2020 NBA Head Coaching Carousel Recap

With some NBA team owners hit hard by the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic this year, there was some speculation earlier in 2020 that clubs may be less inclined to make head coaching changes.

Firing a head coach before his contract expires means remaining on the hook for the rest of the money owed to him while simultaneously starting to pay a new hire too. The expectation was that some teams may give their coaches one more year in the interest of saving some money.

While it’s possible that a couple teams took that approach, many didn’t. Nine of the NBA’s 30 teams – nearly a third – have made coaching changes since the league went on hiatus in March, turning 2020 into one of the biggest periods of coaching turnover in recent memory.

Here’s a recap of which teams have named new permanent head coaches over the last several months:

Brooklyn Nets

  • Hired: Steve Nash (story)
  • Replaced: Jacque Vaughn (interim)
  • Contract details: Four-year deal (link)
  • Other candidates who reportedly received consideration or interest: Vaughn, Jason Kidd, Tyronn Lue, Jeff Van Gundy, Ime Udoka, Gregg Popovich

Nash will be the third coach of 2020 in Brooklyn, taking over for Vaughn, who replaced Kenny Atkinson in March.

Following Atkinson’s dismissal, there was a belief that the Nets were seeking a more accomplished veteran coach to lead a roster headed by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. In Nash, Brooklyn didn’t exactly get a head coach with a lengthy résumé — the former two-time MVP has no previous coaching experience, even as an assistant.

However, Nash has a good relationship with Durant after spending time as a Warriors consultant, and the Nets’ hope is that the former point guard’s accomplishments as a player will help earn him the respect of the rest of the team’s veterans. Nash is considered a good communication and relationship-builder who will get help on the X’s and O’s from an experienced staff that includes his former head coach, Mike D’Antoni.

Chicago Bulls

  • Hired: Billy Donovan (story)
  • Replaced: Jim Boylen (story)
  • Contract details: Four-year deal (link)
  • Other candidates who reportedly received consideration or interest: Ime Udoka, Kenny Atkinson, Wes Unseld Jr., Darvin Ham, Stephen Silas, David Vanterpool, Jamahl Mosley, Dan Craig

When a team with a head coach on the hot seat hires a new president of basketball operations, it’s a safe bet a change is around the corner. That was the case in Chicago, as new Bulls executives Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley relieved Boylen of his duties, then hired Donovan five-and-a-half weeks later.

Chicago considered a wide range of candidates, most of them current assistant coaches, but the front office reportedly “aggressively pursued” Donovan once he became available, believing he was the best candidate on the market and the right fit to lead the Bulls’ promising young roster.

Houston Rockets

  • Hired: Stephen Silas (story)
  • Replaced: Mike D’Antoni (story)
  • Contract details: Four-year deal (link)
  • Other candidates who reportedly received consideration or interest: Jeff Van Gundy, John Lucas, Kenny Atkinson, David Vanterpool, Wes Unseld Jr., Tyronn Lue

D’Antoni wasn’t fired by the Rockets, but his time in Houston appeared to have run in its course, and the two sides went their separate ways when his contract expired at the end of the 2019/20 season.

The Rockets underwent some additional leadership changes during their coaching search when longtime general manager Daryl Morey stepped down from his position, leaving newly-promoted GM Rafael Stone to wrap up the process and finalize a hire.

Having narrowed their finalists to Silas, Van Gundy, and Lucas, the Rockets opted for the first-timer over the candidates with previous head coaching experience, though Lucas was retained as an assistant. With Morey no longer at the helm and his two stars expressing concern about the franchise’s direction, Silas will be under some pressure to navigate rough waters during his first few months in Houston.

Indiana Pacers

  • Hired: Nate Bjorkgren (story)
  • Replaced: Nate McMillan (story)
  • Contract details: Multiyear deal; exact terms not known (link)
  • Other candidates who reportedly received consideration or interest: Chris Finch, Mike D’Antoni, Chauncey Billups, Dan Craig, Chris Quinn, David Vanterpool, Jacque Vaughn, Nate Tibbetts, Becky Hammon, Will Hardy, Jamahl Mosley, Stephen Silas, Darvin Ham, Charles Lee, Ime Udoka, Pat Delany, Mike Brown, Dave Joerger

McMillan had done a pretty good job with the Pacers during the last few regular seasons, but the team never made it past the first round during that time, having been swept out of the playoffs in three of the last four years. There were also reportedly some complaints from players about McMillan’s coaching style.

After conducting a very wide-ranging search, Indiana landed on an under-the-radar candidate in Bjorkgren, who doesn’t have any previous NBA head coaching experience. The former Raptors assistant reportedly sold the Pacers on his ability to connect with players, as well as history of “innovation, adaptability and winning” as a G League head coach and NBA assistant.

Los Angeles Clippers

  • Hired: Tyronn Lue (story)
  • Replaced: Doc Rivers (story)
  • Contract details: Five-year deal (link)
  • Other candidates who reportedly received consideration or interest: Mike Brown, Sam Cassell, Wes Unseld Jr., Darvin Ham, Jeff Van Gundy

Even after the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead in the second round of the postseason against Denver, it didn’t seem likely that the team would replace Rivers, who admirably helped guide the franchise through the post-Donald Sterling era. However, team owner Steve Ballmer and president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank ultimately decided that a new voice was necessary.

That new voice will be a familiar one for Clippers players, as Lue spent the 2019/20 season as an assistant on Rivers’ staff. The thinking is that Lue got a first-hand look at what the club did wrong this past year and has his own ideas about how to address those issues going forward. We’ll see if that bet pays off.

New Orleans Pelicans

  • Hired: Stan Van Gundy (story)
  • Replaced: Alvin Gentry (story)
  • Contract details: Four-year deal (link)
  • Other candidates who reportedly received consideration or interest: Mike D’Antoni, Tyronn Lue, Kenny Atkinson, Jacque Vaughn

A disappointing showing during the summer restart – despite a soft schedule – sealed Gentry’s fate and prompted head of basketball operations David Griffin to launch his first coaching search since joining the Pelicans.

The team decided to hire Van Gundy, who was only willing to leave his broadcasting role for the right opportunity, and believes the New Orleans job is that opportunity. SVG’s last stint in Detroit didn’t go that well, but that was largely due to his personnel decisions as the team’s president of basketball ops. Those decisions weren’t taken into account by the Pelicans, who are enthusiastic about Van Gundy’s winning track record as a coach and his ability to teach a young roster.

New York Knicks

  • Hired: Tom Thibodeau (story)
  • Replaced: Mike Miller (interim)
  • Contract details: Five-year deal (link)
  • Other candidates who reportedly received consideration or interest: Miller, Kenny Atkinson, Mike Woodson, Ime Udoka, Pat Delany, Chris Fleming, Will Hardy, Jamahl Mosley, Mike Brown, Jason Kidd

The first team to complete its head coaching search, the Knicks had a leg up on most of the other clubs on this list because they didn’t participate in the NBA’s summer restart. That gave them a chance to take Thibodeau off the market before some contenders’ jobs opened up.

Thibodeau, who has a connection to new president of basketball operations Leon Rose through Rose’s old job at Creative Artists Agency, was always considered the Knicks’ preferred option, though the club conducted a thorough search. The rebuilding Knicks will present an even bigger challenge than Thibodeau’s teams in Chicago and Minnesota did, so it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts his coaching style.

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Hired: Mark Daigneault (story)
  • Replaced: Billy Donovan (story)
  • Contract details: Not known
  • Other candidates who reportedly received consideration or interest: David Vanterpool, Will Hardy, Will Weaver, Brian Keefe, Charles Lee, Adrian Griffin

With the Thunder considered likely to shift into rebuilding mode in the near future, Donovan wasn’t overly interested in returning and it made more sense for the team to look to more of a developmental specialist.

Oklahoma City found its new coach in-house, making Daigneault the first NBA head coach who previously coached his new team’s G League affiliate. An assistant on Donovan’s staff last season, Daigneault already has relationships with young building blocks like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, and Darius Bazley. He’ll get a chance to grow into his role on the sidelines as they grow into bigger on-court roles of their own.

Philadelphia 76ers

  • Hired: Doc Rivers (story)
  • Replaced: Brett Brown (story)
  • Contract details: Five-year deal (link)
  • Other candidates who reportedly received consideration or interest: Tyronn Lue, Mike D’Antoni, Ime Udoka, Dave Joerger, Darvin Ham, Mike Brown

Brown kept his job a year ago following a disappointing second-round exit from the postseason, but after an up-and-down season that saw the Sixers quickly dispatched in the first round of this year’s playoffs, the team wasted no time in letting him go.

The 76ers appeared to be zeroing in on Lue or D’Antoni, but when Rivers parted ways with the Clippers, Philadelphia changed direction and aggressively pursued him, reaching a deal just three days later. Rivers, who is widely respected by NBA players, will get the opportunity to see if he can make the most of the Joel Embiid/Ben Simmons pairing in 2020/21 and beyond.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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