Questions, challenges abound for new coaches

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View Poll Results: Which team will improve the most under their new head coacheS?
Washington Wizards -- Flip Saunders 4 80.00%
Philadelphia -- Eddie Jordan 1 20.00%
Detroit Pistons -- John Kuester 0 0%
Minnesota Timberwolves -- Kurt Rambis 0 0%
Sacramento Kings -- Paul Westphal 0 0%
Voters: 5. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 08-13-2009, 10:09 AM   #1 (permalink)

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Default Questions, challenges abound for new coaches

By Fran Blinebury, for
Posted Aug 13 2009 6:48AM

There are certainly more than a few endeavors with less long-term security than being an NBA coach -- sky diving without a parachute, javelin catching and flossing the teeth of great white sharks come to mind.

Eight different teams fired their coach during the 2008-09 season, and when the Detroit Pistons let Michael Curry go after he completed just one year on the job, that meant five spots were open heading into 2009-10. Now with the naming of Kurt Rambis this week to take over on the bench of the Minnesota Timberwolves, every franchise has a coach. But for the new guys, there still remain a handful of questions and challenges.

Flip Saunders -- Washington Wizards
The most experienced of the new bosses, he carries in a career record of 587-396 (.597) and took his teams to the Playoffs 11 times in 13 seasons with Minnesota and Detroit, including three straight losses in the Eastern Conference Finals with the Pistons. Saunders follows interim coach Ed Tapscott, who served out last season after Eddie Jordan fell victim to little more than injuries to Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. There were Wizards fans who wanted the team to pursue someone with more of a defensive background (i.e. Avery Johnson). The rap in Detroit was that the players lost respect and tuned Saunders out at the end. But he did get them to the East Finals three straight times. If Arenas can shake off his knee problems to return to his previous forceful form and Butler (hamstring) stays healthy and back in the lineup to team with Antawn Jamison, there is reason to expect that of all the new coaches on Opening Night, Saunders could make the biggest jump in the standings and get right back into the middle of the playoff mix.

Eddie Jordan -- Philadelphia
After four straight playoff seasons in Washington, he was bounced after a 1-10 start a year ago when his top gun (Arenas) was on the sidelines. Jordan (23-288, .444) takes over the reins after assistant GM Tony DiLeo finished out last season following the firing of Maurice Cheeks. After signing forward Elton Brand to an $80 million, five-year contract last summer, Cheeks had a difficult time getting the free agent's low post game to blend with the open court talents of young players such as Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams before a shoulder injury eventually sidelined Brand. DiLeo got the Sixers into the Playoffs, where they lost in the first round to Orlando. Jordan plans to use his version of the so-called "Princeton offense" with the Sixers, emphasizing court spacing and ball movement by everyone on the floor. Jordan's biggest challenge could be the lack of an experienced point guard after veteran Andre Miller was allowed to sign with Portland. The Sixers will likely open the season with Williams holding the job backed up by rookie Jrue Holiday. Neither is a true quarterback, but the franchise belief is that Jordan's offense will lessen the need and alleviate the burden.

John Kuester -- Detroit Pistons
He's spent nearly two decades in numerous stops as an NBA assistant, the last two with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last season, Kuester became coach Mike Brown's offensive coordinator, helping to get Cleveland more effective in transition and less bogged down while trying to score. The result was the Cavs' attack improving its shooting to 46.8 percent, scoring to 100.3 and margin of a victory to a league-leading 8.92. Now the challenge in Detroit is to put the pieces back together after the Pistons fell from six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals to a losing record and a first-round sweep from the Playoffs by the Cavs. While one of the major flies in the ointment -- Allen Iverson -- is gone from the mix, along with the increasingly cranky Rasheed Wallace, Kuester will have to come in and do a better job of getting his philosophy installed and his point across than the rookie coach (Michael Curry) that he succeeded. Curry quickly lost the confidence of his players and his coaching staff in his first year on the job and never recovered from his decision to send Rip Hamilton from the starting lineup to the bench. Picking up a pair of offensive-minded players in free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva should play into Kuester's strength and enable Detroit to juice up its attack. But in an increasingly stronger Eastern Conference, the Pistons are small and frail and it's going to be a tall task to get back to their level of prominence.

Kurt Rambis -- Minnesota Timberwolves
He could have stayed around in L.A., waiting for Phil Jackson to retire and hoping to take over the throne room of the Lakers. He could have bolted a few months earlier to the heavy lifting required to resurrect the Sacramento Kings. But Rambis chose instead to put his blue collar shovel into the rebuilding job in Minnesota. He replaces Kevin McHale, the man who famously clotheslined him in the 1984 NBA Finals. McHale finished out last season when Randy Wittman was fired, but was never going to fit into a happy marriage with new GM David Kahn. Never mind that the Wolves had already made their personnel moves of the offseason, taking back-to-back point guards with Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn in the first round of the draft and trading off veterans Mike Miller and Randy Foye.

Rambis (37-24, .649) had one year as the interim coach of the Lakers in the '99 lockout season and has developed his coaching chops as both defensive coordinator and developer of young talent. It's that latter area that is most important in Minnesota, where he'll have a rehabilitated Al Jefferson (right ACL) in the middle along with Kevin Love up front and Flynn and (maybe) Rubio to create sparks in the backcourt. Kahn wants him to play an up-tempo style and bring a version of the Lakers old "Showtime" attack from Rambis' playing days to Minnesota. Getting the Wolves back to respectability would be a good initial step and to do that, they'll have to learn to stop somebody first.

Paul Westphal -- Sacramento Kings
Despite the statements by team officials, sources said Westphal was the second choice for the job after the Kings offered it and were rejected by Kurt Rambis during the NBA Finals. He replaces interim coach Kenny Natt, who finished up the 2008-09 season when Reggie Theus was fired after a 6-18 start. In six-plus season as an NBA head coach in Phoenix and Seattle, he took the Suns to The Finals in 1993, but has not been the lead man on the bench since leaving the Sonics in 2001. Westphal (267-159, .627) has a daunting task with the Kings, who are suffering on the court and in the stands. Since the eight-year consecutive playoff appearance run by Rick Adelman ended in 2006, the team has fallen to the worst record in the league (17-65) and season ranked dead last in team defense (109.34) and next to last in point differential (-8.75). Westphal will get back Kevin Martin, who missed 31 games due ankle problems last year and add Sergio Rodriguez and promising rookie Tyreke Evans. But there is so much work to be done with a franchise that is also hemorraghing financially as the unfruitful quest for a new arena continues.
I think that the Wizards could greatly improve under the coaching of Flip Saunders plus they would have Gilbert Arenas back so that would be a great improvement for them.

Which team do you think has the biggest chance to improve under these head coaches?

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Old 08-13-2009, 10:10 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Old 08-13-2009, 12:22 PM   #3 (permalink)
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If all this talk about Gil being healthy again is true, and it should be taken with a grain of salt, then Washington will have the most significant turnaround by far. Less to do with Saunders and more to do with the players though.

Philly will take a step back this year IMO, Detroit is a fringe team at best after being a fringe team last year as well, and I don't care who's coaching Sacramento and Minnesota, they'll be awful.
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