On Saturday, August 15th, the New Orleans Pelicans announced the end of head coach Alvin Gentry’s tenure and executive vice president David Griffin made clear that the organization will be in no rush to hire a successor, preaching patience in their process.
“We will not be quick with this at all. This is not a rush,” Griffin said in response to a question regarding the timetable. “We have a job that we believe is going to be the most attractive in the NBA, quite frankly. With all of the candidates still in the (Orlando) bubble – and there are some that may not be – candidates you may want to talk to are still with teams, in many circumstances.
So, let’s take a closer look at potential candidates who may be the right long-term fit to lead Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and the rest of the roster to the next level.
One thing I find interesting about NBA head coaching searches is the notion that any of us can predict what will work or not with any degree of success. We may all think that we know what makes a good coach, but we often fail to adequately analyze each situation individually and give real thought to a variety of important factors.
For instance, it isn’t talked about enough how poor organizations can stain coaching resumes. How did David Fizdale go from the hottest candidate on the market to being pushed down to the bottom of many lists following his short stint with the putrid New York Knicks?
In his recent piece on Fizdale, David Grubb found the right words to describe the hapless Knicks:
“Some things only exist to destroy. Hopes. Dreams. Careers. That’s just what the Knicks do.”
Fizdale never had a chance, sorry.
On the flip side, one can also drift into the perfect scenario. Steve Kerr will likely enter the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame one day, but how differently would he be remembered if he doesn’t begin his coaching career with Golden State — s Warriors team that by the time Kerr arrived had already taken their lumps, experienced adversity, and were ready to make that jump thanks to incredible talent and then a superstar deciding to join the Curry-Thompson-Green trio?
New Orleans Pelicans color analyst Antonio Daniels recently reiterated to the world that Greg Popovich was probably on his way to being fired in 1999 before the San Antonio Spurs came together and turned destiny around.
“We got off to a really rough start, and the expectations coming in were high because of Tim Duncan being Tim Duncan and David Robinson being David Robinson. We got off to a rough start, and Pop was a game or two away from being fired.”
As fate would have it, Daniels was soon a champion and the Spurs became the most enviable organization in all of sports for over 20 years.
“I will never forget it. I will ever forget it. We had discussed the fact that if we didn’t get this together, Pop was gone. We ended up winning that game in Houston and went on a really, really nice run after that.”
The examples don’t stop at Kerr and Pop. Who would have ever imagined Nick Nurse becoming an elite NBA coach based on his oversea and G-League success? Was Ty Lue’s championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers all on the shoulders of LeBron James or do we give this former head coach credit for the way he handled the biggest superstar in the league, personally challenging him in a manner not many had beforehand.
Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, and Erik Spoelstra all once walked into comfortable environments with hall of famers but not inordinate amounts of expectations. They all eventually became champions multiple times. Jackson and Riley sit on the Mount Rushmore of NBA coaches, and Spoelstra is writing a legacy of his own that could leave him mentioned in the same breath once he puts down the clipboard.
My elongated point being, selecting the right head coach isn’t as easy to identify as fans and experts make it seem.
Let’s circle back to the Pelicans for a second. David Griffin recently stated that he wanted a coach who will generate a really good amount of “buy-in.” (No, it isn’t just what you do when you lose your money at random poker tables.) This buy-in, from his perspective, pertains to respect, trust, and believability starting day one from and among the roster.
In today’s featured generation, this often translates to a head coach needing to possess the maturity of an OG but being young enough to remain relatable, recognized and respected by everyone in the locker room.
Enter in Vanderbilt’s current head coach, Jerry Stackhouse.
- 2015-16: Toronto Raptors assistant coach
- 2016-18: Raptors 905 head coach
- 2018-19: Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach
- 2019-present: Vanderbilt University head coach
- Led 2016-17 Raptors 905 to NBA G-League championship
- 2017 NBA G-League Coach of the year
- Finished first season at Vanderbilt with an SEC coach of the year vote
- Offense: Spread the floor, penetration with intent to finish, kick or swing
- Defense: Challenging shooters by any means
Potential for switch in playing styles
If you want buy-in to occur, it must start with your best players. Here’s Antonio Daniels again, this time explaining why on Eliot Clough’s podcast.
A clip from today's podcast of @adaniels33 describing what he believes the #Pelicans should look for in their next coach: pic.twitter.com/ij6ooFPhOH— Eliot Clough (@EliotClough) August 20, 2020
If you’re aware of Stackhouse’s coaching story and resume, he checks every box that Daniels mentioned in the link above.
Defense was the Achilles heel of the Pelicans last season and throughout the Alvin Gentry tenure. Sure, Gentry knows the importance of defense, preaching it along with his coaching assistants in many practices, meetings and press conferences. But first impressions are everything — the elements you empathize the strongest are the ones more often retained by listening ears.
Gentry is an offensive coach first and foremost, with perhaps his strongest asset being the ability to instill confidence in his players by allowing them to make mistakes. Giving a long leash and the opportunity to experiment through development can be a downfall to the results column though. As we witnessed, New Orleans never overcame their problem with high turnovers as playing with ultra pace was one of Gentry’s biggest teaching points.
Wonder what Jerry Stackhouse thinks about pace? In a podcast interview with Zach Lowe years back, Stackhouse stated:
“People say I may not like pace. I want to get out and run every opportunity we can, but if we don’t have something initially, let’s bring it back out, get into my Carolina secondary offense...I like the [three-pointers]. I like to have weakside action, making sure that guys aren’t stagnant and just standing, making sure that we’re keeping guys occupied...We want [the guys driving the ball] to finish, but if the helps comes, I want that corner filled, and I want that slot filled, so I can sit there blind.”
Sounds like basketball porn to me.
The major item to take away from Stackhouse’s resume, though, is he’s a coach who spotlights defense first on his agenda log. Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Alfonzo McKinnie played for Stackhouse with the Raptors 905, and in an interview with the Mercury News’ Mark Medina, he put it point-blank.
“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.”
To back that up, Stackhouse’s final season with the Raptors 905 concluded with the team finishing first in defensive rating.
Let’s start with the Toronto Raptors: Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Norman Powell have become large pieces of their success dating back to before the 2018-19 Championship Trophy. Every single player spent time with Stackhouse in the G-League and played large roles in the Raptors 905 success mentioned earlier.
Alfonzo McKinnie, Delon Wright, Malcolm Miller are also pro’s who spent time under Stackhouse, going on to produce valuable NBA minutes for stretches with winning teams individually.
Stackhouse takes player development seriously and has layers of evidence towards those he’s coached. It’s an element in his philosophy that he focuses strongly on, knowing the complexity behind every player in having a different story and thus needing a separate message.
What it takes to make the NBA, according to two-time NBA All Star and Raptors905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse. https://t.co/lOKvBVjins pic.twitter.com/VOLmn3xU0o— CBC Docs (@cbcdocs) April 3, 2018
Posting and Toasting, SB Nation’s New York Knicks’ affiliate, previously put together a phenomenal profile on Stackhouse, delving further into his mind in regards to development.
“Our player development piece was a huge piece,” Stackhouse told Zach Lowe in a podcast last summer. “LeBron James has his player development guy. Steph Curry. People say ‘Could that work with pro guys?’...You’re gonna still have some guys who wanna come in early...You have your player development set up to where you have that early group, the guys that wanna work out after practice, and guys that wanna come back at night...You gotta have structure. Not just coming in spot-shotting. Doing things that’s geared and built to our offense, and making sure guys are...practicing shots they’re gonna take when the game starts.”
When it comes to the Pelicans, they surely should have their eye on contention someday, making the playoffs sooner rather than later. But the development towards every player from the stars to the veteran reserves to young and upcoming talents must be addressed simultaneously during that process. Stackhouse has the experience and mindset to handle that workload.
If you want players to buy-in immediately, they’re going to have to relate to their head coach from the jump. They don’t have to like the same music or have similar hobbies, but they have to find something about themselves that they see in their leader.
A trust has to emerge between both sides that reads: “I’ve been there,” “I understand,” or “I deeply emphasize with your situation.”
Most players that have the playing career Stackhouse experienced don’t often become great head coaches. Perspectives get shaken. Whether they think it subconsciously or express it openly, there’s often a “Why can’t you do what I did?” type of energy present.
With Stackhouse, we’re talking about a player who was a consensus first team All-American coming out of high school, had his number 42 honored at North Carolina, and was a back-to-back NBA All-Star (2000, 2001).
As a number three overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft and compared to Micheal freaking Jordan, who would blame him if he wasn’t able to relate to everybody no matter the talent? You don’t think Lonzo Ball could use someone to break bread with like Stackhouse?
Of course, there’s also Stackhouse’s relationship with Brandon Ingram, who hails from the same hometown of Kinston, North Carolina, and a sister state to phenom Zion Williamson.
Stackhouse hasn’t coached Ingram outside of a brief AAU stint, but he has maintained a relationship with him, mentoring him every chance he gets per a 2017 Eastbay blog interview.
“He’s pretty much been one of my kids from a basketball standpoint. From the standpoint of trying to be a mentor, a positive role model to him.
“He’s taken that and become all of that himself to the kids coming up behind him. I’m proud of that fact just as much as I am proud of him turning into a really talented basketball player.”
Ingram returned that respect for Stackhouse in a similar manner a year later during an interview on Spectrum SportsNet.
“Mentally. Just trying to be the best I can, trying to make the best decisions for myself on and off the basketball court. Defensively, he (Stackhouse) helps me a lot. He always gets on me if I get back-cut in a game, or using a stick-hand in a game. He’s always looking at the small details of everything I do to make me a better person.”
I’m sure you’ve zeroed in on that line regarding defense, but understand that shows a relationship between two people valuing accountability — and one side allowing an OG to coach them.
It’s been said that there’s just a different level of toughness required to make it big from Ingram’s locale. Who better to get the absolute best out of BI than the biggest example from his field and from his stomping grounds? As Stackhouse has said about Ingram, they don’t raise no puppies out of Kinston.
Stackhouse has shown the ability to look beyond the surface of basketball and the player, focusing more on the person underneath. It’s a large reason that despite finishing last in SEC play during his first year at Vanderbilt, Stackhouse received a coach of the year vote.
“Stackhouse made the Commodores better,” Mike Wilson of the Knoxville News Sentinel wrote in a March article.
“He turned a freshman-reliant roster that played multiple walk-ons in most games into a team that won three of its final 10 regular-season games.
“Those quantifiable results were worth the vote, but seeing the improvement in the Commodores tipped the scale for Stackhouse.”
That’s what makes coaches great. They find a way to deliver when injuries hit, controversy arises or the odds just flat out feel insurmountable.
Throughout their time in New Orleans, the impression is that everything needed to align perfectly for the Hornets/Pelicans to achieve even the smallest amount of success. The room for error has seemingly always felt slim. Stackhouse would bring a mentality built on sheer adversity so the hope is he could turn whatever cards are dealt his way into a full house.
The current Pelicans are young but have incredible upside. Among the youth though, prideful veterans dot the roster too. The group needs greater structure, toughness and accountability. They’re all still puppies in a sense. With Stackhouse’s help, they could become dogs, and listening to Mike Conley Jr., one gets the sense that would become a reality.
“From my time being around him, he seems like he’s more of an intense coach,” Conley said. “Compared to some of the coaches we have, when he gets his chance to speak, he’s really aggressive with his motions, he’s throwing guys around, he’s getting into the drills. He’s very active and a hands-on guy. You can tell he knows what he’s talking about. We all look up to him like that’s (Jerry) Stackhouse. Everything he says, everybody pays attention to.”
The instant credibility which “Stack” has with the entire Memphis roster, one which features 11 players under 30, helps his message resonate with every player in the room, whether that’s 19-year-old rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. or Conley, the team’s elder statesman at 31 and longest-tenured player.
The current head coaching class isn’t getting enough credit for how deep it is, and the Pelicans have a job vacancy that is not only desirable today but for possibly the next decade thanks to Zion. When you’re sitting in such a prime position, the pick of the litter should be yours, yet how do you determine who is truly right for this job?
If given the opportunity, it’s difficult to surmise whether Stackhouse could succeed or if being a candidate is even realistic considering his current employment at Vanderbilt. However, there are not many coaching candidates with the connections, success and overall diversity as displayed on Stackhouse’s resume.
Looking for a coach in New Orleans who will generate maximum buy-in? I simply do not believe that there’s a better man for the job than Jerry Stackhouse. Let’s see the Pelicans push their “stack” of chips forward on an 18-year NBA veteran and a proven leader of men on numerous basketball levels.
For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @ImpatientBull.