Bernucca: Thunder among teams with GM, coach decisions

Right now, the Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to figure out how to get three more wins over the Miami Heat and claim the NBA championship.

Whether they can do that remains to be seen. But once the Finals are over, the Thunder will have another issue on their hands – putting a coach in place for next season.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks does not have a contract for next season. And while a trip to the NBA Finals makes it seem as if his return is a foregone conclusion, we shouldn’t be so quick to save a slot for him on the sidelines.

Brooks certainly will want more money; the going rate for coaches who reach the Finals is between $4 million and $5 million per year. The Thunder have been highly cost-conscious under GM Sam Presti, who has extension decisions for James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor on the horizon.

And what if the Thunder open a 2-0 lead, then have a maturity meltdown mirroring the Mavericks in 2006 and lose the series? Will Presti be looking for a bigger name who can command more respect from his young roster?

Even if Presti decides to keep Brooks – the likely option – he still may have to fill his own staff as assistant GMs Rob Hennigan and Troy Weaver have been mentioned as candidates for vacancies elsewhere.

Oklahoma City isn’t the only team looking to fill front office positions. Lottery clubs Charlotte and Portland need a coach, and playoff squads Orlando, Atlanta, Indiana, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Clippers have holes to fill as well.

The draft is just over two weeks away. Free agency negotiation starts July 1. The Las Vegas Summer League begins July 13.

Here’s a look at who needs what:

THE CLIPPERS NEED A GM: They made a quantum leap from lottery laughingstock to the conference semifinals under the stewardship of GM Neil Olshey, who quickly shifted gears from rebuilding with youth to popping for a star when Chris Paul became available. Then owner Donald Sterling lowballed him, and Olshey – after initially agreeing to stay – fled for Portland.

Right now, the list of candidates is a long one. According to the Los Angeles Times, it includes former NBA GM Kiki Vandeweghe, Pacers GM David Morway, former Lakers assistant GM Ronnie Lester, Pistons assistant GM Scott Perry, former Wolves GM Tony Ronzone, Warriors assistant GM Travis Schlenk and Clippers player personnel director Gary Sacks. It’s hard to believe neither Thunder candidate is on the list.

Whomever Andy Roeser hires will be in a tough spot. In addition to a handful of free agents, Blake Griffin is due for an extension, Paul can become a free agent next summer and coach Vinny Del Negro was retained on a one-year deal. All three are intertwined, and if the new hire is unable to placate the superstar duo, the Clippers’ status as a playoff team on the rise will be short-lived.

THE TRAIL BLAZERS NEED A COACH: This isn’t truly a vacancy and is not the first order of
business for Olshey, who has said he will hire a coach after the draft in which he has two lottery picks Stan Van Gundy with handsthat could make the job more appealing. However, he also risks losing his desired candidate to the openings in Orlando and Charlotte.

There has been some speculation that Paul Allen’s millions and a West Coast location could lure Phil Jackson out of retirement to the City of Roses. Keep in mind that Olshey and interim coach Kaleb Canales have the same agent, which may limit how much of a legitimate search is actually conducted.

In mopping up for Nate McMillan, Kanales went 8-15, which gives him a grand total of 23 more games experience than Warriors assistant Michael Malone, who would be a much better hire. A good veteran choice would be Stan Van Gundy, who did a terrific job elevating the Magic.

THE BOBCATS NEED A COACH: This is a huge decision for owner Michael Jordan, who has the cloud of “worst team ever” hanging over his head and needs to show dramatic improvement in his personnel hires both on the court and off. He made a good one with GM Rich Cho; now he has to start listening to the people around him, who simply are better basketball minds than him.

Cho and Bobcats executive (and longtime Jordan crony) Rod Higgins reportedly already have conducted interviews with Pacers assistant Brian Shaw, Lakers assistant Quin Snyder and former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who is without a doubt the best available coaching hire on the market not named Phil Jackson. Each is expected to sit with Jordan in the next week. With all due respect to Shaw and Snyder, Jordan should pony up for Sloan, who would provide an infusion of urgency in a frighteningly young roster with his no-nonsense approach to preparation and execution.

THE MAGIC NEED A GM … AND A COACH: Magic CEO Alex Martins topped Orlando Magazine‘s list of “50 Most Powerful People in Orlando.” We’ll see if any influence comes with that power. He was able to convince Dwight Howard to opt in in for next season and then fired GM Otis Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy, which means (a) Howard actually is more powerful than Martins or (b) Martins plans on directing his GM hire to trade Howard, which he apparently wants anyway.

Any incoming GM is going to want to hire his own coach. According to Yahoo!, Martins’ search is down to three candidates – a pair of hot commodities in Hennigan and Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey along with former Hornets GM Jeff Bower. Martins has said he wants the new GM in place before the draft. While the NBA trend of late has been to go young with sabremetrics wonks as GM hires, Bower did show the ability to upgrade the Hornets with limited flexibility, which is where the Magic are until they trade Howard.

Jerry Sloan Deron Willians JazzOnce a GM is hired, coaching candidates include Shaw, Malone, Sloan, former Blazers coach Nate McMillan and Doc Rivers, an extreme long shot given that he has four years remaining on his deal with the Celtics and would cost a heap of cash and draft picks. If Martins actually has the power to keep Howard in town, there is no doubt he will have a huge say in the team’s next coach.

THE PACERS WANT A NEW GM: Given the team’s success this season, this came as somewhat of a surprise. But the truth of the matter is that Pacers president Larry Bird makes the personnel decisions, plans on coming back for the 2012-13 season and has had some friction with Morway, who interviewed for the Portland GM job.

Last week, the Indianapolis Star reported that Bird would like to replace Morway as GM with director of player personnel Kevin Pritchard, who did a remarkable job from transforming the “Jail Blazers” into a 50-win team with smart wheeling and dealing on consecutive draft days before being unceremoniously unloaded one hour before the 2010 draft. As a former NBA teammate, he has Bird’s ear more than does Morway.

THE 76ERS MAY NEED A NEW GM … ALTHOUGH NOT RIGHT AWAY: It seems strange that the Sixers are interviewing candidates to replace president Rod Thorn after their unlikely run to Game 7 of the conference semifinals. But according to the Philadelphia Daily News, Thorn, 71, has an unusual contract calling for three years as president followed by five years as consultant, with the option to move into the latter role earlier.

Thorn actually has a hand in picking his successor, which could come as early as this summer – or as late as next summer. Candidates include Lindsey, Weaver, Bower, Hawks GM Rick Sund, Bucks GM John Hammond and Spurs VP Danny Ferry, who did a solid job of building the Cavaliers into a Finals team around LeBron James and reportedly is considered the frontrunner. A stumbling block may be how much input a new GM may have to give to coach Doug Collins.

THE HAWKS MAY NEED A GM: As stated above, Sund is a possible candidate in Philly because his deal with the Hawks ends later this month. The team denied him permission to speak with the Blazers and sent him to pre-draft camps but still hasn’t re-signed him, even though coach Larry Drew had his option picked up.

Sund is said to be considering a reduced role in a partial retirement. Whether it is Sund or someone else making the decisions, the Hawks are at a crossroads with a bloated payroll that’s good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to truly contend for a title.

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.

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