Seven of the NBA’s 30 head coaching jobs remain open as the league approaches the Finals, with many of the same names being bandied about by the franchises in need. We did those candidates a favor, ranking the seven openings from least attractive to best opportunity to build your résumé for the foreseeable future.
Best fit: Wes Unseld Jr.
Bradley Beal is one of the best scorers in the NBA. He also may not be long for the Wizards. Russell Westbrook has averaged a triple-double in four of the last five seasons. He is also owed $81 million over the next two seasons, a contract that makes reconstructing the roster around Beal a near-impossible task.
Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, Deni Avdija and Daniel Gafford have all shown flashes of potential as useful players moving forward, but this team really is what it is, and that is a sub-.500 team that topped out as first-round fodder for the Eastern Conference’s elite. And dealing Beal only kicks the can down the road.
Best fit: Darvin Ham
The Magic have been rebuilding for more than a decade, and what do they have to show for it? Their two most promising young players, Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz, suffered ACL injuries that could further slow their development, which was already considered to have a ceiling. They traded their three best players last season — Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier — for more picks and projects.
The roster is littered with guys like Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr., R.J. Hampton, Mo Bamba and Chuma Okeke, all of whom have a wide variance to what they could become, and the Magic have the Nos. 5 and 8 picks in this year’s draft to join them. That actually has to be a rather exciting proposition for a young coach committed to player development, so long as the organization is willing to match the patience it will take.
Best fit: Will Hardy
We are only a year removed from the Pacers winning two-thirds of their games on their way to a No. 4 seed. All-Star center Domantas Sabonis still mans the middle. Caris LeVert, Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner have histories contributing to winning and are all under contract for two more years. TJ Warren and Jeremy Lamb should be closer to their post-surgery peaks. There is quality depth throughout the roster.
This is a good job that first-time head coach Nate Bjorkgren was not ready for. On the other hand, his predecessor Nate McMillan — now coach of the Eastern Conference finalist Atlanta Hawks — never got out of the first round with a similarly talented roster. If the 45 years since the NBA/ABA merger or the two decades since their last Finals appearance are any indication, there has been a ceiling to what you can accomplish in Indiana, but before Bjorkgren’s tenure it was also a résumé-building job for quality coaches.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
Best fit: Becky Hammon
Damian Lillard is your point guard. That is attractive enough. No matter what concerns you have about the rest of the roster, you have an electric floor general whose loyalty and leadership have been unquestioned.
The Blazers are in a spin cycle, building around Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic for years, and it is time for general manger Neil Olshey to change the load. That means mortgaging the future to win now, even if it means parting with McCollum, and that is an exciting proposition. It is also a daunting one, since the last coach, Terry Stotts, was awfully good at the job, and a Western Conference finals wasn’t enough.
3. New Orleans Pelicans
Best fit: Mike D’Antoni
Neither the roster nor the flexibility of altering it are your concern. The Pelicans have Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, a host of young talent and eight first-round picks over the next five years. Lonzo Ball is a restricted free agent, the Steven Adams acquisition was a mistake and Eric Bledsoe is still on the roster, albeit on an expiring contract, but those are ancillary to the chance to unlock Williamson as a superstar.
The question is whether you can build a consistent winner in New Orleans. Only the Memphis Grizzlies play in a smaller market. Chris Paul and Anthony Davis maxed out as Western Conference semifinalists before wanting off the Pelicans, and there is real pressure to surpass them before Williamson considers the same.
2. Boston Celtics
Best fit: Chauncey Billups
The awkwardness of stepping into a role vacated by your new boss, Brad Stevens, will quickly subside when you realize you have 23-year-old Jayson Tatum and 24-year-old Jaylen Brown for at least the next three seasons. They have made two Eastern Conference finals together as the best players on the team.
The pieces around them may need to be refit, but Stevens already took the first step toward restructuring the roster and opening future cap space by swapping Kemba Walker for Al Horford last week. Boston has more solid young talent to mold, namely Robert Williams, and the hope that reinforcements are coming.
1. Dallas Mavericks
Best fit: Jamahl Mosley
Dysfunction may have torn asunder the Mavericks’ power structure, leading to the ousters of longtime general manager Donnie Nelson and head coach Rick Carlisle, but this is an opportunity to rebuild it around rising superstar Luka Doncic. If you were to redraft the entire NBA, Doncic might be the best bet to anchor a franchise for the next 15 years. The 22-year-old nearly just toppled Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers by himself, averaging a 36-8-10 for the series that did not seem out of the ordinary.
The viability of Kristaps Porzingis is a serious question mark on how the Mavericks build around Doncic for the next three seasons, but they are not without talent. So long as Doncic signs his supermax extension and you trust the next GM to make the right decisions moving forward, Dallas is the best job available.
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