Will San Antonio Connection Spur Nets’ Coaching Decision?

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Reading the tea leaves on the Nets’ upcoming coaching search:

Gregg Popovich
As much as I would like to believe in fairy tales, the one about Popovich jumping the San Antonio ship after 24 seasons to come to Brooklyn seems just too far-fetched. In the last week, I have deduced that Nets owner Joseph Tsai, as Shams Charania reported, can’t conduct a “full-scale head coaching process” while also targeting Popovich. A Hall of Fame coach with five rings doesn’t audition that way.

Since Popovich is under contract, the Nets need to pass through three preliminary phone calls: get San Antonio’s permission, gauge Popovich’s interest, and then negotiate a trade. A “no” on any of these calls means the end of the pursuit.
If this process takes too long, other candidates could easily accept other openings, leaving Brooklyn with sub-prime options.

Sean Marks, who apprenticed in San Antonio in various roles for about four years (including a championship season as Popovich’s assistant coach in 2014) before taking on the near-impossible task of rebuilding the Nets from rubble as general manager in 2016, has a distinct taste for former Spurs employees when it comes to filling out his organization chart. According to NetsDaily.com, there are at least nine such connections to the Spurs, including current interim head coach Jacque Vaughn, who replaced Kenny Atkinson (a disciple of former Spurs assistant and current Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer) in March.

Since Marks somehow pulled superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving out of his hat in last offseason’s free agent market, I’m not going to rule out the possibility that he can similarly help secure Popovich’s services. However, I think Popovich to Brooklyn would be even a bigger shock than that “clean sweep.”

Tyronn Lue
Now we’re heading back to reality. Lue is expecting Brooklyn to make him an offer, according to Philly.com’s Keith Pompey, who also noted that the Clippers assistant is asking for $7 million per year but could settle for $5-6 million.

If you’re a Nets fan, the good thing about this search is that there is no salary cap for coaches, and Tsai is the league’s third-richest owner. Money should not be an obstacle if Lue is Brooklyn’s top choice.

But more importantly, are the Nets Lue’s top choice? I originally thought New Orleans would be a competitive suitor, given Lue’s relationship with Executive Vice President David Griffin from their days winning a title in Cleveland (with Irving hitting the biggest shot in Game 7 of the Finals), but have since learned that Philadelphia and Houston (if Mike D’Antoni moves on) are more likely to stand in Brooklyn’s way.

It may sound crazy, but the Nets job just might end up being the most attractive to Lue. They have a solid infrastructure and, as I understand it, key players’ blessings.
The Sixers in particular are a hot mess with their ill-fitting roster, questionable training and development staffs, and a GM who chose to give Tobias Harris max money over Jimmy Butler. Lue might even think Irving is a joy when compared to Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

I’m curious, though, to see if Marks pushes to give the job to someone with a Spurs relation, since a Lue hiring, in my opinion, would signal a diminishment of Marks’ influence with Tsai. Lue is less analytics-driven (though to be fair, Vaughn embraced the mid-range shot much more than Atkinson ever did) and less egalitarian in his offensive game plans. Is it a coincidence that the leaks that have been emanating to date have promoted Popovich and Vaughn, while SNY’s Ian Begley reported on Saturday that some in the Nets organization “expressed pessimism” about the idea of hiring Lue?

That doesn’t change my view, for reasons I outlined in an April post, that Lue is the best fit here.

Jason Kidd
This is not a joke. Kidd, who stands as either 1A or 1B alongside Julius Erving in this franchise’s rankings of best player ever, is somehow being considered to return for a second act as Nets coach after burning every bridge in Brooklyn’s prior regime down with his bizarre exit after the 2014 season.

The key word, though, is prior. Brooklyn’s owner, GM, support staff, and the players from those days are all gone.

Despite a less-than-stellar track record – including the campaign where championship-hyped Brooklyn started 11-21, and needed a season-ending injury to center Brook Lopez to coalesce around a small-ball experiment and win one playoff round – Kidd apparently interviews well enough to be viewed as a top candidate for many jobs. He reportedly was the runner-up to Tom Thibodeau in the Knicks’ lengthy coaching search last month.

Kidd appears to have been a model citizen this season as a Lakers assistant, and may have the relationship-builder part of the head job down pat, but I question whether he’s the one you want drawing adjustments up on the sideline in a contested playoff series.

Jacque Vaughn
I don’t doubt that Vaughn will be given “consideration” in this search, as Marks previously stated, and I certainly don’t fault him for the Nets getting blown out three times in Toronto’s four-game first-round sweep in the Orlando bubble.

However, let’s not go overboard on Vaughn’s 7-3 regular season record, including a 5-3 mark in the seeding games with a depleted roster, either. He still owns a .288 career winning percentage thanks to three awful seasons in Orlando, and this postseason has been Vaughn’s only head coaching playoff experience.

Taking a step back, I find it hard to believe that Durant and Irving, who reportedly have Tsai’s ear, will back Vaughn as their caretaker for such a crucial season when more accomplished coaches are available. It doesn’t make sense.

If Vaughn does get the nod after a Popovich rejection, however, chalk up another win for Marks and the Spurs Way.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter: @SteveLichtenst1

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