Brooklyn’s horrendous start is something that has baffled people around the league. A miserable 10-28 start has led to many questions, and not many answers found. Although the Nets wouldn’t have won a championship with their current roster, many expected them to challenge for a low playoff seed, which now looks bleak.
Their offense is non-existent, 95.2 points per game and their defense is mediocre at best, 102.5 points allowed per game. It’s feasible that Tony Brown remains the coach for the rest of the year, but I can’t see him staying past this season. The coaching free agent pool has some big names in it, including Mark Jackson, and recent fire Tom Thibodeau.
In the subsequent paragraphs, we’ll be looking at three potential coaching candidates who could wind up in Brooklyn this seasons, or for the 2016-17 season.
No, John Calipari isn’t one of them.
Nets Candidate 1: Tom Thibadeau
255-139 (.647%) in five seasons, 23-28 (.451%) in five playoff appearances
Fresh off five outstanding seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Coach Thibs was let go by the front office because of his inability to win in the playoffs — I’m assuming that’s why. His defense-first coaching style worked wonders for the Bulls, and only one season were they outside the top-10 in DRtg (2014-15 they ranked 11th). In theory, Thibs could do the same in Brooklyn with a healthy Nets roster.
Before his injury, rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson showed great defensive skills and hustle — two things Thibs loves. Markel Brown is another young prospect who could use his athleticism effectively on defense. In the middle, there’s Brook Lopez, the Nets’ superstar big man. Lopez is, believe it or not, a great rim protector. In four seasons, including 2015-16, he’s been top-10 in blocks & blocks per game and averaged more than 1.5 BPG in every season except one. Still in his prime, Lopez could emerge as a powerhouse defender when placed in a system like Thibadeau’s.
Nets Candidate 2: Jeff Van Gundy
The outspoken ESPN/ABC analyst is bound to have his name brought up when talking about coaching vacancies. As a head coach in the league, JVG spent seven with the Knicks and four with the Houston Rockets.
Van Gundy’s style is very similar to Thibodeau’s: a heavy focus on defense. No one Van Gundy’s teams never had a DRtg outside of the top-10, and his teams didn’t get out in transition very often. This year, the Nets have the 17th best pace in the league at 95.1 which, to me, signifies that they would rather play their offense in the half court — note that it’s also hard to get out & run with shotty defense.
Van Gundy is well respected in the basketball world and would serve as a great leader and mentor to a Nets team that could be deciding to go young. The one question that pops up is if Brooklyn can provide enough value, monetary included, to pull Van Gundy away from the broadcast booth and onto the sideline.
Nets Candidate 3: Mark Jackson
121-109 (.526%) in three seasons, 9-10 (.474%) in two playoff appearances
People will always wonder what would’ve happened in Golden State if they had stayed with Mark Jackson as their head coach. As many know, there was a lot of tension between Jackson and the Warriors’ front office, which makes sense why they fired him after a 51-win season.
Systematically speaking, I don’t think Brooklyn would be the right team for Jackson. His Warrior teams had multiple offensive weapons and loved to get out and run. The Nets don’t have any weapons outside of Brook Lopez and possess a below-average pace. However, Jackson could relish being back in his hometown and might alter his system if he wants to come back home.
Prokhorov has shown in the past that he has no problem overpaying for someone that he thinks will benefit his team. If this remains true, and Prokhorov can yank Van Gundy from his booth, I think JVG would do wonders for the Nets, and I’d pick him if there were no uncertainty.
However, as I’ve stated, Van Gundy might not want to come back and coach, and if that’s the case, I will pick Thibodeau over Jackson. I like all three options, but Thibodeau’s stress on defense and hustle is what I like about him as a coach. Despite not being “proven” in the playoffs, as a rookie HC, he took the Chicago Bulls — albeit behind a sensational team which included MVP Derrick Rose — to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the Miami Heat.
The coach can only do so much, however. At this juncture, it’s up to the front office to compile a team that has weapons that the coach can work with.
*Photo Credit: Noah K. Murray / USA TODAY – Sports*
*All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference*