CHICAGO — Jon Horst walked the Marriott Marquis lobby with a black hat pulled low over his eyes, a cell phone glued to his ear. The Bucks’ general manager has been conducting interviews for Milwaukee’s head coaching job throughout this week of the annual NBA Draft Combine. And that doesn’t just mean outgoing calls to set up meetings. That means plenty of inbound votes of confidence, from agents supporting clients to rival coaches pushing an assistant’s name.
Four teams do remain in the NBA playoffs, where Game 1 for each conference finals matchup has streamed from televisions above the lobby bar. But the offseason is in full swing for all other 26 organizations. With a large portion of team personnel present in Chicago this week, there has been no shortage of developments in a spinning coaching carousel. The Washington Wizards are in the middle of a clandestine search for a new lead basketball executive. And the future of president of basketball operations Bob Myers in Golden State has lingered on the periphery of conversations among pro basketball’s cognoscenti.
Much of the Warriors’ staff — including Myers and owner Joe Lacob — was still gathered at a routine team dinner Wednesday night, when The Athletic published a report that Myers and Golden State remain far apart in contract negotiations and that the two sides are bracing for his exit from the franchise. Mike Dunleavy Jr. has long been seen as an eventual successor to Myers as general manager in the event that Myers were to leave the Warriors after constructing four championship rosters. The possibility of such a change in leadership has been top of mind throughout Golden State’s basketball operations during the latter months of this season. Six weeks still remain until Myers’ contract expires June 30, affording plenty of wiggle room for the Warriors and Myers to eventually come to an agreement, which league personnel are expecting to surpass $10 million in annual salary, should Golden State’s general manager ultimately wish to remain with the club.
The only current open general manager role resides in the nation’s capital. Whenever a prime position opens atop an organizational chart, or a head coach is relieved of his duties, there are no shortage of hopeful candidates pushing behind the scenes for consideration and names that start ruminating around the league’s echo chamber. This Wizards job is no different. The degree to which Washington leadership appears focused on moving in silence, though, has been one of the major talking points among team officials here in Chicago. There have been plenty of rumored potential people for the job, from high-ranking rival team executives to a player agent, but the rumor mill has seemed to churn faster than the Wizards’ actual process. Many of the whispered names on Washington’s supposed list of candidates have yet to be contacted by the franchise, sources told Yahoo Sports, and some might never will. Former Georgetown head coach John Thompson III, the Wizards’ vice president of player programs, is aiding owner Ted Leonsis in the team’s search, sources said.
New Orleans Pelicans general manager Trajan Langdon, the second in command to executive vice president David Griffin, has interviewed in-person for the Wizards’ position, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The other candidate known to have interviewed with Washington is Clippers general manager Michael Winger, sources said. In league custom, if either Langdon or Winger were to be tapped as Washington’s next lead executive, he would likely rise to president of basketball operations from his current title. Winger has turned down past overtures from other teams, such as Minnesota, so the fact the respected strategist accepted a meeting with Washington is definitely noteworthy. There has been skepticism among league personnel that Winger, one of the highest compensated front-office lieutenants in the NBA, sources said, would depart a well-resourced Los Angeles franchise under Steve Ballmer’s stewardship, as the Clippers also begin talks with head coach Tyronn Lue about a new contract. Milt Newton, the assistant general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks who spent 10 years in Washington from 2003-13, held preliminary conversations with the Wizards, as first reported by The Washington Post.
Coaching updates around the league
Lue has been often mentioned as a primary target for both the Milwaukee Bucks’ and Phoenix Suns’ head-coaching jobs, but there is similar pessimism among people familiar with Lue and the Clippers’ front office that the respected play-caller can truly be poached from Los Angeles. Ballmer is known to have a strong affinity for Lue and his coaching acumen, sources said, and the Clippers still very much harbor championship aspirations despite another playoff shortcoming from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Also consider the challenge facing Milwaukee and Phoenix, both with emptied cupboards of draft capital the Clippers would almost certainly require as compensation for their highly regarded head coach. The Bucks do have a 2029 first-round draft pick still available, which Milwaukee considered using to acquire Bojan Bogdanovic before the February trade deadline, sources said, and that will be a valuable building block as the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement enforces harsher penalties for exorbitant tax bills like the one the Bucks are facing in the near future.
Horst’s search to replace Mike Budenholzer as head coach appears to be in no rush, suggesting the Bucks are exploring all options for the next person to guide Milwaukee’s title chase behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, who becomes eligible to sign a new contract extension in September. Monty Williams, recently fired from Phoenix following the Suns’ second-round defeat to Denver, is expected to factor prominently in Milwaukee’s decision process, but is also a candidate for the Philadelphia 76ers’ opening. Scott Brooks, the Portland assistant who previously held the head job in Washington and Oklahoma City, left a strong impression on Milwaukee during his meeting, sources told Yahoo Sports. Frank Vogel, who steered Los Angeles to the 2020 championship, is slated among the interviewees for the Bucks’ job this week, sources said. Former Hornets head coach James Borrego is another name to monitor for Milwaukee, while the Bucks are also interviewing candidates without previous experience leading an NBA bench.
After meeting with Houston Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson and Wizards assistant Joseph Blair, who coached Rio Grande Valley to the 2019 G League championship, the Bucks will also interview Will Weaver, sources told Yahoo Sports, the head coach of Paris Basketball of LNB Pro A who once piloted the Long Island Nets. Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin has already interviewed for the Bucks’ position, sources said. Other assistants known to be involved in Milwaukee’s search are Kenny Atkinson from the Warriors, Miami’s Chris Quinn and Suns associate head coach Kevin Young.
Bucks assistant Charles Lee is also expected to draw serious consideration to replace Budenholzer, but remains a finalist for the Detroit Pistons’ head coaching job, too. Lee, Pelicans assistant Jarron Collins and Overtime Elite head coach Kevin Ollie all met with Detroit owner Tom Gores in Los Angeles last week, sources said, although it appears none of the three final candidates for the position left Gores with a standout impression. There was also a growing sentiment among league coaching figures that a Detroit win at Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery — which could have landed the league-worst Pistons the No. 1 pick and the right to select French sensation Victor Wembanyama — would have sparked a Detroit attempt to lure Williams, who overlapped with Pistons general manager Troy Weaver during his time in Oklahoma City. The fact another week has nearly passed since the team’s trio of finalists interviewed with Gores in Southern California has further led several coaching representatives to question whether Detroit would perhaps reopen the search to consider more candidates.
Wembanyama is presumably heading to San Antonio after the Spurs secured the top selection in Tuesday night’s critical drawing. He is surely expected to be coached by none other than Gregg Popovich, the five-time champion and winningest coach in NBA history who oversaw the Hall of Fame careers of David Robinson and Tim Duncan before Wembanayama. Popovich, 74, is believed to have free reign to hold the Spurs’ coaching post as long as he sees fit. The veteran coach’s contract did expire at the conclusion of the 2022-23 season, and he has yet to re-sign a new deal with San Antonio, sources said.
At this juncture, Philadelphia’s process to replace former head coach Doc Rivers is not expected to grow beyond the Sixers’ initial list of Budenholzer, Williams, Vogel, Philadelphia assistant Sam Cassell, former Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni and former Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, sources told Yahoo Sports. Sixers president Daryl Morey shouldered responsibility for the decision to remove Rivers during a news conference Wednesday. Several members of Rivers’ staff, sources said, have pointed to All-Star point guard James Harden — whom league personnel are expecting to decline his player option in search of a long-term contract — as a driving force behind Rivers’ departure.
The Raptors’ pursuit of a replacement for Nurse is moving at a slow pace similar to Milwaukee’s, with Toronto expected to continue with a second round of interviews throughout the rest of the month. The Raptors, sources said, are hoping to be blown away by a candidate during their lengthy, patient approach, no matter how unconventional a hire that might eventually be. Longtime assistant Jim Sann, along with player development specialist Rico Hines, are expected to remain on Toronto’s staff regardless of head coach, sources said.