Jeff Phelps: New Coaching Faces for Lakers, Hornets, Kings. Will It Work?

Get a degree in nursing. Perhaps learn a trade — something like carpentry or plumbing. Become an electrician. If you’re looking for a nice, stable profession, there are plenty of options out there. Being a head coach in the NBA isn’t one of them. Proof? Twenty-one of the NBA’s 30 teams have — or will have — head coaches who have been on the job for less than three years.Jeff Phelps

Despite those numbers, the current offseason seems less volatile than usual for head coaches. Only three teams fired their coach — Charlotte, Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers. Utah joined the fun when Quin Snyder resigned.

The different faces on benches in new places:

CHARLOTTE HORNETS – Steve Clifford

Steve Clifford wasn’t Plan A for Charlotte. Kenny Atkinson was, then he decided to stay with the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors as an assistant. Pretty sweet seat there next to Steve Kerr, I guess.

That said, I’m still trying to figure out exactly what Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan and General Manager Mitch Kupchak are thinking here. Is there any sort of a long range plan? Four years ago, the Hornets fired Steve Clifford — who had a .478 winning percentage and two trips to the playoffs in five seasons in Charlotte. He was replaced by James Borrego, who just finished his best season with the Hornets, a record of 43-39 and a 10th place finish in the East. Progress be damned, good-bye James, welcome back Steve.

I liked Clifford in his first go-round in Charlotte. Real solid coach. I like Borrego — he’ll get another chance and do well. And I have no issue with Clifford getting hired again in Charlotte. I think. Again, real solid coach. Issue here? Perhaps two good coaches just needed a little more time, and a little better talent on the roster. And those are things that the coach can’t control.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS – Darvin Ham

Frank Vogel took the Lakers to the NBA Championship in the Orlando bubble in 2020. Two years later he gets canned. And that, Darvin Ham, tells you all you need to know about life as LeBron James’ head coach. But Darvin knew that when he took the gig. Assuming he placed a phone call or two to fellas like Mike Brown or David Blatt or Luke Walton.

Coaching LeBron James, even a soon-to-be 38-year-old LeBron James, brings with it major expectations, as it should. He’s still an outstanding player who gives his team a chance to win big. We’re assuming Father Time will remain undefeated, but with LeBron, it just might take a bit longer than usual.

So Darvin Ham needs to get things rolling quickly. That’s unlikely to happen if he’s handed an old, mismatched and beat-up roster like the one that Vogel had to deal with last season.
It’s interesting that the Lakers have replaced Vogel with a first-time NBA head coach. But it worked for LeBron with Tyronn Lue in Cleveland in 2016, so you never know. Regardless, good luck Darvin.

SACRAMENTO KINGS – Mike Brown

Former Cavaliers and Lakers head coach Mike Brown spent the last six seasons as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won three NBA titles during those six seasons. If, (and it might be a big if), some of Steve Kerr’s offensive coaching brilliance actually rubbed off on Brown during those six seasons, then perhaps the Sacramento Kings have hired the guy the Cavs and the Lakers were hoping they hired years ago.

Brown had some good teams in Cleveland with a young LeBron James. Made it to the NBA Finals once. Brown had a pretty good season with the Lakers in 2011-12. Had a record of 41-25. But he had Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. A guy can win a lot of games coaching LeBron, Kobe and Pau. And Brown did.

But in the only season of his head coaching career when Brown wasn’t coaching LeBron or Kobe, he went 33-49 in Cleveland in 2013-14, a Cavs team that featured a 21-year-old Kyrie Irving.

Sacramento is Mike Brown’s chance — maybe his last chance — to show that he can really coach. Unfortunately, most coaches get little credit when they coach great players, and Brown didn’t when coaching LeBron and Kobe. The Kings have had 16 straight losing seasons. Luke Walton and Alvin Gentry coached them to just 30 wins last season.

Brown had the reputation of being a good defensive head coach. Offense? Well, he had LeBron and Kobe. Now he has De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, fourth overall pick Keegan Murray and some other interesting young talent. We’ll find out soon enough if Brown was valedictorian at the Kerr School of NBA Head Coaching.

UTAH JAZZ – To be determined

Usually it’s the team that tells a coach it’s time to go, that the guys need to hear a new voice. Not so for Quin Snyder in Utah. The Jazz tried to convince him to stick around for a ninth season and more. Snyder passed. Too bad for the Jazz and team guru Danny Ainge, because Snyder is one of the NBA’s best. He’ll be unemployed only as long as he wants to be.

As for the Jazz? They’re still in search of Snyder’s replacement, and don’t seem to be in any hurry to fill the spot. One thing’s for sure: Whoever they hire is unlikely to be as good as Snyder, and likely won’t be coaching the same team Snyder had last season. Could be a real offseason of change in Utah.

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