The head coach is the starting point for most teams’ success and can go a long way in transforming a talented roster into a successful unit.
Teams like the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are welcoming new head coaches while the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, and Miami Heat will look to continue their success with the same coach who has been at the helm for years.
With that in mind, let’s examine the three coaches who will be under the biggest microscope this upcoming season.
Unlike Jason Kidd and former teammate Derek Fisher, Walton enters his first gig as head coach with prior coaching experience. He was an assistant coach at the University of Memphis during the 2011 NBA lockout and a player development coach for the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBA Developmental League from 2013-14.
The last two seasons, however, Walton showed the coaching poise many believed he had in him. Working as the assistant head coach to Steve Kerr with the Golden State Warriors, Walton was part of the 2014-15 NBA champion squad and last year’s team that lost in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games. Walton actually began the 2015-16 campaign as head coach with Kerr dealing with a serious back injury. Dub Nation won a league record 19 consecutive games to begin the season and went 39-4 with Walton at the helm until Kerr returned. However, per NBA rules, Walton was not credited with any of the wins or losses as interim coaches’ statistics are applied to the head coach.
Now, Walton enters a rebuilding Lakers team with several young, talented and unproven commodities. He is also the first coach of the post-Kobe Bryant era. The Lakers are not expected to compete for a playoff spot but with youngsters like 2016 second overall pick Brandon Ingram as well as Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., and Julius Randle, Walton will have to work with a lot of potential superstars. However, given his familiarity with the organization’s values, he will have tremendous pressure to guide the team from talented youngsters to reliable assets.
Lue found himself in a unique situation last season, taking over for then-Cavaliers head coach David Blatt who had the team in first place in the Eastern Conference. However, there were apparent issues with the team’s chemistry and Blatt was the casualty. Under Lue’s guidance, the Cavaliers went 27-14 over a 41-game stretch, finishing the regular season 57-25 – the top record in the conference.
In the playoffs, the Cavaliers made quick work of the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks in the first round and the conference semifinals, sweeping both series. In the conference finals, the Toronto Raptors gave Cleveland a scare, evening the series at 2-2 but the Cavaliers came back to win the series 4-2 and advance to their second straight NBA Finals. Under Lue’s tutelage, Cleveland overcame a 3-1 deficit – the first time a team has done so in finals history – to defeat the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
For his efforts, Lue was rewarded with a five-year, $35 million extension this offseason. The hefty contract brings stability and high expectations as Lue will be expected to lead the team to championship glory every year under his current deal.
After an underwhelming season in which injuries and off-court drama led to a 42-40 season, the Chicago Bulls missed the playoffs. Entering the season, some viewed the Bulls as one of the East’s top teams and a potential championship contender. Instead, questions about the team’s passion and injuries to franchise superstar Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah partnered with down years from Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson proved fatal to the team’s playoff hopes.
Now, Noah, Rose and Gasol are gone and the Bulls have revamped their squad with a veteran presence. Hometown superstar Dwyane Wade departed from the Miami Heat to join the Bulls; Rajon Rondo is for all intents and purposes Rose’s replacement; first round pick Denzel Valentine is poised to make an impact, and role players like Robin Lopez and Taj Gibson figure to give the Bulls some much-needed passion.
Hoiberg’s college coaching success got him in the door. Now, after his one-year adjustment period, the pressure is on to show that he can not only lead the team to win games – but do so as a cohesive unit.