Gregg Popovich is the longest-tenured NBA coach, having glared at sideline reporters since December 1996. But you knew that. The second-longest? Erik Spoelstra of the Heat, on the job since 2008, all of six years.
In the last year, Lionel Hollins, Vinny Del Negro, George Karl and now Mark Jackson lost their jobs. All of them won 50-plus games when they got shoved. Hollins went to the Western Conference finals. Del Negro set a team record for most wins. Karl was Coach of the Year. Jackson took the Warriors to the playoffs two straight years; before that, the Warriors made the playoffs once in 19 years.
It's a mad time in coaching right now. Or maybe, a sad time, if you're the sympathetic type. Winning counts but other factors come into play. And when they do, a coach can't win enough. How else can you explain the astonishing turnover rate among coaches who satisfy the most basic demand of the job?
As Jeff Van Gundy once said about owners and general managers: "If they don't get you on results, they get you on relationships."
Jackson had solid relationships with most of his players, with only a few exceptions (Andrew Bogut), and the one player who truly mattered, Steph Curry, was solidly in Jackson's corner. Normally this would work in a coach's favor, but when did normalcy ever count for anything? Warriors owner Joe Lacob, hypersensitive and hands on, didn't like Jackson's management style, and other nit-picky things about Jackson rubbed Lacob and other front-office types the wrong way. Jackson also lost two assistant coaches through weird circumstances in the middle of the season. And so, despite improving the Warriors' defense and taking the Clippers to seven games in the first round without Bogut, Jackson was shown the door. Insane.
"There were organizational issues," said Lacob, who didn't clarify. "It wasn't ideal. There are reasons. I would say it's based less on performance and slightly more based on overall philosophy."
Lacob put the Warriors in a tough position. Jackson was popular in the locker room and the fan base saw him as a refreshing change to the instability preceding him. If the next coach doesn't win 50 games or reach the second round, let the second-guessing begin … if it hasn't already.
Two more proven winners should watch their backs now. Depending on what happens over the next few weeks, Scott Brooks could feel heat in Oklahoma City. There's also the small possibility of Frank Vogel getting bounced after the Pacers secured best record in the East. With a shaky finish to the season, followed by a sloppy first round, anything's possible if the Pacers collapse against the Wizards.
Any team with an opening has plenty of options. Same for Steve Kerr, who never coached anywhere, but sounding smart on TV never hurt anyone's chances. Kerr was already offered the Knicks' job but is also on the wishlist of the Warriors. Kerr lives on the West Coast, which is why he didn't accept the Knicks job right away. He'll probably speak with the Warriors first and then decide.
Hollins, Jackson and Karl will get looks, with Jackson perhaps the most attractive of the three. He's the hot unemployed guy and would be a good fit with the Lakers, who want a big-name guy.
There's Stan Van Gundy, his brother Jeff (who seems like a TV lifer at this point), Mike Woodson and maybe Tom Thibodeau, if the Bulls agree to any compensation, or a half-dozen top young assistant coaches.
But the most intriguing candidate is working in college. Kevin Ollie is just three years removed from playing the NBA, and a few months from winning the national championship. That combination makes him irresistible. He'll interview with someone this summer, maybe OKC, his final NBA stop, unless he declines.
Here's how we handicap the teams on the coaching hunt:
Warriors. The new coach will inherit a thick fan base, a team coming off 51 wins and built to last, the Splash Brothers, a healthy (maybe) Bogut, a nucleus with a nice mix of veterans and youngsters. Plus, you get to live in the Bay Area. This could be the most attractive opening of the last 10 years.
The downside: You also get lots of expectations, maybe unrealistically so, and an impatient owner who constantly taps his fingers and toes.
You can win, but how much, and will it ever be enough to make anyone forget what the Warriors had in Jackson? Anything less than a trip to the conference finals will be greeted as a failure on some level. Also, there's the tricky task of winning over Curry, a strong advocate of Jackson.
No matter how many red flags are raised, the Warriors' job will be in demand and the destination of choice for unemployed coaches and even coaches with jobs. It's hard to imagine the Warriors being turned down by any reasonable candidate, unless Lacob turns them off, which is possible.
Lakers. The good news? You get to coach Kobe Bryant. The bad news? It's Kobe coming off injury with two years left on a contract that's probably his last. It's coaching Kobe knowing that, until he leaves, the urgency to win a championship will remain steep. It's coaching Kobe and dealing with his mood swings, especially if the Lakers struggle. It's coaching a superstar in his sunset years, which is always tough for a coach, rather than his prime.
But it's the Lakers, so it's an A-list gig.
The job becomes better, or worse, depending on two other factors: How quickly can the Lakers rebuild and how much support will come from owner Jim Buss? The new guy is at the mercy of an aging future Hall of Famer and an owner following in the impossible footsteps of his father. It might be better to succeed the guy who gets this job and then gets fired in two years.
Knicks. Whether or not they re-sign Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks won't begin to make a move in the right direction until two years from now, when the dead weight is removed from the cap and Phil Jackson can begin building the team in his vision. It's almost like getting a pass, and then dealing with expectations in 2015 or '16, depending on the roster. That's not such a bad deal.
There's also the pay, and the comfort of knowing that, even if everything goes wrong, the fans will blame owner Jim Dolan anyway.
Jazz. The franchise has a history of being patient with coaches, who work in a low-stress atmosphere, free of the hassles that come with working in a major media market. This makes the Jazz a nice option for a coach looking for what passes for stability in the NBA.
But the price for that is a potentially long rebuilding period. Utah lacks a player who could be considered a top-25 talent, or maybe even top 30. Trey Burke looks like a keeper, and if they re-sign him this summer, Gordon Hayward is another decent young player. Still, Utah is a tough choice for A-list free agents and winning will depend on management making smart draft decisions and trades.
Pistons. Hard to believe now, but the Pistons were among the best organizations around and very desirable for coaches. Now they're a mess, in the front office (vacant at the moment) and on the roster. At least the demands, in terms of winning, will be placed on hold until further notice.
Once the new coach figures how to work with Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, everything else will be a breeze.
Timberwolves. This is a job that will only attract someone desperate to break into the NBA or someone desperate to stay in the NBA. Any coach with career options will politely take a pass on what looks like a dead-end situation.
The Wolves are about to lose Kevin Love either via a trade this summer or free agency next summer, and the roster is loaded with marginal talent at best. If you like the realistic possibility of losing for the next few years and below-freezing temps, the Wolves have a job for you.