NBA
June 16, 2021

Ranking the Open NBA Head-Coaching Jobs

The NBA's coaching carousel is moving at warp speed. 

The playoffs are in full swing, and yet there are six head coaching vacancies that have already popped up. 

But none was more jaw-dropping than the news that Brad Stevens is moving from the sideline to the press box, taking over for Danny Ainge as the Celtics' president of basketball operations.

Is the Celtics vacancy the best of the bunch? We've ranked the six current openings from worst to first. 

6. Orlando Magic

After an eternity of being seemingly stuck in eighth-seeded hell, the Magic finally decided to go into full rebuild mode. 

After shipping off Nikola VucevicAaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, the Magic are left with an intriguing collection of formerly hyped talent, highlighted by Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter Jr.

It’s safe to say Orlando will be pretty bad next season as they try to sort out which of their promising young players has the potential to stick. But that doesn’t mean that the future isn’t bright. The Magic own two future Chicago Bulls first-round picks thanks to the Vucevic trade, and one of those is projected to be a top-10 selection in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft. 

Add in their own high lottery pick, and the Magic could be bringing in two high-level prospects this summer. While this could all have the makings of a championship contender in 2025, the Magic are expected to be one of the worst teams in the league next season.

The next coach should obviously know they’re stepping into a rebuild, which is a hard sell for lots of established coaches focused on rings. Orlando has a strong leadership structure in place, so this could very well be a great gig for a younger, more developmental-minded coach who is ready to stomach a lot of losing.

5. Washington Wizards

Scott Brooks was the league’s seventh-longest-tenured coach before leaving Washington, and now a very murky future awaits the Wizards.

Brooks may have had his shortcomings as a play-caller, but he was beloved by his players, specifically Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. Those are two pretty important dudes to keep happy, especially since Beal can become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.

The Wizards, as currently constructed, are middling away. Barring a monumental step forward in Hachimura or Deni Avdija’s development, this roster will continue to be mediocre. 

How much more can Beal take? Like most high-level players, he cares about winning and has looked visibly upset at times earlier this season during some dark Wizards losing streaks. Westbrook is even more competitive, but his contract still figures to be difficult to move.

This isn’t a great opening, but it’s pretty solid because there is definitely some elite talent already on board. But Beal's uncertain future makes this job even more of a risk. 

4. New Orleans Pelicans

After only one season, Stan Van Gundy is out in New Orleans. Van Gundy was a poor fit for the youthful Pelicans from the jump. Old-school, tough-minded coaches who struggle to connect with their players are not exactly hot commodities these days, and Van Gundy’s quick exit further validates that point.

Despite a play-in tournament that made it easier to have a shot at the postseason, New Orleans still underwhelmed en route to a 31-51 record. But the 'Cans have plenty to work with. 

Namely superstars Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson and a plethora of assets to improve their promising young roster. 

That, along with living in New Orleans, should attract plenty of candidates. 

Pelicans assistants Teresa Weatherspoon and Fred Vinson will reportedly receive serious consideration for the top role. Weatherspoon is a former player who gained the respect of Pelicans players this year, and it’s easy to see how she can inspire after watching this video:

While the rest of the roster is still in flux, the Pelicans opening is pretty darn desirable. 

3. Indiana Pacers

It was a failed experiment for the Pacers under coach Nate Bjorkgren, who folded under the pressure of being a first-time NBA head coach. 

But it's not all bad news for Nap Town. The Pacers have a playoff-ready roster for whoever will take over for the fired Bjorkgren. 

Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner are a rock-solid starting lineup that should be a playoff lock if everyone can stay on the floor. Brogdon brings toughness, efficiency and good defense at the guard position. LeVert has an overflowing offensive bag of stop-and-start dribble moves that flummox defenses. Sabonis is one of the best passing forwards in the league who is an old-school masher in the post while Turner is one of the best shot blockers in the league.

Recent reports have linked former Blazers coach Terry Stotts to the Pacers opening. After the disastrous Bjorkgren experience, it’s a no-brainer that the Pacers are more inclined to hire a veteran coach who has dealt with a lot of different situations.

2. Portland Trail Blazers

Superstar guard Damian Lillard hasn't requested a trade... yet. Assuming that doesn’t happen, Portland should return a respectable squad as long as they re-sign Norman Powell in free agency. 

Lillard’s presence alone makes this job appealing. The Blazers are fresh off a season in which they ranked second in offensive efficiency. The problem here is their porous defense and the perception that the core has run its course.

But assuming this roster’s bones stay intact, it’s still a very rosy situation. Other than Stephen Curry, Lillard has the longest shooting range in the league and is a cold-blooded assassin in crunch time. C.J. McCollum, who may be traded this offseason, still sports a lethal pull-up game and can weave into the lane with ease.

Center Jusuf Nurkic has dealt with injuries and foul trouble issues the past few seasons, but when he’s on the court, he’s one of the most effective and physically imposing big men in the league. Even in their loss to Denver, the Blazers bulldozed the Nuggets by 16 points per 100 possessions with Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic on the floor together.

This could be a great job for a defensive-minded coach who can help Portland grow into a more balanced team. Or a point-guard whisperer who has earned Lillard’s trust. 

1. Boston Celtics

Ainge leaving the Celtics was not a surprise, but Brad Stevens departing his head coach role was legitimately shocking. 

He leaves behind a flawed, top-heavy roster. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are franchise cornerstones who already have loads of postseason experience to fall back on.

There is also an interesting collection of talent courtesy of past drafts. The cream of the crop is center Robert Williams, who has shown flashes of every valuable skill asked of a center.

The biggest conundrum lies in the backcourt, where Kemba Walker is coming off another knee injury and a disappointing postseason. There’s a high possibility he could be traded this offseason to help shake things up a bit. Ditto for Marcus Smart, who brings toughness and hard-nosed defense, but is one of Boston’s only movable salaries.

No roster is perfect, especially ones with a head-coaching vacancy. But Boston is a historic franchise that has a deeply devoted fanbase. This is a big job that a lot of coaches would be vying for even if they were a lottery team. But depending on what moves Stevens can pull from the front office, they could be contenders again.

Tatum is knocking on the door of the league’s 10 best players and Brown is right behind him when healthy. Who wouldn’t want to coach them?   

Photo: Getty Images