Ranking NBA Head Coaching Vacancies

The NBA Playoffs are underway for 16 teams. The other 14 teams are analyzing their current roster, preparing for the lottery, and some are searching for new head coaches. Currently, and there will be more, the teams with vacancies are the Knicks, Magic, and Hornets. The teams that have interim coaches are the Bucks (in the playoffs), Suns (assuming they don’t hire Mike Budenholzer), and Grizzlies. Here is a ranking of each job based on attractiveness for potential coaches.

6. New York Knicks

Living in New York and coaching in The Garden sounds like a dream, except the Knicks are an absolute mess. They are paying Joakim Noah $36 million over the next two years to stay away, and Tim Hardaway Jr. $54 million (if he opts into his final year) to shoot 42% from the field and 31% from three. These albatross contracts make it impossible for them to lure high-profile free agents. Additionally, throughout the course of the season minutes were continually siphoned away from first round pick Frank Ntilikina, so it is still a mystery as to what type of player he can be. Contractual and roster issues aside, the least attractive aspect of coaching the Knicks boils down to the uncertainty of Kristaps Porzingis and his torn ACL. The graph below displays WARP (wins above replacement) pre and post ACL tear.

Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 12.21.43 PM
Graph Credit: Kevin Pelton | ESPN

They have the ninth pick in the upcoming draft, but outside of Porzingis they have struck out more times than not. If Porzingis can not return to the unicorn that he was, then this has to be the least desirable job.

5. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have a more talented roster than the Knicks at the top, but the rest of it is comprised of G-Leaguers. Mike Conley is one of the better point guards in the league, although he is injured often, and Marc Gasol is still an above average, two-way center. After those two, the drop-off is considerable. Chandler Parsons used to be an exciting player but now he is little more than dead money. Ben McLemore, Andrew Harrison, Mario Chalmers (anymore), and a handful of other guys at the end of the bench will never contribute meaningful minutes on a playoff team. JaMychal Green is a versatile player and Dillon Brooks was a gem in the second round. That leaves them with four solid players. There is optimism though, as they have the second highest odds of winning the 2018 NBA Draft Lottery. The potential to draft a generational talent could make this job more enticing. However, with an insane amount of money committed to Conley and Parsons, the lack of promise on the roster, and the fact that Memphis has not been a desirable free agent destination; it seems like a tremendous uphill battle.

4. Charlotte Hornets

The Charlotte Hornets are a team that lacks direction. Assuming they opt in, $76 million/3 yrs committed to average play by Nic Batum, and $44 million/3 yrs for backup big at best, Cody Zeller. These contracts give them no wiggle room to sign free agents. The Hornets do have some nice young pieces though. Michael-Kidd Gilchrist is an elite defender when healthy, even though he can’t shoot to save his life. This year’s first round pick, Malik Monk, caught fire the final 10 games of the season and showed that he can be a streaky scorer, a la JR Smith or Nick Young. Dwayne Bacon, a second round pick, and Willy Hernangomez, acquired via a trade with the Knicks, displayed enough promise to warrant more minutes in the future and the potential to be serviceable rotation players. They have their first round pick in the upcoming draft, but this job would be more intriguing if the Hornets committed to trading Kemba Walker. The possibility of this was flirted with at the trade deadline, but nothing came to fruition. Walker is a proven scorer, game-changer, signed to a favorable contract, and the only player on the roster that could effectively kickstart a rebuild. Until new GM Mitch Kupchak trades or commits to not trading Kemba, this team and job will remain in flux.

3. Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic got off to a blistering start at 6-2. Things went downhill from there, but that flash in the pan showed what the young Magic could become. They have a crafty combo guard in Evan Fournier, a solid two-way player in Jonathan Simmons, and a unicorn overflowing with potential in Jonathan Isaac. That trio is under contract for the next four years. They also have the fifth highest odds of winning the upcoming draft lottery. Further, after the 2018-19 season they will be free from all of their bad contracts (Terrence Ross and Bismack Biyombo), giving them financial flexibility and oodles of cap room to build around that young trio. The largest conundrum they have is what to do with free agent to-be Aaron Gordon. Gordon has improved every year and had career highs across the board as the experiment of attempting to make him a wing player was finally abandoned. He is however seeking a max contract that would pay him $30 million annually. That would make him the fourth highest-paid player in the NBA, making the issue even more challenging. Commit all that money and hope he blossoms into a bonafide stud, or risk him reaching his potential on another team. Coaching the Orlando Magic is an appealing job. However, the team lacks a super star and the decision they make regarding Aaron Gordon is going to have major ramifications.

2. Phoenix Suns

The second most appealing coaching vacancy is the Phoenix Suns. Devin Booker averaged 25 points in his age-21 season and might be the best young guard in the NBA. TJ Warren has a game that would have thrived in the 90s. He is a crafty, 20 ppg scorer who gets all of his buckets inside the free-throw line or at the charity stripe. 2017 first round pick Josh Jackson is already a lockdown defender and rebounded from his early season shooting woes. That is a dynamic foundation, and it is coupled with a handful of intriguing players (Dragan Bender, Elfrid Payton, and Marquese Chriss). They have the best odds at winning the NBA Draft Lottery, and to put the cherry on top, the 16th pick in the draft via Miami. They have a budding superstar, franchise altering draft on the horizon, and a desirable location for free-agents. That is the formula for an appealing job.

1. Milwaukee Bucks

The most appealing job for any coach is the Milwaukee Bucks. Its appealing for one reason, Giannis Antetokuonmpo. He can do things on the basketball court that were previously thought impossible, and is an unquestioned top-8 player in the league as he averaged 27 ppg and 10 rpg as a 23 year-old. Here are his most freakish plays. The Bucks have had a string of inept coaches and are still a terrifying team. With the right coach who can properly utilize Giannis, this team is an NBA Finals contender. No job opening offers that potential and that is why it is number one.


Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer | Getty Images

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