Tom Thibodeau, Kevin McHale Among Potential Candidates to Replace Doc Rivers


Apr 15, 2010

Tom Thibodeau, Kevin McHale Among Potential Candidates to Replace Doc Rivers If Celtics coach Doc Rivers does indeed retire as he is reportedly considering (though he later called the story a non-issue), who should replace him behind the Red Auerbach signature?

While it's far from certain that Rivers will walk away from the game, if he does, here are 10 candidates to keep an eye on for the head-coaching job.

10. Bill Laimbeer
The former Detroit Pistons center won two rings during his 15-year career and was a four-time All-Star. Following his retirement, Laimbeer dabbled in announcing work before taking a position as head coach for the WNBA's Detroit Shock.

Laimbeer guided the first team not from Los Angeles or Houston to the WNBA championship in his second year and eventually collected three rings over six seasons. He has reportedly been considered for multiple NBA head-coaching openings and has stated that his goal is to eventually helm a team.

Laimbeer currently is an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

9. Dave Cowens
Could Big Red return to the floor? It would be hard for Cowens to deny an opportunity to lead the Celtics, for whom he played from 1970-80.

He's a two-time NBA champion, has won an MVP and has been on seven All-Star teams. He has coaching experience with the Warriors, Hornets, Spurs and in the CBA and WNBA. He most recently served as assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons before taking a job as special assistant to the general manager for the team.

8. Dee Brown
Brown last played in 2002 but is already a head coach. He currently heads up the Springfield Armor, a Massachusetts-based team in the NBA Development League.

Brown has also captained the Orlando Miracle and San Antonio Silver Stars of the WNBA. He has also served as an ESPN studio analyst.

Brown would be perhaps the biggest stretch of any name on this list, but there's something to be said for getting eager, young talent in the fold.

7. Flip Saunders
Saunders is the head coach for the Washington Wizards, his third team after successful stints with the Timberwolves and Pistons. If he were hired by the Celtics, he would reunite with Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace.

Yes, Saunders is currently a head coach, but he may not be asked back for next year, although his deal is reportedly worth $19 million over four years. Owner Abe Pollin has passed, and the Wizards have been one of the league's worst team for the last two years. Many in the game expect Washington to do some housecleaning, starting with GM Ernie Grunfeld. It's possible Saunders might be asked to take off, too.

6. Jeff Van Gundy
Van Gundy had a successful run as New York Knicks head coach from 1996 to 2001 before resigning. He then joined the Houston Rockets to coach but was fired after four years. He transitioned to ESPN/ABC as an analyst and has been successful in that role, one he occupies to this day.

Van Gundy has expressed an interest in returning to the coaching ranks, and the New Jersey Nets are thought to have their eye on him.

5. Avery Johnson
The "Little General" won coach of the year in 2006 when he took over the Dallas Mavericks job for Don Nelson. Johnson had apprenticed as a player-coach under Nelson for a few seasons before accepting the head coaching job in 2005.

Johnson holds the record as the fastest coach to win 100 games, but it didn't help him after the No. 1 Mavs were upset by the No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors (led, ironically, by Nelson) in 2007. Another first-round playoff exit later, Johnson was let go and he continues to seek a new head-coaching position.

4. Danny Ainge
Ainge has done pretty well as general manager during his time with Boston … but is it time for him to move back behind the bench?

Ainge is widely considered to be a strong coach given his 136-90 record as leader of the Phoenix Suns from 1996-99. Strikes against Ainge returning to the bench are his current position as GM and president of basketball operations and his health issues — he suffered a mild heart attack on April 15, 2009.

3. Tom Thibodeau
Thibodeau is currently in his third year as Celtics assistant coach after previous stints with the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks. He is highly regarded as one of the best assistants in the game and one who will eventually land a head-coaching job. He's especially known for his skill in coaching defense.

The Knicks are considering a play to lure Thibodeau back to New York as they are desperate to upgrade their defense. If Rivers does indeed walk and Thibodeau is not hired, it's difficult to see him remaining in Boston.

2. Larry Brown
Larry Brown is one of the most decorated coaches in basketball history, having coached since 1974 (except for a two-year break after his ugly Knicks stint from 2005-06). He's led 13 teams, nine of them in the NBA, and is currently watching over the Charlotte Bobcats, although he's a prime candidate to depart after the year and continue his nomadic career.

He has led eight different NBA teams to the playoffs and has more than 1,000 career victories, so his resume is excellent. However, he also has a larger-than-life persona, and one wonders if that's the right fit in Boston. Speculation has Brown leaving after the year to helm the Clippers or return to the 76ers, but he has done all he can to dispel these rumors. What about starting a rumor that he might don Celtics green?

1. Kevin McHale
Another former Celtic tops the list.

McHale, of course, is best known in Boston for two things. The first is his fantastic run with the Celtics that saw him win three titles, become a seven-time NBA All-Star and become a Basketball Hall of Famer in 1999. The second thing Celtics fans know him for is his engineering of the Kevin Garnett trade when he was vice-president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves.

Despite his limited experience coaching a NBA team, many consider coaching his strength despite his reluctance to serve in that capacity.

He had a 19-12 stretch for the T'wolves in 2004-05 before declining to continue in that capacity. He returned to the sidelines after stepping down as VP when Minnesota fired coach Randy Wittman in December of 2008. However, McHale did not return as coach the following year.

Of course, if none of the above candidates are good fits, there's always Isiah Thomas.

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