Who would you like to see the New Orleans Pelicans hire at head coach? Why?
Kevin Barrios: David Vanterpool
I recently put out a top 10 list of coaching candidates on Twitter, but the top half of that list is very fluid. However, the guy that finds himself most often in the top three spots is David Vanterpool.
In his press conference following the Gentry dismissal, David Griffin stated that having a coach that can generate “buy-in” is the goal. As the disaster of last season was fading away and debates raged over who our next GM should be — while rumors of Gentry being retained or reassigned also swirled, Chris Conner and I wrote several articles breaking down candidates for GM and coach.
In the pertinent head coaching search article, I positioned that it would be a mistake to retain Gentry as the roster was sure to be overhauled (looming AD trade) so there was no need for continuity. I felt that a new culture had to be instilled from the ground up.
Now that Gentry’s free-wheeling, drunk uncle babysitting, hip substitute teacher offense first philosophy is gone, I feel there needs to be a shift in the other direction. Vanterpool is that, without bringing the negative authoritarian vibes of a Jim Boylen.
Vanterpool believes basketball — even practice — should be fun. He’s a defensive minded coach that is more of an educator and puzzle solver than a dictator. Before leaving for Minnesota, he spent years in Portland putting together a serviceable defense with a team full of average to below average defenders, which included a top 8 finish in 2017-18. You see the results on the court, but you also see the results in the press.
Players who have worked with Vanterpool — current and former — go out of their way to credit him with defensive tricks he has imparted to them. CJ McCollum credited Vanterpool for a move he used against Caris LeVert on what would have been a playoff busting shot for Portland had LeVert drained it.
Pat Connaughton has also tagged Vanterpool with teaching him ways to affect shots from behind “the rearview contest.” It suggests even if you are beat off the dribble, with effort, there is still a way to make a positive play.
When we look at this Pelicans’ roster, it is filled with guys who have physical attributes to become good defenders, but they aren’t there yet mentally. Vanterpool is that accelerant needed. As he said to Chris Hine of the Star Tribune back in January:
“The mental effort to understand, first of all, our own principles, it’s not a whole lot … but once we understand that, then we can get to the next step. Now I can get a little bit deeper into the opponent and what it is they’re trying to accomplish. So now it’s, OK, they make a call. They want to do this and how I can relay information to my teammates because we know what we want to create. All these guys are super athletes. They can run around. But without direction, without understanding principles that you have in place and without starting to understand the opponent even better? Then you’re just running around.”
Andrew Wiggins has praised Vanterpool for holding players accountable, how he pushes them and is very hands on in teaching techniques, but Wiggins also says that he’s also a players’ coach. Vanterpool is able to find that balance without sacrificing respect or likability. He was known as “The Dame Whisperer” in Portland because Lilliard would immediately go to Vanterpool after every timeout or every sub out to help him see the floor better. This relationship is constantly on display — even with Vanterpool now in Minnesota — as Dame constantly throws praise his way on social media.
A great relationship with your star is obviously important, but I also love that so many roleplayers also sing Vanterpool’s praises. His goal is to elevate the whole team, not just try to shine a diamond, and his defensive philosophy follows suit. It’s all about teamwork, communication and funneling.
A system with a clear direction that allows Trajan Langdon (with whom Vanterpool has a relationship with from their time in Russia) to easily identify targets in the draft, free agency and trade to build a cohesive and productive unit around the Zion and BI cornerstones — I believe that Vanterpool checks every box I want to see in the next head coach of the Pelicans.
Eliot Clough: Kenny Atkinson
One word — development. While he’s won plenty of games in this league considering an incredibly young core missing a superstar, Atkinson is known league-wide as a top-tier shaper of young talent. Having completely turned around the Nets from dismal 20-62 in 2016-2017 to 42-40 in 2018-2019 is pretty darn phenomenal, but at the same time he’s developed players who have sung his praises, including Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and D’Angelo Russell. The only one of which we would know of without Atkinson would be Russell — and he’d likely be recognized as a bust.
Atkinson brings the pedigree of being an assistant under Mike Budenholzer and Mike D’Antoni, already has a relationship with Trajan Langdon and has a proven track record of getting his players to buy-in. Should the Pels be able to retain Fred Vinson, New Orleans may be known as a holy ground for talented, young players who seek to make a jump in their careers. Perhaps Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson could transcend into superstardom quicker than anticipated.
Honorable mentions: David Fizdale, Darvin Ham and David Vanterpool.
Chris Conner: Jerry Stackhouse
David Griffin stated earlier this week that he wanted a coach that could generate “buy-in.”
In today’s featured generation, this often means someone old enough to be an OG but young enough to be relatable, recognized and respected. Jerry Stackhouse would be that kind of hire as he’s performed as a player and a coach at a high level.
There aren’t many candidates available that can relate to NOLA’s most important players from day one. For instance, Stackhouse hails from Kinston, NC. If that location sounds familiar, it’s because the Pelicans lone 2020 All-Star also calls that place home. Who better to coach Ingram than a mentor?
As Stackhouse once said of Ingram, “We don’t raise no puppies out of Kinston.” Playing with some of the most exciting and respected players throughout his career, you can imagine the stories he can tell. Though his stint with Micheal Jordan was brief in Washington, you think Zion Williamson wouldn’t want to hear every detail about his favorite players’ final days as a Wizard — good and bad?
Stack also knows what it’s like to be drafted high in the lottery and compared to all-time greats even if that wasn’t his destiny, the aforementioned Jordan in his case. Imagine the conversations he can have with Lonzo Ball.
And as for the defense? Ask former small forward Alfonzo McKinnie about Stackhouse’s approach. In a interview with the Mercury News’ Mark Medina, McKinnie had this to say:
“He was part of the reason my defense is the way it is now. I’m able to switch off on guards and guard wing players and point guards and stuff like that. He’s defense first. If you don’t play defense, you don’t play.”
If you’re interested in someone who can bring the best out of this New Orleans group, go grab the guy who won a G league championship with future NBA studs Fred Van Vleet and Pascal Siakam and was its Coach of the Year in 2017.
We gave Nick Nurse a chance after his run. Now it’s Stackhouse’s turn, and it’s well deserved.
Mike Delayo: Becky Hammon
Becky Hammon has been on the Spurs’ bench for over six years, a stretch that has included five trips to the postseason and multiple campaigns that surpassed expectations post-Kawhi Leonard.
To be perfectly honest, I have no idea how to evaluate a coach. The degree of influence one can exert on the development of players is totally lost on me, as is often the case when trying to distinguish between faulty execution and poor schematic design. What I do know, however, is that Gregg Popovich has proven capable of consistently extracting maximum value from his teams in large part because of his willingness to be fluid in his strategic approach.
Whether or not Hammon would be able to replicate such a phenomenon remains to be seen, but the fact that she has already been able to play a part in a successful version of that process is much more than most others on the market can say.
Jamile Dunn: Kenny Atkinson
The great news is that New Orleans will have its pick from several really talented options. There are other candidates that I would also be satisfied with like Jerry Stackhouse, David Vanterpool or Sam Cassell. However, while I love these three names, hiring a first time head coach is always a little bit of a risk so that gives an edge to an experienced head coach like Atkinson.
Having already developed a young roster in Brooklyn, Atkinson possesses talents and experiences that fit well with what New Orleans should be looking for. With one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Pelicans need a coach with the ability to grow talent, build a culture, and ultimately turn that culture and skill development into wins.
In Brooklyn, Atkinson oversaw and cultivated a collection of not so highly touted prospects like Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris. With a greater abundance of talented young players on the Pelicans roster, Atkinson could find success faster with New Orleans than he did in Brooklyn.
But the thing that impresses me most about Atkinson is his ability to build a culture. During his tenure in Brooklyn, players raved about the team’s culture which was developed both on and off the court and credited much of that to their head coach.
The connection between Atkinson and Trajan Langdon (the two worked together during their time with the Nets) cannot be overlooked. The two men also share the experience of playing professionally in Europe. Although they did not play together, I can see Langdon valuing a coach with international experience as he credits his overseas experience with making him a more well-rounded basketball evaluator.
David Grubb: A candidate who embodies an identity
I’m not as concerned about names as I am in criteria. It’s really easy for us to put out a wish list of names, and there are good cases for most of the candidates you’ll see. But, for the most part, hitting on the right coach is as much about timing as it is anything else.
If Magic Johnson doesn’t call for the ouster of Paul Westhead, we might never have heard of Pat Riley, for example. Coincidentally, Riley may not have had the opportunity to promote Erik Spoelstra, had Shaq not become frustrated with Stan Van Gundy.
But, championship franchises typically have an identity and a culture, and that comes from the top. So, any name that I could insert has likely been mentioned. I’m certain we’ve omitted some deserving candidates as well.
I want the New Orleans Pelicans to decide who they are and what they want to be. What does “Pelicans Basketball” look like?
The next coach has to embody that identity and be trusted with building it. Because, both players and coaches will come and go, but the identity of this franchise must be a constant.
Until and unless the Pelicans know who they are, they can’t expect someone to come in and lead them to where they want to be.
Oleh Kosel: Kenny Atkinson
Many will tell you that the most important trait for any NBA head coach to possess is the ability to effectively manage and communicate with the 15 players in a locker room. However, I feel that goes without saying today. Thus, it’s important to pinpoint other strengths vital for each particular job. Possessing three starters aged-22 or younger and having other multiple fresh-faces on the roster this past season, the Pelicans priority is clear as day: player development.
Atkinson’s resume is filled with a history of successfully molding players, from the time he spent under Mike D’Antoni in New York to Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta to grabbing the top spot with the Brooklyn Nets. Players like Jeremy Lin, Jeff Teague, Al Horford and many of the current Nets have lavished immense praise in Atkinson’s direction. That combined with improvements in all types of results speaks volumes.
I’ll go into greater detail later this week with an in-depth look at Atkinson, but having researched him fully alongside most of the other candidates already, I can confidently say that he feels like the best choice for New Orleans, a fantastic developer of talent who truly holds his players accountable while toeing the line brilliantly enough to maintain the moniker of “a player’s coach.”
Travis Tate: Ty Lue
What a tough question. The role of “coach” changes every day in the NBA, and comes with the huge question marks: what is the coach’s relationship with the players? What is the relationship with the star(s)? Can they institute a style that best takes advantage of his players’ abilities, or does he rely on a tried and true system? Do they develop young talent? Can they get along with the GM and/or owner? How are they with other staff, fans and the media?
All that goes to say that I’d love to have a coach with a championship ring and legitimate Xs-and-Os chops, albeit with the generation’s best player as your star. David Blatt, for instance, won a lot of games, but was let go because of his inability to connect with, well, most players, and prized his ego over meshing his style into the NBA game.
Mostly though, I’d like to see the roster pick up either a) some a**holes, or b) supremely competitive and smart defensive abilities to give this team more character.