It's admittedly a bit early for the hot seat, even by NBA standards — what, you thought we'd wait until the NBA Finals were over? But there are several coaches [not named Mike Woodson] that will begin training camp under the microscope.
Five coaches to keep an eye on:
• Vinny Del Negro, Chicago: The Bulls took a huge chance by hiring Del Negro, who'll have to be a quick study to stay afloat in the ultra competitive Central Division. Del Negro has never blown a coaching whistle and has only spent three years on the business side of the league, working in the front office in Phoenix after his playing and broadcasting days. After being burned by Scott Skiles, who has since resurfaced in Milwaukee, and his gruff approach, the Bulls opted for a guy whose journeyman career might help him better relate to a mismatched bunch in the Bulls' locker room. But unless Del Negro is a visionary hire and can make a seamless transition, he'll be stuck in a situation ripe for dysfunction.
• Michael Curry, Detroit: Curry was pegged years ago by teammates and coaches to be in the position the Pistons put him in last week as the successor to Flip Saunders. Curry has a leg up on Del Negro in that he's already spent time working with the Pistons, both as a player and this past season as an assistant coach. Curry is also a former head of the players union, meaning he knows how to lead and understands the importance of diplomacy in this setting. There are worries about Curry's ability to match X's and O's in game situations. But Pistons boss Joe Dumars is more worried about Curry being able to get the most out of a roster built for the playoffs.
• Terry Porter, Phoenix: The folks in Milwaukee are still wondering what hometown hero Porter did to get bounced in 2005 after just two seasons, one ending in the playoffs, the second not. It wasn't like the Bucks handed him a playoff roster. But there will be no mystery and no excuses with the Suns, even if they are on the backside of their reign as the NBA's most exciting team. The personnel has changed dramatically the past four years, but as long as Steven Nash has Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire to work with, expectations for the Suns will be sky-high. Even tougher for Porter will be following a coach like Mike D'Antoni, a fan favorite and media darling for years before Steve Kerr took over as general manager.
Mike D'Antoni, New York
Normally a coaching record of 253-136 in five years in Phoenix, including two trips to the Western Conference finals, would buy a coach a little breathing room on his next job. But not in New York, where shiny credentials get discarded like cigarette butts on a Manhattan sidewalk. D'Antoni's status as a visionary and offensive genius will be under heavy scrutiny in Gotham, where he replaces Isiah Thomas and inherits a Thomas-built roster hardly equipped to play his up-tempo style. What folks need to remember, though, is that D'Antoni inherited a Suns team and guided them to 50-plus wins in all four of his full seasons at the helm. D'Antoni has the added bonus of working with one of the league's best general managers in Donnie Walsh, who will move whatever bodies necessary to field a quality team.
Larry Brown, Charlotte
This list isn't usually the place for Hall of Famers. But Brown has no choice but to join this party after his last coaching stop, a disastrous turn in New York, and the Bobcats' status as the Eastern Conference's doormat club. The addition of Brown to the bench ought to be good for at least 5-10 more wins next season. But Brown's arrival usually brings a few issues as well, mainly roster shake-ups that could disturb whatever chemistry the Bobcats have developed in the past few years. That said, the Bobcats took steps backward during Sam Vincent's lone season as coach. Injuries to Sean May and Adam Morrison didn't help their cause. A teacher is what the Bobcats needed and they got the best in the business in Brown, who has worked his maniacal magic in college and the NBA during his storied career. He'll need some serious help from Bobcats boss Michael Jordan to make it happen, but betting against Brown is always a bigger gamble than betting on him.
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