What's next for the NBA's coaching carousel? Latest on Suns ...

10 May 2024

Tim Bontemps, ESPNMay 9, 2024, 06:14 PM ET

Count two star-studded NBA franchises among those looking for a new coach this offseason.

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On May 3, the Los Angeles Lakers fired Darvin Ham after LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Co. suffered a first-round defeat against the defending champion Denver Nuggets. On Thursday, the Phoenix Suns fired Frank Vogel after a team headlined by Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal was also bounced by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round.

The Lakers and Suns are searching for new voices to continue their championship pursuits. For other teams with vacancies, such as the Washington Wizards, it is about finding a coach to grow with a new executive team and shepherd a rebuilding process.

The Brooklyn Nets became the league's first team to find its potential solution, tapping former Sacramento Kings assistant and current Canadian National Team coach Jordi Fernandez to be their next coach. And on Thursday, the Charlotte Hornets signed Boston Celtics lead assistant Charles Lee to a four-year contract.

Who will join them among new faces on the sidelines next season? Here's a look at the open coaching jobs across the league, the top candidates and the challenges ahead for each franchise.

Coaching vacancies

Phoenix Suns

2023-24 record: 49-33

Previous coach: Frank Vogel (fired Thursday)

Lead executive: James Jones (hired in 2018)

The state of the franchise: It has been an eventful 15 months for Suns owner Mat Ishbia. He swung on a pair of high-profile trades for Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal, and has now moved on from a pair of coaches in Monty Williams, who was fired after last season, and Vogel, who was dismissed after being swept out of the first round by the Timberwolves.

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Still, Ishbia believes his team remains in an envious position.

"Ask the other 29 GMs, 26 of them would trade their whole team for our whole team and our draft picks and everything as is," Ishbia said earlier this month during his end-of-season media availability.

"The house is not on fire. ... It's not hard to fix this. It's not like, 'We don't have enough talent to win a championship.' We have enough talent to win a championship."

The Suns will return their star core of Devin Booker, Durant and Beal, who shot a career-high 43% from 3-point range this season, capitalizing on the defensive attention paid to Booker and Durant. Grayson Allen, meanwhile, was signed to an extension last month after leading the league in 3-point percentage (46.1). Starting big man Jusuf Nurkic is under contract for next year.

But Phoenix will enter the offseason with the league's highest payroll -- ESPN's Bobby Marks projects the Suns' salary next season to be more than $200 million, well over the new second luxury tax apron. Those salary cap restrictions, combined with the loss of draft capital due to previous blockbuster trades, have handcuffed Phoenix from a roster-building standpoint.

Who could get the job: ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that former Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has emerged as a front-runner in the Suns' search. Budenholzer, who grew up northeast of Phoenix, has won more than 60% of his games and clinched the 2021 NBA championship with Milwaukee. He sat out last season after getting fired following the Bucks' shocking first-round loss to the Miami Heat.

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Los Angeles Lakers

2023-24 record: 47-35

Previous coach: Darvin Ham (fired May 3)

Lead executive: Rob Pelinka (hired in 2017)

The state of the franchise: Since Phil Jackson retired after the 2010-11 season, the Lakers have made six coaching hires, with none lasting more than three seasons -- including the only one to win a championship during that stretch, Frank Vogel. Under Ham, the Lakers reached the 2023 Western Conference finals and followed it by winning four more regular-season games in 2023-24. But it wasn't enough to avoid being fired after two seasons.

The franchise's next coach will take over a team that features one of the NBA's best star duos in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers could also be in the mix this summer for a third star to play alongside James -- who has a $51.4 million player option for next season -- and Davis.

James and Davis combined to play 147 games this season -- the most in their five years together -- and yet that wasn't enough for Los Angeles to finish higher than eighth in the regular-season standings. Between young teams at the top such as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder, and others on the rise such as the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, ascending in the West will be a challenge once again next season.

Also likely to return, no matter who the franchise hires to replace Ham, are the expectations and tumult that has defined the franchise for more than a decade. But for a team that has made 32 Finals appearances and is tied with the Boston Celtics for the most titles (17) in NBA history, the expectation is to contend for titles over play-in position -- especially with James on the roster.

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Who could get the job: ESPN's Dave McMenamin has reported two names to watch in the Lakers' coaching search: ESPN NBA analyst JJ Redick and LA Clippers coach Tyronn Lue. Redick currently hosts a podcast with James and interviewed for the Toronto Raptors' coaching job in 2023. He spent more than a decade as one of the NBA's best shooters and is a bright, engaging personality. Lue, meanwhile, has championship history with James; they won the 2016 NBA title together and reached three NBA Finals with the Cavaliers. Lue, though, is under contract with the Clippers for another season, and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Clippers want to give Lue an extension.

Washington Wizards

2023-24 record: 15-67 (14th in East)

Previous coach: Brian Keefe (interim, replaced Wes Unseld Jr. in January)

Lead executive: Michael Winger (hired in 2023)

The state of the franchise: Winger and general manager Will Dawkins -- both of whom have deep roots with the Oklahoma City Thunder -- have set out to follow a similar diligent blueprint to the one Thunder executive Sam Presti has successfully executed in OKC -- twice. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is also viewed around the league as one of the more patient of his cohort, and whichever coach the franchise lands will be of the understanding that this rebuild will not happen quickly.

Not only is Washington's current roster short on talent, but this year's draft lacks the projected star power of future classes in 2025 and 2026. As a result, whoever gets this job should be expecting a heavy focus on player development, which could create uncertain futures for Washington's other veterans, including Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma, who each have three years remaining on their contracts.

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Who could get the job: Keefe, who went 8-31 over the final three months of the season after replacing Unseld in January, is expected to be a candidate for the permanent gig. Like Winger and Dawkins, Keefe spent time in Oklahoma City, working for the Thunder from 2009-14. The 48-year-old Keefe went on to serve as an assistant with the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Wizards, in addition to spending the 2019-20 season back with the Thunder under then-coach Billy Donovan.

Hired jobs

Charlotte Hornets

2023-24 record: 21-61 (13th in East)

Previous coach: Steve Clifford (stepped down after the season, his seventh overall with the franchise and his second in this second stint with the team)

Lead executive: Jeff Peterson (hired in March, replacing Mitch Kupchak)

The state of the franchise: A lot has changed in Charlotte since a new ownership group led by Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin took over last summer, with previous owner Michael Jordan retaining a minority stake. The Hornets have proposed plans for a new practice facility, hired Peterson away from the Nets and made multiple deals at the February trade deadline to bring in both future draft picks and young players such as former Oklahoma City Thunder guard Tre Mann.

The Hornets are looking to build around its youth. LaMelo Ball broke through for an All-Star selection in 2022, but the 22-year-old guard has played a combined 58 games over the past two seasons. No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller, who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting behind Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren, averaged 17.3 points per game, shot 37.3% from 3-point range and has begun developing into the two-way force Charlotte hoped. Second-year center Mark Williams showed promise before a back issue limited him to 19 games this season.

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Charlotte isn't immune to the challenges of building a small-market contender, and new ownership has not revealed its willingness to pay the luxury tax. The Hornets are one of two teams -- along with the New Orleans Pelicans -- to never pay the tax.

Meanwhile, the Hornets have made the playoffs just three times since returning to the league in the 2004-05 season, and their three total playoff victories over that span are the fewest of any NBA team.

Who got the job: Charlotte announced Thursday that Charles Lee, currently the top assistant under Joe Mazzulla for the league-leading Boston Celtics, would be succeeding Clifford as the team's head coach. Lee is one of the league's most prominent assistant coaches, having interviewed for several jobs in recent seasons and playing a key role both with Boston this year, as the Celtics had the NBA's best record, and for the past few under Mike Budenholzer in both Milwaukee, where the Bucks won the 2021 NBA title, and Atlanta before that. Budenholzer's tree includes several successful head coaches, including Quin Snyder, Taylor Jenkins, Kenny Atkinson and Darvin Ham, and now Lee will get a chance to add to that list with some intriguing young talent and a new leadership team in Charlotte.

Brooklyn Nets

2023-24 record: 32-50 (11th in East)

New coach: Jordi Fernandez (former Kings assistant)

Previous coach: Kevin Ollie (interim, replaced Jacque Vaughn in February)

Lead executive: Sean Marks (hired in 2016)

The state of the franchise: Outside of their poor finish this season, the Nets have plenty going for them. They are in the league's biggest market, have one of its richest owners in Joe Tsai, have a terrific arena in Barclays Center and a modern practice facility overlooking New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.

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They landed a series of draft picks from the aging and expensive Phoenix Suns that could reap them future rewards. And, unlike some of the other open jobs this offseason, there is some present-day talent on the roster that could be competitive right now -- at least for a play-in tournament spot.

Brooklyn appeared headed in that direction when it was 15-15 on the morning of Dec. 27. But after the Nets chose to tank a home game against the Milwaukee Bucks that night, they went 17-35 over the final 52 games and tumbled down the standings.

Mikal Bridges is an All-Star-caliber two-way wing player who has played every game of his career. After that, however, there are questions. Cam Thomas is an intriguing scoring guard, but he is one of the league's more polarizing players. Nic Claxton, the team's starting center, is an unrestricted free agent, though Brooklyn is confident about re-signing the 25-year-old.

Who got the job: Fernandez was widely expected to get a head-coaching job somewhere in the NBA during this cycle because of his work alongside Mike Brown in Sacramento and helping lead Canada to its first international medal in decades, a bronze medal in last year's FIBA World Cup. Fernandez has also been an assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets during his NBA career, and his hiring presents Brooklyn with the ability to go in multiple directions this summer, as they could opt for a rebuild after a disappointing season or aggressively pursue veteran talent to try to take a step forward. The presence of talented, younger players such as Bridges and Claxton -- plus upcoming salary flexibility and draft picks to move -- gives Brooklyn a lot of different directions it can pivot in, depending on what opportunities present themselves.

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