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Who Will Replace Scott Brooks As Wizards Head Coach?

After two weeks of pondering which direction to go, the Wizards finally decided to move on from head coach Scott Brooks.

Now comes the hard part: Who do the Wizards replace him with?

At this stage, the team hasn’t offered a list of candidates to replace Brooks. My impression is that they want to undergo a thorough interview process before deciding on anyone – or even narrowing the field considerably.

When it comes to predicting who the next coach might be, all I can do is guess. So, rather than guessing, I’ll offer up what I believe to be a fairly all-inclusive list of any possibilities.

Once the team provides any clarity on who they’re most interested in, I will provide any and all updates.

Kenny Atkinson

Playing Career: 14 seasons (mostly overseas)

Coaching Career: Paris assistant (2004–06), New York Knicks assistant (2008–12), Atlanta Hawks assistant (2012–16), Brooklyn Nets head coach (2016–20), Los Angeles Clippers assistant (2020–present)

Profile: For four years, Atkinson was the head coach of the Nets. Although his win/loss record as their leader was less than desirable at face value, the roster he was working with didn’t have much talent. Player development is considered a strength for Atkinson, and it showed itself in his third season at the helm in Brooklyn, when he guided the D’Angelo Russell-led Nets to a 42–40 season and the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Currently, Atkinson is an assistant under Tyronn Lue with the Clippers. How far they go this postseason may dictate how much attention Atkinson gets. However, he’s definitely qualified. It wouldn’t hurt the Wizards’ potential pursuit of Clippers forward Paul George, either.

Prediction: Gets an interview, dark horse for the job

Chauncey Billups

Playing Career: 17 seasons, five-time All-Star, NBA Finals MVP (2004)

Coaching Career: Los Angeles Clippers assistant (2020–present)

Profile: Long-time basketball fans don’t need anyone to explain who Billups is. He spent nearly two decades as a point guard in the league with an extensive list of accolades, was a studio analyst for six years, and is now an assistant coach with the Clippers – just like Atkinson.

Billups has obviously never been a head coach and has minimal coaching experience, but he’s held in very high regard as a basketball mind, and rightfully so. Long-time point guards tend to have high basketball IQs, and he proved to have a very analytical mind while working for ESPN. His time seems to be coming, but there’s a chance he could get a better job – this offseason or in the future.

Prediction: Stays put or accepts a different job

Rick Carlisle

Playing Career: Five seasons, NBA champion (1986)

Coaching Career: New Jersey Nets assistant (1989–94); Portland Trail Blazers assistant (1994–97); Indiana Pacers (assistant: 1997–2000, head coach: 2003–07); Detroit Pistons head coach (2001–03); Dallas Mavericks head coach (2008–21)

Profile: The only reason Carlisle is available is a deteriorating relationship with superstar Luka Doncic, but that shouldn’t be viewed as a stain to his resume. Carlisle has 836 career wins, a Coach of the Year award (2002), and an NBA championship as a player and as a coach (2011).

He’s coached a lot of great players, including Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben and Rasheed Wallace, Reggie Miller, Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. He has no difficulty managing star players, and he’s a very strong X’s and O’s coach. If he wants to coach this year, he’ll get a job.

Prediction: Gets a better job

Sam Cassell

Playing Career: 15 seasons, All-Star (2004), three-time NBA champion

Coaching Career: Washington Wizards assistant (2009–14), Los Angeles Clippers assistant (2014–20), Philadelphia 76ers assistant (2020–present)

Profile: Here’s the first somewhat out-of-the-box candidate. Like Billups, Cassell had a lengthy NBA playing career and has never been a head coach. What he does have going for him, however, is that he has 12 years of experience as an assistant coach, and it’s typically been with very competitive teams.

What puts him over the top for this job, in particular, is his time as an assistant with the Wizards for five years. His final two seasons in Washington coincided with Bradley Beal’s first two years in the NBA. His expertise as a guard and a shooter was very valuable to Beal as he began his career, and he’s also been credited with recruiting Paul Pierce towards the end of his tenure. He’s reportedly been viewed as a head coaching candidate for a few years, and his relationships could make him a great fit for this job.

Prediction: Finalist for the job

Steve Clifford

Playing Career: N/A

Coaching Career: Various high school/college/international roles (1983–2000), New York Knicks assistant (2001–03), Houston Rockets assistant (2003–07), Orlando Magic assistant (2007–12), Los Angeles Lakers assistant (2012–13), Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets head coach (2013–18), Orlando Magic head coach (2018–21)

Profile: He has the most experience as a head coach of any of the candidates I’ve discussed so far, but Clifford’s track record isn’t flashy. He spent over a decade as an NBA assistant before getting his first crack at leading the show. His results in Charlotte were mixed, but when it was all said and done, the perception was that he was unable to help Kemba Walker reach the heights he was capable of.

Clifford’s three years with the Orlando Magic are admittedly tough to assess. He didn’t have a star on his roster, unless you view Nikola Vucevic as one. They finished seven games below .500 but snuck their way into the No. 8 seed last year, but imploded this season before selling off Vucevic and other moderate assets at the Trade Deadline. That sums up his overall legacy pretty well. He can hold down the fort for a bit, but it’ll inevitably lead to a rebuilding process.

Prediction: Not a serious candidate

Jarron Collins

Playing Career: 10 seasons

Coaching Career: Golden State Warriors assistant (2014–21)

Profile: Collins spent a decade in the NBA as a backup center. Most of his time since then was as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors. With that stated, he’s a three-time NBA champion as a coach, which could potentially bring a winning mentality to Washington. More importantly, Collins specializes on the defensive side of the ball – an area that crippled the Wizards throughout the Brooks era.

Interestingly, Collins and the Warriors “mutually agreed to part ways” earlier this month. Based on his experience with the club and the regard he was held in while with them, it’s likely a signal that he’d like to pursue a job as a head coach rather than sit still as an assistant.

Prediction: Second-tier interviewee

Mike D’Antoni

Playing Career: 17 seasons (mostly overseas)

Coaching Career: Various international roles (1990–97, 2001–02); Denver Nuggets (assistant: 1997–98, head coach 1998–99); Portland Trail Blazers assistant (2000–01); Phoenix Suns (assistant: 2002–03, head coach: 2003–08); New York Knicks head coach (2008–12); Los Angeles Lakers head coach (2012–14); Philadelphia associate head coach (2015–16); Houston Rockets head coach (2016-20); Brooklyn Nets assistant (2020–present)

Profile: There aren’t many current coaches with the long list of accolades than D’Antoni has. During parts of 16 seasons, he’s accumulated 718 wins and a .564 winning percentage. He’s also a two-time NBA Coach of the Year, and none of this even includes his international coaching career.

Particularly in his time with the Suns and Rockets, D’Antoni ran very innovative offenses. That end of the court is where he hangs his hat, at the expense of defense. That probably sounds a lot like what Washington has been, but it would almost certainly improve the offensive efficiency. He’s nearly second-to-none in terms of optimizing All-Star guards, a la Beal and Russell Westbrook. He’s helping rookie coach Steve Nash – his former point guard in Phoenix – do just that with James Harden and Kyrie Irving with the Nets.

Prediction: Likely holding out for another job

Darvin Ham

Playing Career: 12 seasons (mostly in the NBA)

Coaching Career: D-League (2008–11), Los Angeles Lakers assistant (2011–13), Atlanta Hawks assistant (2013–18), Milwaukee Bucks (2018–present)

Profile: Ham is another veteran assistant who had a lengthy playing career, including a season (1997–98) in Washington. Ironically, he spent one season as an assistant under D’Antoni with the Lakers – which also means he helped coach Kobe Bryant.

Since 2013, Ham has been an assistant under Mike Budenholzer, both in Atlanta and Milwaukee. The duo guided Atlanta to the Eastern Conference finals in 2015, and Budenholzer won the NBA Coach of the Year award in 2020 – which Ham theoretically serves a degree of credit for. In particular, he’s coached and developed a lot of talented frontcourt players – such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kris Middleton, Al Horford and Paul Millsap – which was his position as a player, as well. That could be beneficial for Rui Hachimura and company.

Prediction: Second-tier interviewee

Becky Hammon

Playing Career: 15 years in WNBA, six-time All-Star

Coaching Career: San Antonio Spurs assistant (2014–present)

Profile: She’s a former WNBA superstar who’s trying to make NBA history. She has an excellent basketball mind, and the league has taken notice. Since 2014, Hammon has been on Greg Popovich’s staff with the Spurs, and she served as an acting head coach for a game last December when Popovich was unavailable.

Hammon was already the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the four major sports in North America. She was the first female acting head coach, and there’s a high probability that she’s about to become the first female full-time head coach. It’s just a matter of where the job is and when she gets it.

Prediction: Gets into a bidding war with multiple teams

Mark Jackson

Playing Career: 17 seasons, Rookie of the Year (1988)

Coaching Career: Golden State Warriors head coach (2011–14)

Profile: Jackson had a very solid NBA career as a point guard, but his coaching experience is limited. While in charge of the Warriors, he coached Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green early in their careers. When relieved of his duties, the argument was that he couldn’t get Golden State to the next level, but he did guide them to 51 wins in his final season.

These days, Jackson is better known as an ESPN color commentator. He works alongside Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy – his former coach – in nationally televised games, and it’s clear that he is still plenty knowledgeable of the game. With that said, it’s possible that he enjoys his broadcasting role too much to step away from it.

Prediction: Might interview, but stays in the broadcast booth

Dave Joerger

Playing Career: N/A

Coaching Career: Various D-League teams (1997–2007); Memphis Grizzlies (assistant: 2007-13, head coach: 2013–16); Sacramento Kings head coach (2016–19); Philadelphia 76ers assistant (2020–present)

Profile: Joerger isn’t a flashy name, but he’s had success as a coach. His Grizzlies teams made the playoffs all three years in which he was in charge (including a 55-win season), and he led a floundering Sacramento organization to a playoff push in his final season there.

Currently, Joerger is on Doc Rivers’ staff – along with Cassell. There’s a decent chance he’ll end up earning a gig as a head coach again some time soon, but he’s an uninspiring retread. There are better options this offseason.

Prediction: Not a serious candidate

Jason Kidd

Playing Career: 19 seasons, 10-time All-Star, NBA champion (2011)

Coaching Career: Brooklyn Nets head coach (2013–14), Milwaukee Bucks head coach (2014–18), Los Angeles Lakers assistant (2019–present)

Profile: Much like Billups, Kidd was a very cerebral point guard for nearly two decades. Players like that also turn into good coaches, and Kidd hasn’t really been an exception. The only trouble – at least on that front – is that the teams he’s coached have often fallen below expectations. The Nets were viewed as championship contenders, but lost decisively in the second round of his lone season at the helm, and he never got the Bucks out of the first round.

He’s also been in the middle of some legal controversy. That won’t stop every team in the league, but it’s something the Wizards seem averse towards. It also doesn’t help that he was the polar opposite of Westbrook on the court.

Prediction: Not a serious candidate

Kara Lawson

Playing Career: 12 seasons in the WNBA

Coaching Career: Boston Celtics assistant (2019–20), Duke women’s head coach (2020–present)

Profile: Lawson had an outstanding career as a player, but that’s not what makes her a candidate for the Wizards job. She’s been very active off the court, particularly as a broadcast analyst, including two seasons in Washington. By all accounts, Lawson went above and beyond the responsibilities of her job and was held in very high regard within the organization.

Lawson left the broadcast booth in 2019 to start her coaching career with the Celtics. She parlayed that into a job at Duke. It’s unclear how willing she is to leave Duke, but if she were to do so, the Wizards would seemingly be on the Alexandria, VA native’s short list (she went to West Springfield HS), and they would almost certainly pursue her.

Prediction: Earns an interview if she wants it

Robert Pack

Playing Career: 14 seasons (mostly in the NBA)

Coaching Career: New Orleans Hornets assistant (2009–10), Los Angeles Clippers assistant (2010–13), Oklahoma City Thunder assistant (2013–15), New Orleans Pelicans assistant (2015–18), Washington Wizards assistant (2018–present)

Profile: Pack is the best Washington’s coaching staff has to offer, although that doesn’t mean he’s a spectacular candidate for a head coaching position. He’s gritty, though, and he preaches toughness more than anyone else in Washington did. It might be best for the Wizards to start over completely, but Pack won’t be completely ignored.

Prediction: Second-tier interviewee

Dawn Staley

Playing Career: 12 seasons (mostly in the WNBA), six-time All-Star

Coaching Career: Temple head coach (2000–08), South Carolina head coach (2008–present)

Profile: Voted one of the WNBA’s top 15 players of all-time, Staley has converted herself into one of the best women’s basketball coaches of her era. She’s been named the SEC coach of the Year four times, was the 2020 national Coach of the Year, and has led South Carolina to three Final Four appearances and a National Championship in 2017.

There’s no certainty that she’d be willing to leave the Gamecocks, but she’s been connected to multiple NBA jobs – most prominently the Portland Trail Blazers. She’s certainly qualified, though, and she’s connected to the region – she played at Virginia for four years.

Prediction: Stays in college

Terry Stotts

Playing Career: 10 seasons (mostly overseas)

Coaching Career: Multiple teams in Canada (1990–92); Seattle SuperSonics assistant (1992–98); Milwaukee Bucks (assistant: 1998–2002, head coach: 2005–07); Atlanta Hawks head coach (2002–04); Golden State Warriors assistant (2004–05); Dallas Mavericks assistant (2008–12); Portland Trail Blazers head coach (2012–21)

Profile: Stotts began his coaching career as an understudy to legendary coach George Karl. That earned him a couple chances at leading teams in the early 2000s, but he failed to record a winning season in his four years in Atlanta and Milwaukee.

After winning a championship as a member of Carlisle’s staff in Dallas, he was given the head job in Portland. The Trail Blazers made the playoffs in his final eight seasons, but back-to-back first round exits after a Conference Finals appearance in 2019 was his undoing. He’s a decent coach, but he will likely be remembered as the coach who didn’t win enough with Damian Lillard. 

Prediction: Not a serious candidate

Ime Udoka

Playing Career: 12 seasons (NBA, D-League, overseas)

Coaching Career: San Antonio Spurs assistant (2012–19), Philadelphia 76ers assistant (2019–20), Brooklyn Nets assistant (2020–present)

Profile: The 6-foot-7 Nigerian logged 316 career NBA games. He was primarily known for his defensive presence, and that’s remained his specialty since becoming a coach.

Most of his coaching career has taken place under Popovich, whom he also played for briefly. However, the freedom he’s been given to lead the 76ers and Nets’ defenses over the last two years has catapulted him into head coaching discussions. There’s no obvious connection to Washington, but he’ll likely draw some consideration from the Wizards – as well as other teams, including the Celtics, for whom he’s reportedly among the finalists.

Prediction: Second-tier interviewee

Wes Unseld Jr.

Playing Career: N/A

Coaching Career: Washington Wizards assistant (2005–11), Golden State Warriors assistant (2011–12), Orlando Magic assistant (2012–15), Denver Nuggets assistant (2015–present)

Profile: Unseld has very clear connections to the Wizards, as his father is among the greatest players in franchise history. However, Wes is more than his father’s son. He served as an assistant under Eddie Jordan and Flip Saunders in Washington before starting his career outside of his father’s shadow.

Unseld spent a year in Golden State and three in Orlando, but his tenure in Denver is what’s built him into a candidate for a promotion. The Nuggets have become a perennial playoff team, and Unseld has been their de facto defensive coordinator. The Wizards have shown interest in Denver’s front office personnel, and now they’ll give Unseld a look. It’s been reported that he’s already in line for an interview.

Prediction: Finalist for the job

Stan Van Gundy

Playing Career: N/A

Coaching Career: Various collegiate roles (1981–95); Miami Heat (assistant: 1995–2003, head coach: 2003–05); Orlando Magic head coach (2007–12); Detroit Pistons head coach (2014–18); New Orleans Pelicans head coach (2020–21)

Profile: Van Gundy has had a successful coaching career, although he’s struggled to stick in one place. Most recently, he directed Andre Drummond and (briefly) Blake Griffin in Detroit, as well as Zion Williamson and a cast of other young players in New Orleans. With that said, his teams haven’t won games at a high clip in his last couple stops.

Van Gundy is an old-school coach. Today, the power across the league belongs to the players. That’s not exactly Van Gundy’s style, and it’s caused him to struggle to fit in recently. In fact, that problem has existed for at least a decade – his imperfect relationship with Dwight Howard eventually drove the All-Star center out of Orlando. He opened in Las Vegas as the leading candidate for Washington’s job, but I wouldn’t count on it materializing.

Prediction: Not a serious candidate

David Vanterpool

Playing Career: 12 seasons (mostly overseas)

Coaching Career: CSKA Moscow assistant (2007–12), Portland Trail Blazers assistant (2012–19), Minnesota Timberwolves associate head coach (2019–present)

Profile: Vanderpool collected a long list of accolades as a player in Europe. He also drew considerable praise on multiple occasions from Portland star guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, whom he has been credited with helping develop into leaders.

Vanterpool has been viewed as an up-and-coming coach for quite some time, interviewing for a head coach position at least four times – prior to this offseason. He also played for the Wizards briefly in 2001. Expect him to draw serious consideration.

Prediction: Finalist for the job

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