Usual (and not so usual) suspects
Job Opening: Basketball coach desired. Must be able to work with young players who think they're better than they are. Must be willing to work in a city known for its reptilian media. Must be able to connect to veterans, however shallow the connection may be. Must be able to say, "Players win championships" and actually mean it. Must understand that the team was basically irrelevant before 1984 and has been since 1999.
Interested parties should contact John Paxson, Chicago Bulls, Secaucus N.J.
Gee, do you think Tim Floyd is chuckling right now?
Bill Cartwright became the second NBA head coach to lose his job before Thanksgiving and now Paxson, installed this past summer as the Bulls' new hoop el jefe, gets to choose his own man. For now, he's going with the time-honored "interim" replacement in Pete Myers, but Paxson has bigger names in mind, like former Suns head coach and leading candidate Scott Skiles. As a public service, we're here to offer guidance and advice.
There are two guys out there right now with NBA experience who have had a long history of working well with young players: Rick Pitino and John Calipari. True, they failed pretty spectacularly in their respective NBA gigs, although Cal did get the Nets into the playoffs in 1998, winning 43 games.
They both have been suitably chastened, Pitino in particular. And here's the rub: They had NBA teams in Boston and New Jersey. The Bulls are basically a college team masquerading as an NBA team, the perfect outlet for either of these two masterminds. Pitino could actually call Eddy Curry or Tyson Chandler "son" -- and it wouldn't be quite the same as when he did it to Eric Williams or Dana Barros or Dee Brown.
Both of these guys will probably say they're happy where they are. But no one likes to leave under the circumstances in which they left. Pitino disgraced himself out of Boston 34 games into the 2000-01 season and the Celtics have been a playoff team in the two full seasons under Jim O'Brien. Coach Cal left the Nets after 20 games (3-17) in the lockout season of 1998-99; three years later, in comes Jason Kidd and, well, you already know that story.
The most recent example of this was Jerry West's supposedly implausible hiring of Hubie Brown last year around this time. We all said at the time that only the sainted Jerry West could get away with such a move. Well, look at what Hubie has done with Memphis. Now, is there another Hubie out there who might be enticed back to the bench? Is there a Hubie-type out there? A Jack McKeon-type?
Here are some names to consider out of the "veteran-type" NBA coach book. There's ESPN's own Jack Ramsay, who probably would have a hard time leaving his cushy gig with the sports giant, not to mention his bi-weekly triathlons. There's Lenny Wilkens. Whoops. We were going to consider guys who might actually coach. Scratch him. There's Celtics assistant coach Dick Harter, the defensive guru, who the Bulls were supposedly eyeing last summer when the Boston assistants were in contractual limbo. He would get them to defend.
There are tons of other names: Dick Motta, Gene Shue, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Doug Moe and Don Casey are all guys with vast credentials. They might be coerced into returning to teach a little love, patience and zone defense.
Skiles. A fireplug, Skiles replaced Danny Ainge in Phoenix and that was your basic attitudinal 180. He would have the same impact on the Bulls. Skiles is a midwestern guy (Plymouth, Ind., and Michigan State) and was being talked about for the Orlando job after Doc Rivers got fired. The guy was 37 games over .500 in parts of three seasons with the Suns, so he must know something about the profession.
Doc Rivers. His name will come up for every single opening until he takes another job. Doc is a Chicago-area native, don't forget, so the Bulls' job has to be somewhat tempting to him now. One man's chicken you-know-what can be another man's chicken salad -- and Doc at least knows the players without a scorecard. In terms of charisma, he's the anti-Cartwright.
George Karl and Isiah Thomas are both "between jobs" as they like to say. Each is counting a pile of money in between watching "SportsCenter" and "Jeopardy" re-runs. Each has their plusses and minuses, which is why neither one has a job right now. Karl is a proven winner who also manages to alienate almost everyone with whom he's worked, both above him and below him. The guy can coach, however, so if he's at all interested in coming back, he should be on Paxson's list.
Thomas is, like Rivers, a Chicago-area native. And, like Rivers, Thomas basically compiled a .500 record in three seasons at Indiana before Bird deep-sixed him to make way for Rick Carlisle. But while Rivers' teams were seen as overachieving and hard-working, Thomas' Indiana teams were seen as underachieving and disoriented. If Paxson is thinking of going in this direction, he might want to watch the tape of the Indiana-Boston playoff series last spring.
We won't even bother to mention Lon Kruger or Sidney Lowe.
Del Harris generally gets mentioned for most every job opening. Only problem: He'd probably have to take a pay cut from his current gig in the Sultan of Cuban. Del has coached in Houston, Milwaukee and Los Angeles, but he's got it pretty good where he is as Don Nelson's sidekick in Dallas. He's also a non-crusty older guy.
Ron Rothstein came back to the Pacers this year, supposedly to work under Isiah Thomas. Oh well. He's still there and he has head-coaching experience not only with the Pistons and Heat, but also with the (now gone) Miami Sol of the WNBA. The Bulls supposedly looked at him in the "interviewing process" before Floyd was hired.
Does Mike Fratello ring a bell? He's been out of it since 1999, but, like Hubie, he has remained on topics by virtue of his many television gigs. Everyone thought Fratello would end up with the Hornets' job because of his close ties with New Orleans minority owner Ray Wooldridge. Didn't happen. Fratello generally is seen as a guy who wants a lot of money and power. Most owners and general managers frown on those kinds of demands.
Jimmy Rodgers was one of Phil Jackson's lieutenants for the last three title runs in 1996, '97 and '98. He then decided not to join Jackson's staff in Los Angeles and has been content ever since, playing golf and hanging out with his grandchildren. That's a tough life to leave; if he does it for a couple more years, he might have to be moved to the Crusty Old Guys category.
Jim Cleamons, of course, also was a loyal Jacksonista and is with him now in Los Angeles. He bombed in his first NBA coaching gig in Dallas, but is widely seen as someone who might get a second look, if for no other reason than his close ties to Jackson. Paxson knows both of these guys; he was an assistant with them on Chicago's 1995-96 title team.
Doug Collins qualifies here as well as the previous category. He still rankles over getting the Bulls to the precipice in 1988, then getting dismissed and seeing Jackson accumulate all the titles. Collins has a reputation for quick turnarounds and getting young teams to improve. The Bulls, Pistons and Wizards all made significant strides in his first season with those three clubs. But by Year 3, generally Collins has worn out his welcome. We all saw what happened in Washington.
Then again, what about? No, it couldn't be? Bring back Collins and ... MJ returns? Hey, Scottie is still there. Springsteen's "Glory Days" could become the franchise song. Jordan could teach the kids a thing or two. And the United Center would be a happenin' place all over again.
Peter May, who covers the NBA for the Boston Globe, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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