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Golden State Warriors coaching candidates: Top contenders, challengers, and other notables

After firing Mark Jackson, the Warriors are reportedly aiming to reach back into the broadcast booth to replace him with either Steve Kerr or Stan Van Gundy. But who might some of the other top candidates be?

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Can Stan Van Gundy get the Black Falcon to soar?
Can Stan Van Gundy get the Black Falcon to soar?
Kevin C. Cox

As one last parting shot at the Golden State Warriors management, recently-fired coach Mark Jackson has put the stakes for the franchise in plain terms as perfectly paraphrased by Tim Kawakami in his column for the San Jose Mercury News: "There is no wiggle room for the Warriors now. There is no turning back or fall-back excuse."

I hate watching isolation after isolation as much as the next fan, but - hypothetically speaking - if the Warriors find themselves on the outside of a very competitive Western Conference playoff field in the next couple of years, I seriously doubt anyone will be extolling the virtues of this decision.

As the old saying goes, coaches probably get too much of the credit and too much of the blame, but in this case it's undeniable that Jackson has created a locker room culture that works for the players despite all the drama with his staff and front office. This coaching change is therefore a riskier move than most would seem to be, but you have to take risks at some point to move up in this league and the Joe Lacob-led Warriors have once again shown that they're not afraid of taking them.

"Fans should know or understand that they need to trust us," GM Bob Myers said in his interview with media today that was broadcast on CSN. "At least recent history has shown that we've done a good job."

Have they earned our trust enough to alleviate the anxiety about this? Obviously, opinions are mixed thus far and, hey, if Stephen Curry trusts the organization, as reported by the S.F. Chronicle's Rusty Simmons, then maybe we should too. Either way, this might be the single biggest test of the brain trusts judgment given that the players have openly supported Jackson as media reports trickled out about his job being in jeopardy.

The only way to judge this move will be at least a season into things after Jackson's replacement has a chance to win over the team while unavoidably changing a culture that just produced a 51-win season. That makes this job a particularly risky one for any potential replacement as well, despite this almost certainly being one of the most attractive job openings in the league this year.

But what do we know about the candidates lined up for this position now? And how might they fit?

Let's look at a few names that have come up in early reports from Kawakami, Rusty Simmons, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Sam Amick (here, here, here, and here, respectively).

The top contenders

Steve Kerr

My first post at GSoM almost three years ago was one about the track record of coaches hired straight from the broadcast booth into the NBA without any prior coaching experience. At that time, there were only two previous options to draw from (Doc Rivers being hired by the Orlando Magic and Quinn Buckner being hired by the Dallas Mavericks) and a friend joked that it was basically a 50% success rate - barring a major failure at his next stop, we can probably put Jackson closer to the successful end of things.

However, the notion of starting over with another novice coach with a team that is now knocking on the door of the elite is just no easier a proposition to swallow now and another Kawakami report suggested that the Warriors might actually be weighing that variable to some extent.

One source agreed that TNT broadcaster Steve Kerr’s name has come up, mostly because he has ties to Joe and Kirk Lacob from years back, and because Warriors management believes Kerr would run a much more fluid offense than Jackson’s.

But the source cautioned that the Warriors might not want to hire back-to-back coaches with no experience on the sidelines and that Kerr is probably headed to the Knicks, anyway.

Nevertheless, given that the Warriors have already contacted Kerr and there's apparently mutual interest, we have to believe the reports that he's the front-runner and the whole thing could come down to whether he chooses the Bay Area or New York.

Stan Van Gundy

For those concerned about the strategic knowledge of Jackson's replacement, Van Gundy has to be an intriguing choice.

There's a lot to admire about what he did with the Orlando Magic in getting them to the NBA Finals in 2009 and really even the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010 - it's something I've written about in the past and I think there's a lot Van Gundy could do with this roster.

The one reservation about Van Gundy might be the intangibles that Jackson has thrived on in getting this team to where they are, all Dwight Howard drama aside - whether this is just a regurgitated trope perpetuated by media or a true story, he's gotten a rap for having an "uncomfortably" aggressive coaching style and Mike Fine of the Patriot Ledger once reported that "...he's going to work on being less negative, but still very intense."

Those are not always bad things in isolation - again, he got a team to the NBA Finals - but the criticisms read as the polar opposite of Jackson, which could make for a rough adjustment; the Warriors are a team of coachable, hard-working, and professional players, but they're also humans who are subject to human responses to a major shift in style.

The Challengers

Alvin Gentry

Both Kawakami and Simmons have reported that current Clippers assistant and former Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry is a possibility. And although he was fired by the Suns after a 13-28 start to the 2012-13 season, SB Nation's Tom Ziller suggested he got a raw deal there from the front office - suffice it to say that the current Warriors roster is much better than the Suns roster Gentry was given. And perhaps that could explain his sub-.500 career win percentage.

Lionel Hollins

Hollins is a particularly interesting name on the list of candidates that come up not necessarily because of coaching coaching ability but because of the circumstances surrounding his departure from Memphis: he was dismissed by the Memphis Grizzlies after a) a dispute with management reportedly because he b) objected to their emphasis on analytics led by former ESPN analyst John Hollinger. Sound vaguely familiar?

That's not to say that Hollins' past with Memphis should be a deal-breaker - Dan Feldman of NBC Sports suggests that he's interested in coaching again and he can't possibly expect to just ignore the analytics movement.

As the NBA becomes more analytically focused, Hollins will have to become more accepting of new methods and collaborating with a front office. He’ll have to show during interviews he’s open to that. It wouldn’t be a big shift, as most of Hollins’ principles match analytically produced strategy. Really, it seems Hollins objects to outside influence more than anything – even if he happens to agree with those other voices, though maybe not their methodology.

Yet given the non-dysfunctional-but-untenable Jackson situation it just seems unlikely that a team definitely into analytics would go in this direction.

Other notables:

Fred Hoiberg: Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg is another guy who is reportedly at the top of the Warriors' list, but Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register has tried to shoot down that rumor twice in the last two days. Of course, former Butler coach Brad Stevens was against making a leap to the NBA before he was for it, but for right now it seems the information we have available suggests Hoiberg is a non-option.

Tom Thibodeau: Obviously the Warriors want Thibodeau. And I would like to win the lottery. Not saying this is an impossibility, but there's the added challenge of pursuing a coach that currently has three years left on his contract. And while some people around the NBA punditry seem to believe this is an open question, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune has documented statements from Thibodeau himself, Bulls vice president John Paxson, and Bulls general manager Gar Forman that seem in support of maintaining that relationship. So maybe we should put this one to rest or at least the back burner?

Mike D'Antoni: D'Antoni is not exactly the most popular guy around right now, but Amick reports that he's interested in the position and it's not exactly hard to see why: there's a whole lot he could do with this roster and the concerns about his defensive coaching ability, though overstated, might be masked a bit by the fact that the Warriors have a trio of really good defensive players in Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. So I'm going to parrot Ronaldinho's comment from the other day on this matter:

Di'Antonni's DRTG in Pheonix:

17, 16, 13, 16.

So basically we're talking about a league-average defense. But who were his players?
In that best year:

Marion Nash Diaw Stoudemire Bell.

Marion was a good defender. Stoudemire, pre-injury, was big and mobile.

But there's no rim defense there.

Nash and Curry are similar defenders. Stoudemire is a little bit better than Lee defensively. (Not anymore, then he was). Iguodala, Bogut, and Klay are night-and-day better defenders than Marion, Diaw, and Bell, however. Not close at all, even with Marion being a good defender back in the day.

I mean, I have concerns, absolutely. But the notion that he can't coach defense - to me, getting that starting lineup to an above-average place is more impressive than getting a lineup with Bogut, Iguodala, and Klay into the top three.

There are legitimate concerns given what happened in L.A., but those are all reasonable points.

For more on the Warriors' coaching search in the face of Jackson's dismissal, check out our storystream following Jackson's performance throughout the season.

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