Woj-bomb alert! A week that may have been expected to lack much excitement outside the draft combine the next couple days just got a whole lot more intriguing in Salt Lake City with Adrian Wojnarowski’s report1 that the Jazz had reached out to the Chicago Bulls for permission to interview current assistant coach Adrian Griffin for their vacant head coaching position. The report also goes on to state that the Jazz will likely reach out to several potential coaching candidates in the next few days, and is one of the first bits of “confirmed” news to come out of the front office after a few weeks of mostly speculation and some info from unnamed sources. The news isn’t a surprise to many, as Griffin has been rumored as a candidate for several head jobs dating back to last season. It’s also confirmation that, as most insiders expected, Utah will be proactive in its search well before the end of the postseason.
Griffin has a solid history in the NBA and is very well-respected in most circles dating back to his playing career. He was signed as an undrafted free agent with Boston to begin his career in 1999 after spending his first three post-college seasons in Italy, and played for four different teams over his nine-year career. He was always something of a bit player, never eclipsing the 26.8 minutes a game he clocked in his rookie season with Boston and logging four different seasons below 10 a night, but also had his share of important moments including a role for a 2006 Mavs team that made the Finals2.
He made the jump to coaching almost immediately after his playing retirement, coming on as an assistant for Scott Skiles in Milwaukee and remaining for two years before moving to Tom Thibodeau’s staff in Chicago in 2010, where he’s remained since. He was drawing interest from around the league even before his promotion to lead assistant last summer with the departure of Ron Adams, and was rumored to be among the finalists for Philly’s open slot before the Sixers eventually decided on Brett Brown. Things have only accelerated this offseason with the Bulls’ dismissal at the hands of Washington in the first round, with Griffin’s name being linked to the recent opening in Cleveland as recently as two days ago.
Specific elements of Griffin’s coaching style will be tough to differentiate from Thibodeau’s general philosophy given the former’s lack of head coaching experience elsewhere, but at first look Griffin appears to be without many of the anecdotal red flags that accompany someone like Jim Boylen, another assistant being considered. Finding negative press for him was basically impossible in my research, and the prevailing theme among league sources is always his amazing level of intelligence dating back to his playing years. In a recent TrueHoop piece profiling some potential new NBA coaches, ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz noted how those who have crossed paths with him “say that, since high school, Griffin has displayed a polished maturity that screams NBA coach.” Arnovitz was highly complimentary of Griffin’s professionalism and pedigree and quoted one unnamed league insider as referring to him as “a player-friendly Tom Thibodeau.”
This last anecdote could be vital – Thibs is widely considered one of the league’s elite coaches, especially defensively, but bits of evidence are starting to build that he might not be the greatest with personal interactions, particularly between him and his superiors. Rumors3 are already rampant that the Bulls will entertain “trade” offers for him a la Doc Rivers last offseason despite his contract having multiple years remaining, this after a year where relations between he and the Chicago front-office were frequently tension-filled, according to reports. Whether this speaks to his personality, Chicago’s front office, or some combination of both, the Jazz will want to take great care to make sure a similar situation has no chance of developing with Griffin. They’re in a very different place as a franchise than the Bulls, and another failed experiment at the coaching spot could potentially be very damaging long-term.
Of course, much of that goes without saying – making sure a coach is a good fit personality-wise is always high on any front office’s list of priorities when conducting a search. Also of paramount importance will be his basketball acumen, and while in-depth examples here are once again difficult to come by through publicly accessible data, the spoken and written anecdotal word on Griffin appears to be almost exclusively positive. His systems pedigree is obviously elite, and sources close to the team have been quoted as crediting him for parts of Chicago’s continued defensive dominance this past season despite all their injury and trade woes.
He’s likely to emulate Thibodeau in many stylistic capacities, and most would expect a defensive system similar to Chicago’s – overloading on the strong side and conservative pick-and-roll strategies for frontcourt defenders4. Elements like offensive scheme and in-game coaching will, again, be tough to predict with good accuracy, but these are aspects one will certainly be expecting the Jazz to cover in their interview process. Thibodeau is actually considered something of an average in-game coach apart from his elite reputation with defensive systems, but predicting how that will translate to one of his assistants is obviously pretty tough.
Griffin is likely one of several candidates the Jazz will reach out to in the coming weeks, so those in Jazz Nation prone to large immediate reactions should likely temper things a bit and let the process play out. Griffin brings a strong defensive pedigree, something Dennis Lindsey covets openly going forward, and his well-earned reputation within the league will make him a viable candidate for this and other jobs.