Darko Rajakovic

Coaching Rumors: Raptors, Suns, Fizdale, Jack, Pistons, Jazz

The Raptors are now the only NBA team conducting an active head coaching search and shouldn’t face any real competition for any targets on their wish list. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll be content to have their search drag on for a few more weeks.

According to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link), the Raptors have scheduled their final round of interviews for this weekend and are expected to make a decision soon on Nick Nurse‘s replacement.

While specific groups of finalists were reported for certain head coaching searches in recent weeks, the Raptors have been pretty tight-lipped throughout their process, so we don’t have a clear picture of which candidates remain in the mix.

Lewenberg confirms that Sergio Scariolo is believed to be a finalist, as previously reported, and says Kings assistant Jordi Fernandez seems to still be in the running too. A separate report this week indicated that the Raptors also continue to consider Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic, but there may well be other finalists besides those three men.

Here are a few more coaching-related notes and rumors from around the NBA:

  • Plugged-in local reporter John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link) identifies veteran coach David Fizdale as a prime candidate to watch for one of the top spots on Frank Vogel‘s new Suns coaching staff.
  • Former NBA point guard Jarrett Jack, who was an assistant under Monty Williams with the Suns for the last two seasons, is believed to be a “priority” for Williams’ new staff with the Pistons, tweets Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports.
  • Former Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski will take over as the head coach of the Salt Lake City Stars, the Jazz’s G League affiliate, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The team issued a press release officially confirming the hiring. Former Stars head coach Scott Morrison will take a spot on Will Hardy‘s staff in Utah next season, as previously reported.

Atlantic Notes: Knicks, Maxey, Ujiri, Mazzulla

With general manager Scott Perry set to leave the Knicks later this summer, his replacement will likely come from within the organization if the position is filled at all, writes Steve Popper of Newsday. Popper states that the team already has the structure in place to handle Perry’s job duties, and his role has been diminishing for more than a year.

Senior basketball consultant Gersson Rosas could be named the new GM if ownership wants to appoint someone, Popper adds. Rosas spent 16 years in the Rockets’ front office, followed by shorter stays as general manager of the Mavericks and president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves. He served as the primary contact as the Knicks negotiated a Donovan Mitchell trade with the Jazz last summer, according to Popper.

Perry’s contract is believed to run through August, but sources tell Popper that he’s already being left out of pre-draft workouts. Perry’s duties are being handled by assistant GMs Frank Zanin, who’s in charge of pro scouting, and Walt Perrin, who handles college scouting. Rosas is performing most of the GM work, so Popper believes giving him the title would just be “a formality.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Knicks are in position to benefit from not paying a premium price to acquire Mitchell, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst states on his Hoop Collective podcast (video link). Windhorst notes that New York has the trade assets to pursue any star who becomes available this offseason, with a parcel of future draft picks and Evan Fournier‘s contract for salary-matching purposes.
  • Reaching an extension with Tyrese Maxey should be a priority for the Sixers this summer, contends Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He notes that Maxey has been a bargain after being selected with the 21st pick and states that the Sixers shouldn’t gamble by letting him reach restricted free agency in 2024. Maxey is eligible for a five-year deal worth up to a projected $213MM.
  • Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic is still in the mix to be the Raptors‘ next head coach, tweets Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. Rajakovic has been an assistant since 2014 and spent time with the Thunder and Suns as well.
  • Raptors executive Masai Ujiri remains passionate about winning 10 years after joining the organization, per Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Smith also looks at Ujiri’s five best and worst moves over the past decade.
  • Joe Mazzulla appears likely to return for another season as the Celtics‘ head coach, tweets Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe.

Coaching Rumors: Mazzulla, Bucks, Williams, Suns, Raptors, Nash

Celtics staffers, including president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, have shown “unwavering support” this season for head coach Joe Mazzulla, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, who says the sentiment as recently as last week was that Mazzulla would get plenty of runway to continue growing into the role he was thrust into following Ime Udoka‘s suspension last fall.

[RELATED: Joe Mazzulla In Jeopardy After Game 3 Loss?]

While it’s possible the Celtics could have a change of heart and decide to make a coaching change if the team is eliminated from the postseason in embarrassing fashion on Tuesday – or in the coming days – it would be a “stark change of direction” from the team’s original plan, Fischer writes.

While Fischer considers it unlikely that Mazzulla is replaced this offseason, he suggests that the Celtics’ coaching staff could undergo some significant changes, with multiple current assistants considered candidates to join Udoka with the Rockets. Frank Vogel and Stephen Silas are among the former head coaches who have been linked to the Celtics as possible assistant coach targets, Fischer notes.

Here’s more on the NBA’s coaching carousel from Fischer:

  • With the Bucks still focused on contending for championships with rosters built around Giannis Antetokounmpo, there’s some skepticism that Adrian Griffin – the only one of their three finalists without previous head coaching experience – will ultimately claim that job. However, Fischer acknowledges that Griffin has “certainly impressed” Bucks management during the interview process. Milwaukee’s search is expected to conclude this week, Fischer reports.
  • Many people around the league thought Monty Williams would be a serious candidate for the Bucks‘ coaching job and were surprised that he wasn’t a finalist in that process, per Fischer. The Pistons registered some interest in Williams, but he doesn’t appear to be in the mix for that job either and seems likely to take next season off, Fischer adds. James L. Edwards III of The Athletic also said Williams may not coach anywhere in 2023/24, which shouldn’t come as a surprise — he’s still owed $21MM by Phoenix, so it’s not as if he needs to rush into another position.
  • Former Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers is expected to receive consideration from the Suns, but Mike Budenholzer isn’t viewed as a likely candidate for Phoenix, Fischer writes.
  • The Raptors continue to take their time with their head coaching search, bringing back several candidates – including Kings assistant Jordi Fernandez and Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic – for second interviews, says Fischer. Many of the team’s initial meetings took place on Zoom, according to Fischer, who identifies Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson as a name to watch in Toronto’s search.
  • Steve Nash, who interviewed for the Raptors’ vacancy, is “determined to learn from his shortcomings” following his first coaching stint in Brooklyn and has a strong desire to earn another head coaching job at some point, Fischer writes.

Suns Get Permission To Interview Assistant Coaches

The Suns have begun the process to replace head coach Monty Williams, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who states that they have received permission to interview several assistants, including the Kings Jordi Fernandez, the Bucks Charles Lee and the GrizzliesDarko Rajakovic.

Lee has been reported as one of the finalists to fill the Pistons‘ head coaching vacancy, along with former UConn and Overtime Elite head coach Kevin Ollie and Pelicans assistant Jarron Collins. Detroit narrowed its list to three nearly two weeks ago, but may be waiting to see if Williams is interested before making a final decision.

Lee also interviewed for the opening with the Raptors and is considered to be a candidate to replace Mike Budenholzer in Milwaukee.

Fernandez interviewed with Toronto in late April and was mentioned as a candidate when the Hawks fired Nate McMillan in February. After spending six years as an assistant in Denver, Fernandez came to Sacramento as associate head coach last offseason when Mike Brown was hired.

Rajakovic is also on the Raptors’ list of coaching candidates. He has been in Memphis since 2020 after spending time as an assistant with the Thunder and Suns.

Raptors Taking Broad Approach To Head Coaching Search

The Raptors have been granted permission to interviews a number of prominent assistant coaches for their head coaching job, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.

Toronto parted ways with Nick Nurse, who coached them to a championship, after the season. The Warriors Kenny Atkinson, Bucks Charles Lee, Suns Kevin Young, Spurs Mitch Johnson, Kings Jordi Fernandez, Grizzlies Darko Rajakovic and Heat‘s Chris Quinn are among the assistant they plan to interview. However, that list could expand.

Lee is one of the top candidates for the Pistons’ head coaching vacancy. Atkinson, of course, was previously the Nets’ head coach.

The Raptors will also look at ex-NBA head coaches, as well as NCAA and WNBA coaches. Regarding the latter, they have gained permission to speak with former Spurs assistant and current Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon. She led the Aces to last year’s WNBA championship.

As previously reported, they are also expected to interview current assistant coach Adrian Griffin.

And-Ones: Coaching Candidates, Kirkwood, Garuba, Embiid

Suns assistant Kevin Young, Bucks assistants Darvin Ham and Charles Lee, Celtics assistant Will Hardy, Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic, Heat assistants Chris Quinn and Malik Allen, and Warriors assistants Mike Brown and Kenny Atkinson are among the assistants around the NBA who are viewed as potential head coaching candidates by league insiders, according to ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz (Insider-only link).

A number of the names on Arnovitz’s list have been linked to one or more of the NBA’s three current head coaching openings. Ham and Brown, for instance, all believed to be under consideration by all three of the Hornets, Lakers, and Kings.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Harvard senior guard Noah Kirkwood, who declared for the 2022 NBA draft as an early entrant, has decided to remain in the draft and go pro rather than using his final year of college eligibility, according to agent Ronnie Zeidel (Twitter link via Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports).
  • Rockets forward/center Usman Garuba said in an interview with Spanish outlet AS.com that he’s committed to representing Spain at this year’s EuroBasket competition, as Eurohoops relays.
  • In an intriguing bit of international basketball news, an RMC Sport report indicates that Sixers center Joel Embiid is exploring the possibility of obtaining French citizenship and representing France in future international events. Embiid was born in Cameroon, but has family from France and has never suited up for the Cameroonian national team.

Grizzlies Notes: Bane, Morant, Rajakovic, Harmony

Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane recently spoke to Sam Amick of The Athletic about a number of topics, including his upbringing, his breakout second season, the team’s success (56-26, the No. 2 seed in the West), and more. Here are a couple highlights:

On the pride he feels to find success despite unstable parents (he was raised by his great-grandparents):

“I’m super proud. I mean, it’s hard for me to even put into words. From a young age, from the very beginning, I didn’t really have any stability. My great-grandparents gave me that. My mom was in and out of jail, and I never met my dad.

“… So to be able to accomplish what I’ve accomplished and have a career and, like you said, be able to affect so many people, it’s hard to put into words. When (my great-grandparents) passed last year during my first season, there was a lot of change there too. I mean, that’s kind of been the story of my life. I moved to Memphis, a place I’d never been, (my great-grandparents) pass, I get a new house and I’ve got my girl over there, but you know, just a lot of moving parts. But I feel stable now. And like I said, Memphis has wrapped their arms around me, and I love it here.”

On the Grizzlies’ belief that they can win a title this season:

“We definitely think that we’re more than capable of doing it. I mean, we’re a young team. But like you said, we carry that chip on our shoulder and we move around like a team that has been here before. So we’re definitely excited and looking forward to the opportunity.”

As a former first-round pick (No. 30 overall in 2020), Bane will be eligible for a rookie scale extension after his third season in 2022/23 and is sure to receive a significant raise. The 23-year-old averaged 18.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals on .461/.436/.903 shooting in 76 games (29.8 minutes) this season.

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times spoke to an aerial artist, a skateboarder, a BMX rider and a skateboarding instructor about Ja Morant‘s gravity-defying dunks. All of the aforementioned interviewees see parallels between Morant’s acrobatics and their own.
  • Assistant coach Darko Rajakovic has been instrumental to the team’s player development, according to Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. “Darko just doesn’t care who you are, what your role is on the team,” Ziaire Williams said. “He just wants you to be the best you possibly can be. That’s what I love him about the most.” The Grizzlies went 4-1 under Rajakovic this season when head coach Taylor Jenkins was in the league’s health and safety protocols.
  • Mark Giannotto of The Memphis Commercial Appeal details how the team has found organizational harmony under the leadership of GM Zach Kleiman and Jenkins. “The synergy is unbelievable,” Jenkins said. “The trust that (team owner) Robert (Pera) has for Zach, myself, in obviously building the team and coaching the team. The trust that Zach has in me. We do a great job of pushing each other because if we want to elevate this organization, this team to do great things and win championships, we’ve got to push each other.”

Grizzlies Notes: Trade Deadline, Rajakovic, J. Brown

The Grizzlies have been one of the NBA’s most pleasant surprises so far this season. Despite missing star guard Ja Morant for nearly a third of their games, the Grizzlies have a 28-14 record, good for fourth in the Western Conference. Memphis has a five-game cushion on the No. 5 Mavericks and is currently riding a nine-game winning streak.

Although the Grizzlies’ success makes them a candidate to be a buyer at the trade deadline next month, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said during an appearance on NBA Today on Monday that he doesn’t expect the club to take a big swing.

“They love this roster right now,” Wojnarowski said (video link). “I think it would take a pretty unique opportunity for them to do anything dramatic. There’s always some things around the edges.”

As Woj points out, the Grizzlies may be better positioned to do something more significant in the offseason, when they could have approximately $20MM in cap room and as many as three first-round picks — in addition to their own first-rounder, they control Utah’s pick (top-six protected) and the Lakers’ selection (top-10 protected).

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • Assistant coach Darko Rajakovic will serve as the Grizzlies’ acting head coach on Tuesday night vs. Golden State, reports Wojnarowski (via Twitter). With Taylor Jenkins and Rajakovic both in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, assistant Brad Jones filled in as the acting head coach for one game on Saturday. Rajakovic has since cleared the protocols.
  • Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian considers how the Grizzlies should approach the trade deadline, pointing out that the team has enough assets to make a major trade, but could find itself caught between its present and future goals. As much as Memphis may want to upgrade the current roster, the team also recognizes that many of its players still have room to improve and might not reach their prime for a couple more years. Herrington identifies Jaylen Brown as one player he’d be prepared to go “all-in” for, but acknowledges the Celtics are very unlikely to move Brown at this year’s deadline.
  • In case you missed it, Ja Morant was named the Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday for the second week in a row — he’s the first player to earn the honor in back-to-back weeks so far this season and is the only player in the West to win the award so far in 2022.

And-Ones: Coach K, Fan Conduct, Williams-Goss, Coaching Candidates

Longtime Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski has decided to retire following the upcoming 2021/2022 college basketball season, reports Jeff Goodman of Stadium (via Twitter). Coach K has helmed the Duke program since 1980, and has been key in ushering in the era of one-and-done college players and collegiate recruiting battles.

During his tenure as head coach, Krzyzewski led the team to five national titles and 12 Final Fours, and with two potential top freshman on next year’s roster in Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin, he will look to end his storied career with one final title run.

Goodman also reports that assistant coach Jon Scheyer is the leading candidate to replace Krzyzewski. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirms (via Twitter) that Scheyer is considered Duke’s coach-in-waiting.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • As fan-related incidents continue to occur around the league, the NBA has instituted new measures in an attempt to prevent fan misconduct, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. These policies include: encouraging teams/arenas to pursue legal recourse against such actions, enhanced security, and a “code of conduct” message to be broadcast multiple times throughout the game.
  • Former Jazz point guard Nigel Williams-Goss has agreed to a two-year deal with Real Madrid, per Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. The 6’2″ point guard played 15 games for PBC Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia this season, averaging 17 points and 5.9 assists while shooting 46% from three.
  • Although the Celtics are the only team with a head coach vacancy so far this summer, there are plenty of enticing first-time head coach options available, writes Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN. Among them: Patrick Ewing, Chauncey Billups, Will Weaver, and Darko Rajakovic. Arnovitz uses present success stories to detail what front offices are looking for in a first time head coach and what attributes can make them successful.
  • Now that the first season of the Basketball Africa League has ended and Egypt’s Zamalek has been crowned champions, the league is looking ahead and planning its 2022 season, writes Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated.  “The biggest triumph? Maybe it was just making it to reality,” BAL President Amadou Fall said, regarding the first season of the new league. “Just a long time coming and just being the culmination of many decades of work and engagement by the NBA across the continent, committed to growing the game. And now, it has established a complete pathway for basketball development from grassroots to elites and just league.” Those in and around the league are hoping that as the BAL grows, it will attract more and more viewers and participants from around the country. Though none of the players this season are expected to draw attention from NBA teams, Fall expects that to change soon. “This is the first time that this league is here,” Zamalek’s Walter Hodge said upon receiving the Hakeem Olajuwon MVP award. “And it’s going to be here for a long time.”

Darko Rajakovic Joins Grizzlies’ Coaching Staff

The Grizzlies have added former Suns assistant Darko Rajakovic to Taylor Jenkins’ coaching staff, according to Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. It’s the second hire in three days for Memphis, which welcomed Sonia Raman on Friday.

Rajakovic, 41, spent one season in Phoenix after joining new coach Monty Williams’ staff last summer. He served as an assistant with the Thunder from 2014-19 and coached Oklahoma’s G League affiliate from 2012-14. Rajakovic will replace Neven Spahija, who has accepted an overseas coaching job.

“I’m very excited to join Taylor’s staff and the Grizzlies organization,” Rajakovic said in a prepared statement. “This is a unique opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the growth of a highly competitive and sustainable program in Memphis.”

Rajakovic was as an assistant on the Serbian national team during last year’s FIBA World Cup. He has built a reputation for developing players, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, which makes him a perfect addition with all the young talent in Memphis.

“We are all so excited to be welcoming Darko to the Memphis Grizzlies,” Jenkins said. “He has shown a passion, drive, high basketball IQ, and love for teaching the game of basketball at a high level both internationally and in the NBA. His addition to our great coaching staff will continue to help enhance the development of our players, staff and team for the future.”