For the first time in seven seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in search of a new head coach. Since their arrival in 2008, the Thunder have always had a head coach in place. PJ Carlesimo started as the head coach for the Thunder in 2008, but after beginning OKC’s inaugural season 1-13, Carlesimo was let go in favor of assistant coach Scott Brooks. Though he initially started with an interim tag, Brooks quickly shed that tag after finishing the last 50 games of that season with a 20-30 mark. In the next 6 seasons, Brooks led the Thunder to 1 Finals appearance and 3 Western Conference Finals appearances. He was awarded the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year award, and was the coach behind James Harden’s 2012 6th Man of the Year award and Kevin Durant’s 2014 MVP award. But as successful as he was in developing top-notch talent, he was just as lacking in a lot of the coaching aspect of coaching. His offense was very simplistic, but the coup de gras may have been is inability/stubbornness to change on the fly, in-game. With that in mind, the organization decided that Brooks had likely hit his glass ceiling with this team and parted ways with him.
No separation is ever without tension. But this one seems to be amicable on both sides. The Thunder, and Brooks, himself, did not want to go into this next season with the lame-duck status over their heads. With Durant’s impending free agency quickly approaching, any misstep or change in-season could be seen as a desperation move. The organization decided that if a change was going to be made, it had to be now, so that there is some consistency heading into the season. With that said, this becomes the first ever head coaching search in the history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. As soon as Brooks’ departure was announced, several names were dropped as potential candidates for the now vacant head coaching job. With Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka currently in tow, this is likely one of the more desirable jobs for a head coach. Here are 10 possible candidates for the Thunder’s head coach gig.
Rex Kalamian – Kalamian has been one of Brooks’ top assistants for the past 5 seasons. He has overseen the development of the Thunder’s players and has also been the coach of the Thunder’s summer league team the last 3 seasons, winning the Orlando Summer League in 2013. Kalamian has been an NBA coaching lifer, starting as scouting assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers in 1992, and moving onto to stints with the Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Sacramento Kings, before settling into his current position with the Thunder. He appears to have a great rapport with the players and a hiring like this would lessen the blow of the coaching change.
Troy Weaver – The Thunder’s current vice president/assistant general manager also has an extensive coaching portfolio. He started by coaching AAU ball in the Washington D.C. area from about 1992-1996. He went on to be an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh, University of New Mexico, and then onto Syracuse University, where he is credited with recruiting Carmelo Anthony to the school. In 2004, he became the head scout for the Utah Jazz. Later he promoted to director of player personnel in 2007, and held that post through the end of the 2008 season. He was then hired by the Thunder in his current position, where he assists with roster building (NBA Draft preparation and free agency) and day to day basketball operations. Remember, the Spurs, whom the Thunder tend to emulate, once hired their general manager as their coach and went on to win 5 championships in a 16 year period.
Billy Donovan – The current University of Florida coach has a good relationship with Thunder GM Sam Presti, who hired two of Donovan’s assistants in the past year (Mark Daigneault as the coach of Oklahoma City’s Development League team and Oliver Winterbone as a basketball information analyst). Donovan currently boasts a 467-186 record at Florida, leading the Gators to consecutive national championships in 2006 and 2007. He has been named SEC Coach of the Year in three of the last 5 seasons. He has a reputation as a great player developer and values depth on the offensive end and toughness on the defensive end.
Kevin Ollie – The current UCONN coach has a history with the Thunder that can still be felt today. Ollie played his final season in the NBA with the Thunder and was sited as the veteran that taught Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook how to be men in the NBA. Durant even notes him as being the purveyor of the current culture that is the Thunder. After retiring from the NBA in 2010, he went on to be an assistant coach under Jim Calhoun at Connecticut. After two seasons, he took over for Calhoun and went on to win the 2014 NCAA Championship. According to various media outlets, Ollie has removed his name from consideration for the Oklahoma City job.
Fred Hoiberg – The Iowa State coach is one of the hottest commodities in current coaching circles. His innovative, almost Spursian-like offense, made the Cyclones one of the top scoring teams in the NCAA’s throughout his coaching tenure. Players to come out of Hoiberg’s system are usually jack of all trades that are good at all aspects of the game, but not great at any one thing. In his 5 seasons in Ames, he has amassed a 115-56 record. He also has professional experience, as he worked in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office from 2007-2010.
NBA Coaches and Assistant Coaches
Tom Thibodeau – The current Chicago Bulls coach is known as one of the best defensive minds in the game. Before working in Chicago, he was one of the top assistants in the league from 1989-2010. The work he has done with the Bulls the past few injury-racked seasons has proven his worth as a coach that is able to excel, even in difficult situations. The Bulls’ coach has amassed a 255-139 record in his 5 seasons in Chicago. The knock on Thibodeau has always been the amount of time he plays his main players and his lack of player development/depth. That may come into play with the Thunder’s top players suffering from injuries in the past few seasons. Various media outlets have reported that Thibodeau may be on his way out in Chicago, regardless of where they finish this season.
Alvin Gentry – Gentry is currently the associate head coach for the Golden State Warriors, serving under head coach Steve Kerr. His “Spursian/Phoenix Suns 7 second or less hybrid” offense has worked wonders for the Warriors. Gentry is currently one of the highest paid assistants in the league. In his career, Gentry has gone 335-370 in previous stints with Miami, Detroit, the Clippers, and Phoenix.
Rick Carlise – While there is nothing that points to Dallas letting go of Carlisle, his frustration over the Rajon Rondo situation may boil over in the offseason, especially if the Mavericks don’t get out of the first round. Carlisle will be heading into the final year of his contract next season. If the team or Carlisle don’t see eye to eye on the future direction of the team in the offseason, I could definitely see a Scott Brooks situation where Carlisle walks away from the final year of his contract to go to another team with a guaranteed long-term deal. Carlisle has amassed a 619-431 record in his 13 years of coaching with Detroit, Indiana, and Dallas. He won a championship with Dallas in 2011.
Spurs’ Assistant Coaches
Chip Engelland – The Spurs assistant is credited with honing the shots of many Spurs’ players. He is known as the top shooting specialist in the league, and has built his portfolio up as an assistant in the past decade around the league. He has a reputation for developing a great rapport with his players and is routinely tasked with monitoring the Spurs’ players training/shooting regiments in the offseason.
Ettore Messina – Before being hired on by the Spurs as an assistant coach, Messina was the top European coach in basketball. He led two Euroleague teams (Virtus Bologna and CSKA Moscow) to two championship apiece and was twice named Euroleague Coach of Year in 2006 and 2008. Messina is revered in basketball circles as a great basketball mind, almost like a European Larry Brown. Messina’s coaching philosophy fits in line with the Spurs’ model of floor balance and ball movement. He loves to balance the floor to keep the defense moving, especially with post-ups. With the Thunder’s recent acquisition (and hopeful re-signing) of Enes Kanter, they now have an interior scorer that could completely balance the floor in a Messian-run offense.
Jeff Van Gundy – Anytime a good coaching vacancy opens up, Jeff Van Gundy’s name is always brought up. The former Knicks’ and Rockets’ coach has been out of coaching for the past 8 years, and while he has never said that he is interested in coaching again, he’s never said he isn’t interested in coaching again. Van Gundy amassed a 430-318 record in his 11 seasons of coaching. With a nice broadcasting gig with ESPN and ABC, Van Gundy can wait for the right opportunity to get back into coaching. If both parties (the Thunder and Van Gundy) are interested, he could be possible candidate.
Mike Krzyzewski – Coach K is well on his way to being on the Mt. Rushmore of college basketball coaches. He just got done capturing his 5th NCAA championship this past season. For the past 10 seasons, he has been the head coach for USA Basketball, where he has coached Durant and Westbrook in international competitions. What if for a second, Coach K decides that there is nothing else he can accomplish in college basketball and would like to see what he could do in the NBA before it comes time for retirement. The Thunder vacancy would be the perfect opportunity of Coach K to pursue this.
The Thunder coaching vacancy is one that should generate plenty of interest. The opportunity to coach Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and possibly Kanter in their primes has to a dream for many coaches. As it stands right now, Donovan seems to be the front runner for the job. But if the Thunder still have not decided on a coach within the next two weeks, look for the Thunder to be leaning towards one of the coaches in the NBA circle.