The plane is on autopilot right now.
That’s fine. It’s in the middle of the flight. There’s no turbulence. It’s gliding through the smoothest air particles possible as it graces over the Pacific. But the plane is still on autopilot and it needs to land eventually.
The Clippers have to find their pilot.
As of now, there are too many candidates. How many names have we heard that are in the running? How many names have we heard that are out of the running? Somehow, Stan Van Gundy is in both of those categories. It’s countless. It’s confusion. Basically, it’s just a coaching search.
A change is gonna come. The times they are a-changin’. A change will do you do you good. Other change-related song titles.
It’s early in the search, but for the first time, the Clippers are a desirable coaching destination. This job used to be a castaway to Flynt, Michigan to go see the in-laws over your holiday break. Now it’s a two-week vacation to a resort in Antigua. Chris Paul (return-pending) and Blake Griffin have that sort of vacation-twisting effect on a franchise.
Some of the coaches rumored to head to Antigua are fit for the job. Others, not so much. And some more are just rumored because Regina George thinks rumors are fun. So without further ado, here are the top candidates for the job, Clipper Coach Power Rankings:
12. David Blatt
Blatt is currently the coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv and has as decorated a coaching pedigree as anyone overseas. He spent last summer as the coach of the Russian national team at the Olympics, helping lead his squad to a bronze medal. Blatt is smart (he played at Princeton), a good schemer, and seems like he should be able to coach in the NBA. But hiring a guy from over international waters will always be considered a risk. The Clippers hiring Blatt almost definitely wouldn’t happen – considering it would be relatively unprecedented to hire a coach who has spent his whole career overseas – but Blatt deserves an NBA job somewhere at some point.
11. Robert Pack
Pack is gaining respect around the league and momentum for him to land a head coaching job is certainly building, but hiring him right out of the Clippers’ assistant ranks seems like it might be a lateral move. Staying consistent with the coaching staff would be odd to do after such a strangely coached past couple of seasons under Vinny Del Negro.
10. Byron Scott
Scott will be enticing for the Clippers because of the offset in his contract. The Cavaliers still owe him $4 million for this season. That means if another team signs him, that team can offer a cheaper deal for that first year. It’s the same offset clause that led the Clippers to sign Vinny Del Negro after the Bulls fired him in 2010. Scott had strong defensive teams in New Jersey, but after losing his best defensive assistant, Lawrence Frank, his defenses have never really been the same. He’s not necessarily known for his X’s and O’s, but his history with Chris Paul in addition to that offset make him a realistic choice for the next Clippers head coach.
9. Brian Shaw
How many offseasons in a row is this that Shaw has been a prime candidate for a head coaching position? 15? Are we at 20 years yet? It’s been a while and yet, Shaw still hasn’t landed a job he wants. (Charlotte offered him its head coaching position last year, but Shaw turned the Bobcats down.) He has the Los Angeles connection from all of that time with the Lakers and his former players seem to consistently show overwhelming support in his quest to become a leading man, but is Shaw the right guy for the Clippers? He has spent plenty of time running the triangle in his career. Would he want to do that in L.A.? Is a system that takes the ball out of the point guard’s hands best for a team that has Chris Paul? For Shaw and the Clippers, the biggest questions aren’t so much about qualifications as much as they are about fit.
8. Lionel Hollins
Hollins is in the Del Negro category in some ways. He led the Grizzlies to a franchise-record 56 wins in the regular season (just like Vinny) and though he’s taken Memphis to the Western Conference Finals, Hollins struggles with similar aspects of the game as Del Negro did. He didn’t solidify his rotations at all in the regular season and struggled to find the guys he liked by game 82. Meanwhile, he’s outwardly against advanced statistics and publicly opposed management after the Rudy Gay trade. If you weren’t a fan of Del Negro’s style, Hollins won’t be one to cleanse your palate.
7. Alvin Gentry
Could Gentry come back for round two in L.A.? The recently-departed Phoenix coach headed up the Clippers for three years from the 2000-01 season to the 2002-03 season. Gentry’s Suns teams never finished better than 23rd in the NBA in defensive rating in his four-plus seasons as their coach. Led by Steve Nash, they were, however, consistently in the top 10 in the league in offensive rating. Most impressive was a 2009-10 team that made the Western Conference Finals and had the best offensive rating in the league.
6. Nate McMillan
McMillan might be a more interesting choice than most people consider him to be. His defenses when he coached in Portland were almost always better than league average. He also has a preexisting relationship with Chris Paul from his time as an assistant coach for Team USA. He ran a decent amount of pick-and-roll with the Trail Blazers, which helped LaMarcus Aldridge improve. That screen-and-roll would be even more effective with Blake Griffin and Paul.
5. Mike Budenholzer
Budenholzer is the definition of a man that has put in his work. He’s been with the Spurs organization since the 1994-95 season, when he started as a video coordinator. Now, he’s Gregg Popovich’s lead assistant on the bench. The biggest positive for Budenholzer: he’d be coming from the Spurs. It might be safe to assume that no other assistant out there has been farmed quite like him.
4. Phil Jackson
Ha! Just kidding.
3. Mike Malone
Malone is a Warriors’ assistant coach that is generally credited with mending the X’s and O’s of the Golden State offense, but it’s not just Malone’s success in Oakland that makes him an ideal candidate for the Clippers. He spent two years as an assistant in New Orleans before heading to the Warriors for this season and who did he build a relationship with while in the Big Easy? Chris Paul, who according to some reports, has Malone on a short list for his choice as Clippers coach.
2. The Brothers Van Gundy
I’m still all in on a Van Gundy-Van Gundy coaching duo. What could possibly be better than that? Maybe from a winning perspective, it wouldn’t work. Too much head clashing. But the bickering – oh the bickering! – would be stupendous. However, if you do prioritize winning actual games over hysterical arguments, either Van Gundy would still be a wonderful pick to run the Clippers next year, though both have indicated that they might be more likely to sit out next season than to get back into coaching. Jeff hasn’t coached since 2006-07 and Stan missed all of this past season. If one of them does decide to come back, though, that would be a superb get for the Clips. Both brothers are defensive-minded coaches, who have worked with big centers anchoring their defenses (Dwight Howard and Yao Ming). They could both do a lot of good for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin on that side of the ball.
1. Jerry Sloan
If you can get a coach that is 418 games over .500 in his career, has a .603 winning percentage, and has been to two NBA Finals, that’s something you should probably try to do. But it’s not just the winning in Sloan’s past that should make him so enticing for the Clippers; it’s also the way he won with hard-nosed defense and efficient offense. Sloan was the designer for the most deadly pick-and-roll combination of all time: John Stockton to Karl Malone. Imagine what he might be able to do with Paul and Griffin, who already make arguably the best pick-and-roll tandem in the NBA. Sloan may not ever come back to coaching, but he was willing to listen to Milwaukee’s pitch of the Bucks’ job and if he was at the very least prepared to hear out Bucks general manager John Hammond on one of the more mediocre jobs in the NBA, then it’s worth it for the Clippers to reach out to him, as well.