets coach who has been Steve Kerr's lead assistant with the Warriors the past three seasons, has received praise for developing several young players. That list includes two current Cavaliers --Caris LeVert and Allen -- while turning Brooklyn into a playoff team. He also is known as an offensive coach, having worked under both Mike D'Antoni and Mike Budenholzer, and could potentially bring more organization to that side of the ball for the Cavs.

Borrego, a former head coach with the Charlotte Hornets, is also a serious candidate for the Lakers' vacancy.

Hired jobs

Los Angeles Lakers

  • 2023-24 record: 47-35 (7th in the West; eliminated in the first round of the playoffs)
  • New coach: JJ Redick
  • Previous coach: Darvin Ham (fired after two seasons)
  • Lead executive: Rob Pelinka (hired in 2017)

The state of the franchise: Since Phil Jackson retired after the 2010-11 season, the Lakers have made six coaching hires, with none lasting more than three seasons -- including the only one to win a championship during that stretch, Frank Vogel. Under Ham, the Lakers reached the 2023 Western Conference finals and followed it by winning four more regular-season games in 2023-24. But it wasn't enough to avoid being fired after two seasons.

The franchise's next coach will take over a team that features one of the NBA's best star duos in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers could also be in the mix this summer for a third star to play alongside James -- who has a $51.4 million player option for next season -- and Davis.

James and Davis combined to play 147 games this season -- the most in their five years together -- and yet that wasn't enough for Los Angeles to finish higher than eighth in the regular-season standings. Between young teams at the top such as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder, and others on the rise such as the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, ascending in the West will be a challenge once again next season.

Also likely to return, no matter who the franchise hires to replace Ham, are the expectations and tumult that has defined the franchise for more than a decade. But for a team that has made 32 Finals appearances and has the secondmost titles (17) in NBA history, the expectation is to contend for titles over play-in position -- especially with James on the roster.

Who got the job: ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday that JJ Redick had agreed to a four-year deal to coach the Lakers, saying that Pelinka became sold on "Redick's ability to connect with players and his basketball IQ." He's also connected to LeBron James through the podcast they've done over the past several months together, and the hope from the Lakers will be that Redick can get more out of a roster that Los Angeles has limited avenues to improve this offseason from the group that lost in five games to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.

Washington Wizards

  • 2023-24 record: 15-67 (14th in East)
  • New coach: Brian Keefe
  • Previous coach: Wes Unseld Jr. (Keefenamed interim coach in January)
  • Lead executive: Michael Winger (hired in 2023)

The state of the franchise: Winger and general manager Will Dawkins -- both of whom have deep roots with the Oklahoma City Thunder -- have set out to follow a similar diligent blueprint to the one Thunder executive Sam Presti has successfully executed in OKC -- twice. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is also viewed around the league as one of the more patient of his cohort, and whichever coach the franchise lands will be of the understanding that this rebuild will not happen quickly.

Not only is Washington's current roster short on talent, but this year's draft(the Wizards will have the No. 2 pick) lacks the projected star power of future classes in 2025 and 2026. As a result, whoever gets this job should be expecting a heavy focus on player development, which could create uncertain futures for Washington's other veterans, including Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma, who each have three years remaining on their contracts.

Who got the job: Keefe went 8-31 over the final three months of the season after replacing Unseld in January. Like Winger and Dawkins, Keefe spent time in Oklahoma City, working for the Thunder from 2009-14. The 48-year-old went on to serve as an assistant with the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Lakers and Wizards, in addition to spending the 2019-20 season back with the Thunder under then-coach Billy Donovan.

Phoenix Suns

  • 2023-24 record: 49-33 (6th in the West; eliminated in the first round of the playoffs)
  • New coach:Mike Budenholzer (former Hawks, Bucks head coach)
  • Previous coach: Frank Vogel (fired after one season)
  • Lead executive: James Jones (hired in 2018)

The state of the franchise: It has been an eventful 15 months for Suns owner Mat Ishbia. He swung on a pair of high-profile trades for Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal, and he has now moved on from a pair of coaches in Monty Williams, who was fired after last season, and Vogel, who was dismissed after being swept out of the first round by the Timberwolves.

Still, Ishbia believes his team remains in an envious position.

"Ask the other 29 GMs -- 26 of them would trade their whole team for our whole team and our draft picks and everything as-is," Ishbia said earlier this month during his end-of-season media availability.

"The house is not on fire. ... It's not hard to fix this. It's not like, 'We don't have enough talent to win a championship.' We have enough talent to win a championship."

The Suns will return their star core of Devin Booker, Durant and Beal, who shot a career-high 43% from 3-point range this season, capitalizing on the defensive attention paid to Booker and Durant. Grayson Allen, meanwhile, was signed to an extension last month after leading the league in 3-point percentage (46.1). Starting big man Jusuf Nurkic is under contract for next year.

But Phoenix will enter the offseason with the league's highest payroll -- ESPN's Bobby Marks projects it to be more than $200 million, well over the new second luxury tax apron. Those salary cap restrictions, combined with the loss of draft capital due to previous blockbuster trades, have handcuffed Phoenix from a roster-building standpoint.

Who got the job: Former Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzerwill now take over -- the team's third coach in as many seasons. Budenholzer, who grew up northeast of Phoenix, has won more than 60% of his games and clinched the 2021 NBA championship with Milwaukee. He sat out last season after getting fired following the Bucks' shocking first-round loss to the Miami Heat.

Charlotte Hornets

  • 2023-24 record: 21-61 (13th in East)
  • New coach: Charles Lee (former Celtics assistant)
  • Previous coach: Steve Clifford (stepped down after the season, his seventh overall with the franchise and his second in this second stint with the team)
  • Lead executive: Jeff Peterson (hired in March, replacing Mitch Kupchak)

The state of the franchise: A lot has changed in Charlotte since a new ownership group led by Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin took over last summer, with previous owner Michael Jordan retaining a minority stake. The Hornets have proposed plans for a new practice facility, hired Peterson away from the Nets and made multiple deals at the February trade deadline to bring in both future draft picks and young players such as former Oklahoma City Thunder guard Tre Mann.

The Hornets are looking to build around youth. LaMelo Ball broke through for an All-Star selection in 2022, but the 22-year-old guard has played a combined 58 games over the past two seasons. Second overall pick Brandon Miller, who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting behind Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren, averaged 17.3 points per game, shot 37.3% from 3-point range and has begun developing into the two-way force Charlotte hoped. Second-year center Mark Williams showed promise before a back issue limited him to 19 games this season.

Charlotte isn't immune to the challenges of building a small-market contender, and new ownership has not revealed its willingness to pay the luxury tax. The Hornets are one of two teams -- along with the New Orleans Pelicans -- to never pay the tax.

Meanwhile, the Hornets have made the playoffs just three times since returning to the league in the 2004-05 season, and their three total playoff victories over that span are the fewest of any NBA team.

Who got the job: Charlotte announced on May 9 that Charles Lee, currently the top assistant under Joe Mazzulla for the league-leading Boston Celtics, would be succeeding Clifford as the team's head coach. Lee is one of the league's most prominent assistant coaches, having interviewed for several jobs in recent seasons and playing a key role both with Boston this season, as the Celtics had the NBA's best record, and for the past few under Mike Budenholzer in both Milwaukee, where the Bucks won the 2021 NBA title, and Atlanta before that. Budenholzer's tree includes several successful head coaches, including Quin Snyder, Taylor Jenkins, Kenny Atkinson and Darvin Ham, and now Lee will get a chance to add to that list with some intriguing young talent and a new leadership team in Charlotte.

Brooklyn Nets

  • 2023-24 record: 32-50 (11th in East)
  • New coach: Jordi Fernandez (former Kings assistant)
  • Previous coach: Kevin Ollie (interim, replaced Jacque Vaughn in February)
  • Lead executive: Sean Marks (hired in 2016)

The state of the franchise: Outside of their poor finish this season, the Nets have plenty going for them. They are in the league's biggest market, have one of its richest owners in Joe Tsai, have a terrific arena in Barclays Center and a modern practice facility overlooking New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.

They landed a series of draft picks from the aging and expensive Phoenix Suns that could reap them future rewards. And, unlike some of the other open jobs this offseason, there is some present-day talent on the roster that could be competitive right now -- at least for a play-in tournament spot.

Brooklyn appeared headed in that direction when it was 15-15 on the morning of Dec. 27. But after the Nets chose to tank a home game against the Milwaukee Bucks that night, they went 17-35 over the final 52 games and tumbled down the standings.

Mikal Bridges is an All-Star-caliber two-way wing player who has played every game of his career. After that, however, there are questions. Cam Thomas is an intriguing scoring guard, but he is one of the league's more polarizing players. Nic Claxton, the team's starting center, is an unrestricted free agent, though Brooklyn is confident about re-signing the 25-year-old.

Who got the job: Fernandez was widely expected to get a head-coaching job somewhere in the NBA during this cycle because of his work alongside Mike Brown in Sacramento and helping lead Canada to its first international medal in decades, a bronze medal in last year's FIBA World Cup. Fernandez has also been an assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets during his NBA career, and his hiring presents Brooklyn with the ability to go in multiple directions this summer, as they could opt for a rebuild after a disappointing season or aggressively pursue veteran talent to try to take a step forward. The presence of talented, younger players such as Bridges and Claxton -- plus upcoming salary flexibility and draft picks to move -- gives Brooklyn a lot of different directions it can pivot in, depending on what opportunities present themselves.

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