Expect more unexpected dips, turns

After Larry's landing in Detroit and Silas' stop in Cleveland, what's next? John Thompson in Philly?

Updated: June 17, 2003, 1:04 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

It has never been safer to say it.

To say that no one is safe.

Not Rudy Tomjanovich, a legend nudged out in Houston only partly because of health. Not Rick Carlisle, abruptly dismissed in Detroit because two doses of 50 wins couldn't heal his fractured relationships within the organization. Not even the coaches from NBA powerhouses who still have jobs can feel very safe. Sacramento's Rick Adelman and New Jersey's Byron Scott, who is about to work his second straight NBA Finals, are two more names from the Fraternity Of Twenty-Nine whose job security has been questioned at some stage this season. They know it will be questioned again next season, or worse, if their teams dare to decline from elitism.

That is coaching in the league today. That is the only conclusion when the math is this simple. The unnamed expansion franchise in Charlotte will be the NBA's 30th team, which made those Charlotte Whatevers the 10th team in the league without a coach as of Sunday night.

The math says that's precisely a third of the league. At least until the press conferences started Monday in Detroit and Cleveland take us down to eight openings.

And that's chaos, by any arithmetic, which is why we submit another team-by-team breakdown of the coaching roller-coaster, same as last Monday. Yes, roller coaster. Carousel is too tame a term these days.

Detroit Pistons
Of all the teams to land Larry Brown, who knew it would be the team to offer the least input on personnel decisions? In Detroit, that's Joe Dumars' domain, and still Brown agreed to join the Pistons within a week of bolting Philadelphia. Yet there will be serious heat on both guys, who won't be able to pass the Pistons off as gritty overachievers this time next year. Brown will be expected to make the Pistons a perennial Eastern Conference juggernaut (a paradox, we know) after essentially convincing Detroit to quickly expel Carlisle. Dumars, meanwhile, faces even more pressure, knowing his gentlemanly nature will come under some attack for making a change after two seasons of all that overachieving ... even though ownership is said to have wanted the change more than Dumars did. At least Detroiters know Dumars can take the heat. This is his boldest move yet, but not the first bold one, so you bet on Joe D. to make it work. He's going to have to work at it, though. The stories trickling out about Carlisle are disconcerting, but don't forget Larry can also wear on those around him.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Paul Silas, as we've said from the beginning, was the right choice all along, a better fit as a first coach for LeBron James than Jeff Van Gundy. If the Cavaliers weren't so far along in their search, having narrowed the choice down to Silas and Van Gundy, there might have been time for Carlisle -- a close friend of Cavs general manager Jim Paxson -- to make a late run. Of course, Carlisle isn't a better fit with LeBron than Silas, either. History says it's always tough to be the first coach for a young superstar, but that's what Silas is. Tough. He wanted this challenge badly and will be a fatherly coach for the kid.

Philadelphia 76ers
Telephone call for ... John Thompson? There's a TNT guy we know who can handle Allen Iverson. Otherwise ... Philly is scrambling. Portland's Mo Cheeks is the Iverson-tested coach it really wants, but the Blazers have yet to give into reason and grant Cheeks permission to speak with his old team. If the Blazers don't want to give Cheeks a contract extension, and they apparently don't, the right thing is letting him go to the Sixers. If it doesn't happen, Nets assistant coach Eddie Jordan might be the Sixers' only other sensible option ... unless Thompson still has a hankering for coaching in the NBA and not just calling the games. One guy you can rule out is Carlisle. Even after giving his rep a handy boost by joining Dumars at the Saturday press conference and somehow taking his firing so well, it's tough to see Carlisle as an AI guy.

Houston Rockets
The "premier job," as even Silas called it, will apparently be filled third or fourth at best. The Rockets are intent on taking a measured approach, even though that has resulted in their list of candidates being cut in half -- Brown and Silas found work elsewhere, leaving behind Van Gundy and Mike Dunleavy. Word is that Dunleavy is getting the stronger push from within the organization. Word also is that Van Gundy's talks with Houston, as in Cleveland, didn't go as smoothly as anticipated. Mind you, those are just words and things could change. As for facts, look for Dunleavy and Van Gundy to be summoned for second interviews shortly, because they're the field now.

Atlanta Hawks
It's still unclear when new owner David McDavid will assume control of the franchise, and there's suddenly a possibility that his Fort Worth neighbor -- Dunleavy -- will be unavailable by the time McDavid gets the franchise. In that event, as covered last here Monday, he'd undoubtedly make a call to Dallas' Don Nelson and offer Nellie two jobs. Trouble there is, the likelihood still remains that Nelson and Mark Cuban will come together on a contract extension spanning at least two seasons, after Cuban insisted that talks would be put off until after the season and after Nelson himself admitted that moving elsewhere and starting over doesn't sound all that appealing at 63. "Nellie knows I want him back," Cuban said. As for Nelson's request to spend two weeks recharging at his offseason home in Maui, Cuban said: "He was cool with how I wanted to handle the contract during the year, so I'm cool with him taking some time." The good news for the Hawks, if they miss out on the big names, is that their interim coach proved more than capable. After a 3-12 start replacing Lon Kruger, and with even less to play for at that point, Terry Stotts took Atlanta to a 21-19 finish, validating the suggestions in Seattle and Milwaukee that he was head-coaching material.

Toronto Raptors
This is arguably the best spot for Carlisle. The Raptors have always admired him and Vince Carter needs a coach who will push him a lot harder than Lenny Wilkens did. The issue, as always, is those Canadian dollars. The Raptors have looked exclusively at unheralded assistant coaches from other teams -- Carlisle aide Kevin O'Neill and Seattle's Dwane Casey, most notably, but several have been interviewed -- because they still owe $5 million to Wilkens next season. They reportedly can't afford to pay head-coach money to two guys, which is a shame. Making significant changes to a roster filled with gaudy contracts is going to be a lot tougher than the improvement Carlisle can inspire with better coaching. But if the finances aren't there, the Raptors have no shot at him. Carlisle, mind you, could also elect to wait until next season's openings -- Van Gundy, too -- in a world where good coaches with top teams like Adelman and Scott are seen as vulnerable and where Indiana's Isiah Thomas can't dodge the job-security questions no matter how many times Donnie Walsh announces he's safe.

Washington Wizards
The Wizards were seemingly poised to give Brown everything the Pistons didn't -- GM powers, maybe even an ownership slice -- and still never really had a shot. That's because they have no shot at Finals contention, as the Pistons do, which is what Brown wants most at his age. And like we said last week, there doesn't figure to be a long line of folks applying after the messy Abe Pollin-Michael Jordan divorce. At this point, the Wiz would be lucky to land the in-demand Jordan (Eddie) because they still also have to hire a personnel man. A quick resolution appears unlikely here.

The Field
Uncertainty still reigns in New Orleans, where the Hornets are faced with two choices. They can pick from a threesome of finalists that has put off some of their veteran players: Tim Floyd, Brian Hill and Mike Fratello. Or they can re-open the search, which could prove problematic with so many other teams looking and reputation for thriftiness and troublesome owners. ... The L.A. Clippers are likely to be the last team presently in existence to make a hire, although the Chicago pre-draft camp is where they first hooked up with their last coach, Alvin Gentry. So you can expect the Clips talk with some folks this week, with interim coach Dennis Johnson still a possibility to retain his job because that's the, uh, easiest route for owner Donald T. Sterling. ... Charlotte, with no team to field until the 2004-05, doesn't appear to be participating in the madness just yet. Perhaps the Whatevers are waiting for the roller-coaster to slow back down to carousel speed.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, send Stein a question for possible use on ESPNEWS. Information from The Associated Press was also used in this report.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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