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The NBA’s top 10 coaching candidates who are also former players

Six-time WNBA All-Star Beck Hammon has been an assistant for the Spurs the past three seasonsEric Gay/AP

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There are five NBA head coach openings, six if the Bucks decide to part ways with interim coach Joe Prunty, and there are a plethora of candidates who will seek interviews.

There are former head coaches such as Mark Jackson, Mike Woodson, Jeff Van Gundy, and David Blatt looking for another opportunity. There are veteran assistants such as Nate Tibbetts, Nick Nurse, Stephen Silas, and Jay Larranaga, as well as former players looking for a first opportunity.

Many of the ex-players joined staffs as lower-ranking assistants and worked their way up to being on the verge of nabbing a precious head coaching job.


Some of these candidates will get jobs this summer, and some in coming years, and hopefully one will break a barrier that has clogged pro sports for far too long.

Here is a look at the NBA’s top 10 coaching candidates among former players, and most are familiar names:

Jerry Stackhouse — The former All-Star worked his way through the G-League to emerge in Orlando. Stackhouse played 18 seasons in the NBA and then took a head coaching job with Raptors 905, leading it to a G-League title and another finals appearance. Stackhouse has some qualifications that NBA teams are seeking: leading younger players to success, a few years removed from his NBA days, and a disciplined style that garners respect. The fact Stackhouse not only was an NBA player but an outstanding one — he averaged 29.8 points for the Pistons in 2000-01 — should help him make a successful transition to NBA head coach.

Sam Cassell (right) could potentially become a candidate in Los Angeles in case Doc Rivers decides to leave.David Zalubowski/AP

Sam Cassell — The three-time NBA champion has been waiting patiently, serving on Doc Rivers’s staff with the Clippers after a stint with the Wizards. Cassell works well with guards, has played for elite coaches, and has the personality and name recognition to sell a franchise. Cassell could be waiting for the right position and could potentially become a candidate in Los Angeles in case Rivers decides to leave.


Ed Pinckney — The former Celtic has been an NBA assistant for 11 years, including two stints with the Timberwolves. Pinckney is still mostly known for being part of Villanova’s 1985 national championship team, but he has worked with Timberwolves big men such as Karl-Anthony Towns and could be a top head coaching candidate in the coming years.

Popeye Jones — The Pacers assistant has been on NBA benches as a coach for eight years and his reputation for working with big men is growing. The Pacers’ success this season, especially the development of Myles Turner, will help Jones’s stock rise.

Ime Udoka — The Spurs assistant is interviewing for the Hornets’ job, and regardless, he should be a head coach very soon. Coming from the Gregg Popovich tree, the former backup guard emerged as a rising coaching star and has helped develop the Spurs’ younger players. Udoka is just 40 and has been with the Spurs for six years, so he is ready for the next step.

Jarron Collins — The former NBA forward has served on Steve Kerr’s staff with the Warriors for four seasons and has been a quiet, stabilizing force. The one drawback is his demeanor. Collins has always had an unassuming personality, so his emergence as a potential head coach may be slower than others.


Juwan Howard (left) coached the Heat’s summer league team in 2017, and he just completed another season under coach Erik Spoelstra.Lynne Sladky/AP

Juwan Howard — Howard is just waiting his turn. The former Michigan Fab Five member and longtime NBA big man has made a positive impression with the Heat since his retirement. He coached the Heat’s summer league team in 2017, and he just completed another season under coach Erik Spoelstra. Howard may need more seasoning before getting that first NBA head job, but he’s on his way.

Dan Majerle — The head coach at Grand Canyon University, Majerle took a young program to the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference in his fifth season. Majerle served as an assistant with the Suns, whom he helped reach the NBA Finals as a player, but was passed over for the head job in favor of Jeff Hornacek, prompting Majerle to take the Grand Canyon job. It may not happen in Phoenix, but Majerle is setting himself up for an NBA head coaching job.

Adrian Griffin — The Oklahoma City assistant is highly regarded and has interviewed before for head jobs. He has quietly moved up the ranks and is on the verge of getting that first opportunity. Griffin has a reputation of working well with standout players, such as Jimmy Butler in Chicago. Griffin is a standout but is not a household name, which may be an issue.

Becky Hammon — If the NBA is ever going hire a female head coach, Hammon could be the one. The six-time WNBA All-Star has been an assistant for the Spurs the past three seasons and passed on a chance to become Colorado State’s men’s coach. It may take a few more years for Hammon to get a legitimate opportunity for an NBA head coaching job, but hopefully it’s coming.



Commission had plenty to report

In an interview in March with the Globe, NCAA president Mark Emmert said he was eagerly awaiting a report from an investigative commission, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, about the state of college basketball and how the game can be improved.

Among the suggestions in the commission’s report, which was released last week, were some to the NBA with regard to the one-and-done rule and early-entry players who go undrafted.

The commission called for an end to the one-and-done rule, and the NCAA and NBA seem to agree. Emmert had said he sees no reason for a prospect who does not want to attend college to go for one year just to satisfy the NBA’s requirement for being one year removed from high school before entering the draft.

“The one-and-done regime may have provided some benefits for the NBA and the NCAA in the past, but all stakeholders agree that the downsides now outweigh any benefits,” the commission stated. “One-and-done has played a significant role in corrupting and destabilizing college basketball, restricting the freedom of choice of players, and undermining the relationship of college basketball to the mission of higher education. Elite high school players with NBA prospects and no interest in a college degree should not be ‘forced’ to attend college, often for less than a year. These uniquely talented players are the focus of agents, apparel companies, investment advisers, college coaches, and others seeking to profit from their skills and offering them cash and other benefits in hope of future gain. If they are allowed to turn professional, some of the pressure on the collegiate model will be reduced. Moreover, the recent commitment of the NBA to improve the G-League may enhance its appeal as a professional option for elite players who are 18 and do not wish to attend college.”


Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led the Commission on College Basketball, which released a detailed 60-page report last week, seven months after the NCAA formed the group to respond to a federal corruption investigation that rocked college basketball.Darron Cummings/AP

Some players have decided to skip college and play overseas, and Syracuse signee Darius Bazley passed on playing for the Orange and joined the G-League for a year.

“The commission is concerned about one unintended consequence of ending one-and-done, specifically the potential abuse of the NCAA’s current practice of granting immediate collegiate eligibility to high school players who ‘reclassify’ — i.e., those who make themselves eligible to enter college prior to the graduation date of their high school class. We fear that, should the NBA and the NBPA make 18 the minimum age for entry into the NBA, the growing trend of reclassification will accelerate, creating a new generation of 17-year-old one-and-done players,” the report stated. “The commission urges the NCAA to monitor this situation and to enact appropriate rule changes if that potential abuse occurs with the end of one-and-done. We must emphasize that only the NBA and the NBPA can change the one-and done rule. If they choose not to do so by the end of 2018, the NCAA must still find a way to address this situation. In that circumstance, the commission will reconvene and consider the other tools at its disposal. These could range from the baseball rule, to freshman ineligibility, to ‘locking up’ scholarships for three or four years if the recipient leaves the program for the NBA after a single year. That would be a disincentive to recruit an athlete for a one-year run at the title. In short, the current situation is untenable.”

The NBA wants to change the one-and-done rule but hasn’t come up with an alternative that is better for both sides. So it will stick with the current system for the time being.

The committee also suggested that early-entry players who go undrafted should be able to return to school, which is more of an NCAA issue. NCAA coaches have voiced their displeasure with the possibility of players returning to school who are not drafted because of the limits on scholarships.

College coaches don’t want to have to wait until early July to determine their rosters for a season that begins four months later. While undrafted players would improve the talent pool in the G-League, the NBA would rather players who aren’t ready for the NBA stay in college.

“Elite high school and college basketball players tend to misjudge their professional prospects. Players who think they are surefire professionals are often mistaken,” the report stated. “The numbers tell this story: Only a very small percentage of NCAA men’s basketball players make it to the NBA (around 1.2 percent), let alone have successful careers. Yet an NCAA survey we commissioned showed that 59 percent of Division 1 players believe that they will play professionally, and NCAA research suggests that 76 percent of Division 1 players, 48 percent of Division 2 players, and 21 percent of Division 3 players believe that they have a chance to play at the next level.

“Erroneously entering the NBA Draft is not the kind of misjudgment that should deprive student-athletes of the valuable opportunity to enter college or to continue in college while playing basketball. While this rule change may inconvenience coaches seeking to set their rosters for the following season, we conclude that the student-athletes’ interest should govern here. A player chagrined to discover that he lacks an NBA future may grow into his collegiate experience and adopt a different plan for the future. This change, along with several others recommended, will demonstrate that the NCAA is serious about the value and importance of college for student-athletes, and committed to helping them attend and work toward a degree.”

Mark Emmert had said he sees no reason for a prospect who does not want to attend college to go for one year just to satisfy the NBA’s requirement for being one year removed from high school before entering the draft.David J. Phillip/AP

The committee added that prospects should get feedback early in their college or even perhaps high school careers by “certified agents.” Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has sent a slew of one-and-done players to the NBA, including five who are entered in this year’s draft, also suggested that high school players be assessed by agents so they could make more sound decisions about college and have a clearer picture of their NBA chances.

“Elite high school and college players need earlier professional advice, including whether to declare for the draft or whether college basketball offers a superior pathway,” the report stated. “If NCAA rules do not allow them to receive that advice openly, they will often seek it illicitly. The NCAA rules should provide that student-athletes may meet and contract with NCAA-certified agents and that they will not lose their eligibility by doing so. The commission further recommends that the NCAA incentivize better behavior from agents. This can be done through making clear the benefits of certification and the cost of the loss of certification. An agent who participates in an NCAA rules violation must lose his or her certification. A student-athlete who enters into an agreement, or whose family members enter into an agreement, with a noncertified agent will lose his eligibility. In addition, the NCAA and the NBPA should report to each other agents’ violations of their respective rules, increasing the potential costs of violating NCAA rules.”

The NBA and the players’ union released a statement that basically said they will make an effort for positive change:

“The NBA and the NBPA thank Secretary Rice and the members of the Commission on College Basketball for their commitment to address the issues facing men’s college basketball. We support NCAA policy and enforcement reforms that will better safeguard the well-being of players while imposing greater accountability on representatives and programs that fail to uphold the values of the game. We also share the commission’s concern with the current state of youth basketball and echo that all stakeholders — including the NBA, NBPA, NCAA, and USA Basketball — have a collective responsibility to help bring about positive change. Regarding the NBA’s draft eligibility rules, the NBA and NBPA will continue to assess them in order to promote the best interests of players and the game.”


Nojel Eastern averaged 12.6 minutes per game for Purdue and then declared for the NBA Draft.Elsa/Getty Images

The NBA announced that a record 236 players, 181 from college, have declared for early entry into a draft that has only 60 selections. Of course, several of these entries are using the process to get their professional potential evaluated, while others will ignore those assessments and stay in the draft, hoping to become the next Kyle Kuzma or Dillon Brooks, who used the process to surge into the first round (Kuzma), or a second-round pick who outplayed his selection (Brooks). Of those entries, 38 are freshman, including Cal State Northridge’s Jalon Pipkins, who took all of 59 shots this past season and scored in double figures once; Takal Molson, who averaged 12.6 points for Canisius; and Nojel Eastern, who averaged 12.6 minutes for Purdue and scored just 2 points in its NCAA Tournament loss to Texas Tech. The question is, should players who have barely played in college or are years from becoming NBA-caliber test the process so prematurely? It’s highly unlikely that any of these players will get an invite to the NBA Combine, and they will likely be headed back to school having burned one of their two opportunities to enter the draft. Sounds like many are getting bad advice . . . The Hawks were ready to move on from coach Mike Budenholzer the moment they allowed him to interview for the Suns’ vacancy. Atlanta general manager Travis Schlenk did not hire Budenholzer, and the Hawks wanted to start fresh with a coach who could potentially help sell the franchise and bring some life to an organization that made a precipitous drop after losing Al Horford and Paul Millsap in free agency. The new Hawks coach will have three first-round picks, and four of the first 33 picks, in June’s draft to rebuild, with Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince, and John Collins coming back.

This is web version of the sunhoop0429 infographic.The Boston Globe

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.