As Jazz fans, we were probably looking at our head-coaching vacancy and thinking that we were looking like a significantly better destination than Detroit, thanks to young talent, draft picks, money to spend, and ownership that is nothing if not supremely loyal to the coach.
Considering many reports had Stan Van Gundy heading to Golden State, we were probably pretty confident and safe in feeling like Detroit would never be a more sought-after destination for a top head coach than Salt Lake City, but what we’ve learned in the last 24 hours is that there’s more to wanting to be a head coach than just being the head coach.
Just ask Doc Rivers.
This Adrian Wojnarowski article from October chronicled the drama surrounding Doc, the Clippers, and the JJ Redick trade that owner Donald Sterling almost nixed. Obviously, with recent events surrounding Sterling, a few more details have come to light regarding Sterling’s reasons for wanting to nix the trade, but, even at the time, it was clear to see why Doc Rivers would want final say in personnel decisions because it related so closely with how effectively his team could play. Without Redick’s sharpshooting, the Clippers wouldn’t be in the second round of the playoffs right now.
Given what we saw this last season as Jazz fans, where the goals of the front office and coaching staff didn’t always appear to be in perfect alignment, you can begin to understand a little bit more clearly why Stan Van Gundy would want that kind of power if he were to take over a very poor—and very poorly constructed—Detroit team. He might be thinking, ‘There’s no way I can be a successful coach in Detroit if I don’t have control over which players are staying and going.’ Kind of like how Tyrone Corbin said he knew it wasn’t good for him and his staff when Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were allowed to sign with other teams.
Who are the only other coaches in the league who have final say over player personnel? Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich. Maybe they’re on to something. (Granted, being an awesome coach helped to get them there, but I digress).
Golden State was the other team Van Gundy was considering, but they weren’t willing to budge when he asked for control over player personnel decisions. In Detroit, he’ll have control over player personnel, he can create the culture he wants, and he can build the team, theoretically over a five-year period. Several months back, Brett Brown, coach of the 76ers, discussed how building something requires 3-5 years.
So, if a big-name coach realizes how important personnel decisions are to his ability to coach and be successful, will the Jazz still be able to target and court a big-name coach? Or will Van Gundy’s decision to choose Detroit open the way for other highly sought-after coaches to also demand final say in player personnel decisions? Does that hurt the Jazz’s coaching vacancy appeal?
Does it mean that, instead of focusing on big names, the Jazz need to focus more on a hungry assistant type 1—like Hornacek was last year—or someone looking to make the jump either from Europe (Messina is very intriguing) or the college ranks (Kevin Ollie, anyone?).
At the very least, Stan Van Gundy’s decision highlighted a wrinkle in the coaching search that I know I hadn’t considered, as a Jazz fan: the importance of player personnel decisions. Because on paper, Golden State’s opportunity looked a whole lot more interesting and appealing when I was just looking at the coaching opportunity. But as a package with President of Basketball Operations being thrown in there, it makes sense. Is that something the Jazz can compete with, given that Dennis Lindsey is already that guy and I don’t envision a situation where that control is handed over to a coach?
Jazz fans, what do you think? Is this move going to start a domino effect among coaches wanting more power and control? How does that affect the Jazz? Or is it exclusive to only the really big-name coaches, leaving most teams in a similar position as before?