As the search for the next head coach heats up, there are finally reports of the Pelicans interviewing a candidate, with Clippers assistant coach and former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue meeting in New Orleans on Friday.
David Griffin was vocal about looking to take his time and not rushing into a final decision. Whether that means multiple interviews or not, we’ll have to see, but Andrew Lopez did mention the likelihood of several candidates flying into town during the process.
My focus, however, regards the slate of questions to be posed to potential head coaches, and the answers Griffin, Trajan Langdon, Gayle Benson, and Swin Cash etc are looking for collectively. So I put together five questions I’d ask if I was apart of that brain trust, and what I’d look for from among the responses given.
I’ve been in management all throughout my personal life and not one interview or person is like the next. Some people give serial killer stares, some are too talkative, and others come in dressed like they’re attending a house party later.
I’ve had poor interviews eventually morph into great employees. I’ve see slam-dunk interviews lead to individuals soon quitting unexpectedly. There’s no sure fire way to know what you’re getting into. All you can do is trust your experience, instincts and the opinions of those available.
But the questions are what make the interview. So here’s what I’d construct for the Pelicans.
In a point guard- and wing-dominated game, do you believe Zion Williamson can be the best player in basketball? Do you think Brandon Ingram can join him as a top ten player without damaging team success?
This may look like a generic question, but it has many layers from my perspective. NBA championships are controlled by top talent. If you have at least one top 10 player, you should be in playoff contention, at no worst, every season.
If you have multiple stars, a championship should be the vision. But when you have the “best” overall player, there’s many ways to achieve that end goal. The “best” defy odds and roster construction. The thing about Williamson is, I don’t believe every person that is interviewed will have the same vision for him and his surrounding talent.
Some may want to feature Ingram prominently due to his playmaking and abilities as a three-level attacker. What if a candidate believes Ingram will be the better, more versatile basketball player moving forward, even if Williamson is more dominant?
How the interviewee goes into detail about their genuine beliefs on the two stars will tell you early about how they will look to instruct the team and what roster should work best in conjunction with their philosophy. If there’s any hesitation or unique view about this Pelicans core, it needs to be divulged in the interview process because...well...I’m building it damnit.
What went wrong for the Pelicans last season when they struggled immensely?
Another generic question, but I want to see if you’re kissing my ass or not.
Answers which begin with “You guys were rolling, injuries and bad luck just got in your way” are correct on short order, but they ignore the underlying problems on the Pelicans last season. I’d want to hear the honesty about the team being young, but also the need for more accountability, attention to detail and opinions on the organization — without taking an easy avenue like throwing the previous staff under the bus.
This answer should reveal the changes you expect to implement on day one of the job. If you don’t feel the defense had major holes, for instance, how can I trust you to address it properly, especially when it appears to be an Achilles heel of your two cornerstone players?
Can you develop young talent and make deep playoff runs at the same time?
I want to make sure my vision of the next 2-4 years matches the coach’s crystal ball right away. If the Pelicans are not competing for a championship, or at least making the occasion deep playoff run during that window, something has gone extremely wrong. But how they get there and through the obstacles that await will be key.
If a candidate believes the Pelicans are ready to compete for deep playoff runs right away under his potential watch then maybe players like Nickeil Alexander-Walker or a Jaxson Hayes may frustrate him or her in ways the previous staff could endure. And the thought of a Jrue Holiday trade? Forget about it?
On the flip-side, if there’s a belief that the team needs to take a more patient approach, that would impact draft and free agency plans. Considering the feelings of a myriad of fans that the franchise should be in the hunt for a playoff berth next season — even in a stacked Western Conference — this could cause conflict in several areas. Even if it proves to be the smartest pathway to longterm success.
With the preference of today’s generation to change their minds quickly, how do you teach accountability to young stars?
The Pelicans need to be coached harder and held to greater standards. I don’t know if a clone of Bobby Knight necessarily needs to be hired, but New Orleans next head coach must initiate hard conversations, no matter how awkward, with every player on the roster. Stars cannot be given greater leeway simply because of their standing in the league.
The stories of Gregg Popovich telling his best players beforehand he would chew them out in front of the team so that everyone else would fall in line are legendary. But they were crucial to San Antonio’s development. Everyone on a roster needs to see all individuals are held to close the same standard every single day.
So what I’m basically asking is, will you tell Zion he was lazy on a particular possession, or alert Jrue Holiday he took a bad shot which affected the teams’s flow? Will you tell Brandon Ingram he should have fought more through a good screen?
These are the things behind the scenes that help get the best out of a group and can eventually pave the way to championships.
David Griffin has preached about wanting “buy-in” from players. Having everyone on the same page is the most essential aspect to team growth. Establish that, then continuity can lead to real improvement and open doors to great success.
What do you think last season’s roster was missing?
Again my kiss-ass alert is looking to see if I get a complex answer in return, not just something flattering.
Will the candidate complement the team from last season as simply requiring more time together or address depth and talent crevices that need filling? Will they have the guts to tell me that I maybe missed the mark on a decision or two? I need input on what they feel is crucial to make their system or strategies pan out, not a notion of we’ll figure things out as we go along.
Then there is basic roster construction. Does he/she think a stretch 5 is needed? Does the team need a bigger backcourt? How about a true backup point guard? I need to know thoughts on Lonzo Ball and the potential for greater maturation. You have so many elements that affect others from this question alone, from ideal team building in today’s era, current player personnel, and future pieces. If we don’t agree on a certain aspect, I’d like to talk about it and see exactly where the disconnect lies.
Too often, we want those around us who agree with everything we believe and say. I’d want the head coach of the future to challenge me, disagree, and offer detailed reasoning towards opposite view points and perspectives.
Conflict should happen along the way, but one wants to avoid ingredients like passive aggressive energy. If something like that were to take hold, that could cause a ripple effect through the organization, causing it to collapse like a house of cards.
We’ve all witnessed instances of where certain information has been leaked to media, usually leading to greater discord and sometimes a point of no return. A coaching staff and the front office’s relationship must seek to maintain equilibrium and harmony, even through the rockiest of times.
You obviously can’t control those situations one hundred percent, but what you can do is notice right away if a candidate is more likely to be straight with you or decides to internalize certain feelings.
Something as simple as believing the center position is dead and maybe Zion Williamson is going to have to serve as the five of the future could lead to keeping a relationship secure and forthcoming or searching out other outlets for when frustration boils over because of some failure.