ESPN’s Senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski appeared on the Keyshawn, Will and Zubin show a few days ago and issued an update on the New Orleans Pelicans head coaching search.
“New Orleans has really gone slowly. They’ve taken their time here. They haven’t really started formally interviewing candidates yet. I think they’ve just been doing a ton of background on a lot of different people.”
Following the dismissal of Alvin Gentry, David Griffin indicated the organization was going to take a slow but methodical approach in filling their coaching vacancy.
“No, we will not be quick with this at all. This is not a rush. 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 bubble — I mean, obviously, there are some that may not be – but for the most part, all of the candidates that you may want to talk to are still with teams in many circumstances.”
The Orlando bubble has whittled significantly in number since Griffin made this comment, but four teams remain (Lakers, Nuggets, Celtics, Heat). Could the Pelicans perhaps be interested in someone from those coaching staffs? Yes, I think that is a strong possibility when considering New Orleans isn’t holding formal interviews yet, some good candidates still reside inside the bubble and Griffin has a desire to sit down with each potential hire face-to-face.
“The virus itself is going to dictate some of our timeline. This (hiring process) isn’t going to be done solely via Zoom (conference calls). Depending on when we’re able to sit down and really get to know one another, we’ll have more updates from then on.”
Here are five names to remember. (Candidate ages are in parenthesis.)
Jay Larranaga (45): The eight-year Boston assistant coach was tied directly to openings with the Bucks, Hawks, Hornets and Knicks in 2018, but Larranaga has been considered a good candidate to lead a team for a lot longer than that.
Coaching is in his family’s genes, with his father, Jim Larranaga, serving in the business for almost 50 years. (Fox Sports analyst Antonio Daniels was a player of his at Bowling Green.)
Jay Larranaga has a wealth of experience outside of Boston too, playing for 12 seasons overseas and coaching collegiately, internationally and in the D-League, too.
Larranaga has drawn accolade for his individual work with Jayson Tatum, trying to get his defensive ability to match the level of his offensive output, and Marcus Smart, working on his jumpshot which included spending a whole offseason in Miami.
Part of the early head-butting between Smart and Larranaga was trying to get the player to change patterns that had worked for him. After all, Smart had not only become an NBA player, but a highly valued one despite his poor shooting.
For Smart, it was getting the right rest, getting the right treatment, watching the right film and consistently honing his craft. He needed to build better habits to reach a new level, even if he didn’t want to at first.
“The reason I love Coach Jay is he’s always been honest,” Smart said. “Regardless of whether I liked it or not, he didn’t care. He was going to tell me what I needed to hear not what I wanted to hear.”
Wes Unseld Jr. (44): The five-year Denver assistant coach (lead assistant the last four) was considered a heavy favorite for the Chicago head coaching job before Billy Donovan emerged the winner. Unseld Jr. also interviewed for the Cavaliers top coaching position the previous summer, which ultimately went to John Beilein.
Prior to sitting on the bench with the Nuggets, Unseld Jr. had filled assistant coaching positions with the Magic, Warriors and Wizards.
Unseld Jr. is most commonly associated with turning Denver’s defense around. In 2016-17, their defense ranked 29th among the 30 teams. It then improved to 23rd the following season, 10th in 2018-19, and then finished 16th this past season.
Most recently, Mike Malone praised Unseld Jr. for his defensive game plan against the Clippers in the playoffs.
“He manages our defense. I trust Wes to do his job. Our defense in the last three games has been phenomenal,” Malone said. “To hold that team to 33 points in the second half? I think last game they scored 35 in the second half. Against the highest-rated offense in the first round of the playoffs? That’s unheard of.
Jordi Fernandez (37): Another assistant coach on the Nuggets (who also interviewed for the Cavaliers’ vacancy in 2019), Fernandez might have the edge over Unseld Jr. because of a connection to Griffin. Although he was hired by then-Cavs GM Danny Ferry in 2009, Fernandez stayed with the Cleveland organization until 2016.
Asides his connection to New Orleans executive vice president of basketball operations, Fernandez might be the most interesting name on this list for another reason: he’s an academic.
Fernandez’s background in academia provides him with a unique perspective on coaching. His college degree is in sports sciences, and Fernandez is one completed academic article away from his PhD in sports psychology. He’s extensively studied and researched the observation of human behavior. In 2009, co-authored an academic article titled Identifying and analyzing the construction and effectiveness of offensive plays in basketball by using systematic observation.
Dan Craig (38): Although the Bulls have hired Donovan, Craig was granted permission to interview for the Chicago job. The Indiana Pacers still have him on their radar though.
Craig has operated in some capacity with the Heat organization since the 2003-04 season. In addition to being a part of three NBA championship teams, Craig led the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Miami’s D-League team, to a championship in 2016 and picked up the D-League Coach of the Year Award.
Two years ago, Erik Spoelstra said Craig was ready to be a head coach in the league.
“DC is much like myself, he started at the bottom,” Spoelstra said. “Learning the business from the video room of the Miami Heat is different, to say the least. The workload, the expectations, everything behind the scenes, it’s grunt work. It’s not for everybody. We’ve had a lot of people that quit and said this just wasn’t for them, but those that have been able to survive it end up gaining such an incredible wealth of knowledge in this profession at all levels.”
Chris Quinn (36): Another Heat assistant under Spoelstra, Quinn has also been linked to the Pacers’ vacancy.
Quinn spent four of his six seasons as an NBA player in Miami. Upon retirement, he became an assistant coach at Northwestern for the 2013-14 season and then moved on to the Heat’s bench the following year. He has served as the Director of Player Development the last four seasons, assisting most recently in the developments of Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro.
“Me and Quinny are very close,” Herro said. “Ever since I did my pre-draft workout here, he was someone that I built a relationship with. I put my trust in him. He trusts me. We continue to put work in every single day. We watch the film, jot down notes on what we see. We share it with each other. We look at what I’m doing wrong and continue to try and get better at that and improve my weaknesses.”
Spoelstra has also said that Quinn is destined to be a head coach in the league someday, and while his resume isn’t as long as Craig’s, it’s impossible to overlook the vast array of wonderful talent the Heat have developed in recent years.
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