As word quickly traveled that the Washington Wizards were parting ways with Scott Brooks, general manager Tommy Sheppard’s cell phone started to light up. There was no shortage of suitors who were already expressing interest in the team’s coaching vacancy, he said.
“I’m getting bombarded,” Sheppard said.
Perhaps Sheppard was trying to quell concerns or hype up the franchise given that there are five other teams in search of a new coach. But after moving on from Brooks following five seasons, one thing is clear: Sheppard will get to choose who he feels is best for the franchise after inheriting Brooks upon his front office promotion in 2019.
This will be Sheppard’s first coaching hire, and he could go any direction with it. For example, does he want an experienced veteran to lead stars Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook? Or does he prefer an up-and-coming candidate who might be better equipped if the Wizards are forced to take a sudden change of direction? Sheppard could even look to make history, leaving open the possibility the team could hire the league’s first woman head coach.
“The process that we’re going to go through is going to be very thorough, very diverse, very robust search,” he said.
The list of candidates that the Wizards plan to interview hasn’t been disclosed, but here’s a look at potential options, based on the different kinds of coaches that are out there.
The ‘been here before’ experienced option: Recycling is big in the NBA, and if the Wizards want to go that route, some possibilities include Terry Stotts, Steve Clifford or Jason Kidd
The Portland Trail Blazers fired Stotts earlier this month after another disappointing playoff exit, but the 63-year-old is already drawing interest as the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers want to interview him.
Stotts could be an intriguing fit given that he knows what it’s like to coach a star-studded backcourt with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Sheppard said he wanted someone who could “make life easier” for Beal when he’s double-teamed. The Blazers boosted a top 10 offense in six of Stotts’ nine seasons. Portland also went to the playoffs in all but one of those years.
The downside is that Stotts doesn’t exactly carry a defensive pedigree — an area Washington desperately needs to improve. The Blazers held the league’s second-worst defensive rating this past year, according to Basketball-Reference.
If Washington wants to go for a more defensive-minded coach who has experience, Clifford (formerly with Orlando and Charlotte) and Kidd (Brooklyn, Milwaukee) make sense.
The ‘give me a chance’ lead assistant: Wes Unseld Jr., Chauncey Billups or Sam Cassell.
Unseld Jr. would be a very Wizards-y move given that his father, Wes Unseld, was a franchise staple — from player to coach to general manager. Despite the familiarity, the younger Unseld has cut his teeth as an assistant for the last 16 years. He’s spent the last six of those in Denver, where he was promoted to associate head coach this past year.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone credited Unseld as the team’s “defensive coordinator” and praised him as Denver erased a 3-1 deficit last year against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I hope I don’t have the same staff next year,” Malone told a local radio station after the 2020 season. “Wes Unseld Jr. should be a head coach. … He’s more than ready to be a head coach.”
If the Wizards wanted to look at another former assistant, there’s Cassell — currently with the Philadelphia 76ers and has been with Doc Rivers since 2014. Billups, a former NBA finals MVP, is perhaps the hottest name on the market, with the Blazers and the Celtics reportedly interested.
The ‘shatter the glass … um … backboard’ hire: Kara Lawson, Becky Hammon or Teresa Weatherspoon.
Hammon has been long floated as the NBA’s first female head coach, but Lawson might make more sense for the Wizards. After all, she served as the team’s color commentator for two seasons — making her well versed with the organization.
Make no mistake: Despite the television experience, Lawson has serious coaching chops. She is the Duke women’s basketball coach and served as an assistant under Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics. She was a decorated collegiate and WNBA player, as well.
Hammon, meanwhile, has spent the last six seasons with the Spurs under Gregg Popovich. Last December, Hammon assumed in-game coaching duties over the Spurs after Popovich was ejected. Hammon has held multiple interviews with teams (Indiana, Milwaukee) in the past and is again getting consideration this year.
Weatherspoon is another rising assistant. She was floated as an option for the Pelicans after New Orleans fired Stan Van Gundy on Wednesday.