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Thursday Therapy: Coaches and Playoffs

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With the firing of Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks yesterday, the offseason coaching carousel started to spin in earnest. Who's going where? And are all the playoff matchups but Spurs-Clippers done and dusted?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Therapy, where here in Minnesota Timberwolves-land, we can dream of hopping on the train to search for a new coach all we want, but it doesn't seem likely to happen this offseason. However, down in Oklahoma City, the long-rumored departure of coach Scott Brooks happened for good became official. Brooks wasn't exactly unsuccessful in his tenure with the Thunder, with a 2012 Western Conference title and a 2010 Coach of the Year award. However, injuries to each of his star players over the last few years (Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka this season, Russell Westbrook in 2014, Ibaka in 2013) and a perceived failure to maximize Durant and Westbrook's windows as top-5-to-10 players in the NBA doomed him in the end.

The two names that have prominently come up in connection to the Thunder opening are Florida coach Billy Donovan and UConn coach (and former Timberwolf) Kevin Ollie, who retired from the Thunder in 2010. Ollie, who has coached at UConn for the last three years and won the 2014 title, announced yesterday that he had no plans to pursue other opportunities. However, that says nothing about what happens when other opportunities pursue him. Donovan has been linked to jobs for many seasons, and even accepted the Orlando Magic's head coaching position in 2007, only to back out a couple of days later. Bradley Beal, for one, thinks this might be the time Donovan does leave Florida for good. Next season would be Donovan's 20th at Florida, featuring back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007 and four Final Four appearances, most recently in 2014.

The other common openings are in Orlando, where James Borrego has been the interim coach since Jacque Vaughn's firing, and Denver, where Melvin Hunt salvaged the mess Brian Shaw left and finished the year 10-13. The Nuggets' list included Donovan and Brooks, in addition to Hunt and several other familiar names. This article from Denver Stiffs about Hunt from right after he received the interim job is a great read. DS also did a ten-part series on potential coaching candidates. Borrego also would like to keep his head coaching gig in Orlando, but is unlikely to do so. Brooks is immediately a candidate there as well.

Where else might there be openings by the time all is done and dusted?

  • Toronto/Washington: More than likely, whichever head coach loses the Eastern Conference first round playoff series between the Raptors and Wizards is done. Right now, it appears that crowd favorite Randy Wittman is safe, and Dwane Casey is on his way out the door, which may be a sigh of relief to some around the Twin Cities.
  • New Orleans: Monty Williams has received a lot of praise for the Pelicans' effort in their first two games against heavily-favored Golden State, but there remains a lot of the residual bad vibes from during the season, when it was suggested that whichever of he or Brooks didn't make the playoffs would be fired. So far that was true, but will the Pelicans drop a coach who is beloved by so many of their players?
  • San Antonio: This is complete speculation that pops up every year around this time. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are both out of contract at the end of this season. Gregg Popovich signed a five-year contract last offseason, but said himself that "It's a five-year contract, but the chances of staying for five years I don't think are very good." As the linked piece from USA Today states, though, it's probably not time yet, but it's worth keeping an eye on. When it is Pop's time to leave, keep an eye on Ettore Messina, the long-time Euro coach who is now a Spurs assistant.
  • Minnesota: Keep the dream alive!

Okay, not really. And definitely not for Scott Brooks.

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Playoff Results:

  • Hawks 96, Nets 91: Both the Pelicans and Nets have made life harder than expected for their respective 1-seeds. The Nets had a second straight close loss to the Hawks last night, a game that was close almost the whole way through. With the win and the series shift to Brooklyn, the Hawks can take a couple of days to celebrate their sale to the group led by Tony Ressler and Grant Hill.
  • Grizzlies 97, Trail Blazers 82: It's a bad time to be a Portland basketball fan. The Blazers got waxed for the second straight game, and the loud noises from Portland are less about this series and more about Lamarcus Aldridge's pending free agency. Obviously, this series isn't over yet, and Portland can even it up at home, but they have not looked close to doing anything like that in the first couple of games.
  • Spurs 111, Clippers 107 (OT): From probably the least interesting first-round series to the most interesting one. The Spurs managed to get a game in Los Angeles and take home-court advantage back to San Antonio with them. This would have been a painful loss for the Spurs had they not pulled it out in overtime, after giving up a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. As has been noted elsewhere, Popovich's dogged focus on Hack-a-DeAndre Jordan has been a blight on this beautiful series, and the debate on the validity of the strategy over the offseason should be fascinating.

Last bit of news that hit right before I hit publish: San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard was just named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. I would not want to be the New Orleans Pelicans tonight. Draymond Green's going to be in the mood.

That's all from here this morning. Music of the morning is DragonForce's Through the Fire and Flames... sort of.