At 30 and 40, the Warriors are once again out of the playoff picture. They’re once again placed in NBA anonymity. They’re once again a franchise very much in structural and organizational flux. And after this season is over, the Warriors will once again be looking for a new head coach. The Warriors caught lightning in a bottle with Don Nelson and the after though that was the “We Believe” movement. Keith Smart was Nelson’s head assistant and defensive coach (Yes, really) back when Nelson was sporting the turtleneck on the Warriors sidelines. Smart was given the keys to the Warriors once Joe Lacob decided to not bring back Nelson, and although Smart had been an admirable NBA assistant for years, it was clear that he was on a short leash. Lacob constantly stated his inclinations of making a big splash early (still waiting), and I think we’ll finally see some movement this coming off-season.
Yes, the Warriors are better, but compared to what? 27 wins? The Warriors couldn’t do any worse. As a man claimed to be a defensive coach, Smart has been Don Nelson 2.0. In the previous three season under Nelson, the Warriors ranked last in opponents PPG each year. Under Smart, the Warriors are 28th. His infatuation with jumper happy Acie Law is disturbing. His insertion of Ekpe Udoh into the lineup was long overdue. His team’s consistent strategy of getting down double digits in the first quarter, then to come back in the 4th and lose the game (known as a “good effort” by a certain play by play man) is dismal. It’s safe to assume that Keith Smart won’t be back next season. If the Warriors want to be a true playoff contender, and I mean a true playoff contender, these are the coaches they should take a hard look at.
Jeff Van Gundy:
The Warriors first call should be to this man. A defensive mastermind, Jeff Van Gundy would finally provide the Warriors with a proven, experienced defensive coach. Well respected in NBA circles, Van Gundy will provide the Warriors with a defensive mind that they haven’t seen in…well…ever. In his last stint in Houston, the Rockets were top five each season in both scoring defense and opponents PPG. Van Gundy’s career win total is 430 and 318, which includes a 41-40 record in the playoffs. In seasons in which Van Gundy coached all 82 games, his team finished with an above .500 record 7 out of 8 times. Are the Warriors read for a Van Gundy type coach? A technical, charismatic defensive architect? It would be a stark contrast from Smart, so the team would get a much needed reality check with JVG at the helm.
You might notice a trend between the first two coaches: DEFENSE. In five seasons with Cleveland, Brown had a record of 272 and 138 (42-29 in playoffs). Sure he had Lebron James, but who else did he really have? When Cleveland made it to the Finals in 2007, their starters (minus James) was Daniel Gibson, Sasha Pavlovic, Dwight Gooden and Big Z. Lebron could only do so much, hence, a series loss in only four games. Like Van Gundy, Brown is a defense first kind of guy. His lack of offensive firepower led to his demise in Cleveland. What do the Warriors have an abundance of? Offense. What do the Warriors desperately need? Defense. Hmm…seems like a perfect fit. Oh yeah, and Mike Brown was taught by Greg Popovich, the second best coach in the NBA behind one Phil Jackson.
The riskiest pick of the three coaches listed, Shaw is a current assistant coach with the Lakers. Deemed as “The Next Big Thing” in NBA coaching circles, Shaw was born in Oakland and has already interviewed for numerous coaching positions. Shaw has been claimed to be the coach in waiting after Phil Jackson retires, so whether he leaves the Lakers is still very much up in the air. But if there was one team I think he’ll take a hard look at, it’s the Warriors. It would be a homecoming for Shaw and he would coach in of the biggest markets in the league (Do I sound like Joe Lacob here? Sorry. Not intentional. Moving on). Shaw is also well versed in the scheme of the triangle offense. Whether that would fit in the Warriors is questionable, as the Warriors lack the necessary pieces to run the triangle (or any playoff caliber system). Shaw is a clear risk/reward proposition, and whether Lacob takes this risk on the Bay Area product, well, only time will tell.
So how about it Mr. Lacob? Which one do you prefer? Either way, it’s the smart move.