The last time USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo wanted to secure a coaching commitment from Mike Krzyzewski, he had a pizza and a bottle of wine with the Duke coach. After winning gold in 2008 in Beijing, Colangelo needed to get Coach K to coach again in 2012 to mirror the commitments many of the players had made. Colangelo joked with reporters that he’ll try the same meal again after London regarding 2016’s head coaching spot, but don’t think it’s a formality the 65-year-old will accept.
It’s somewhat of a hard sell to say that Krzyzewski deserves a summer break every four years when I doubt he wants one. Even with younger deputies able to fill much of his role in recruiting while he’s away, this clearly isn’t a job for Krzyzewski – it’s his only passion besides family. And getting to coach the best players in the world? Few would turn that down. In four years, however, it might not be the best players in the world on the U.S. squad. If NBA commissioner David Stern and some of the owners get their way, a U-23 tournament will masquerade as an Olympic tournament, while the best NBA stars likely would take part in an NBA-owned World Cup of basketball. Would that change the criteria for changing a new coach? Either way, should Krzyzewski decide to step away, here’s who could fill his shoes.
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5. SCOTT BROOKS
With four OKC Thunder players competing for the U.S. (Westbrook, Durant, Harden) and Spain (Ibaka) in these Olympics, and with the very real possibility the Thunder’s representation in 2016 could make up the U.S. team’s veteran core, bringing in the OKC head coach isn’t far-fetched.
Brooks is excellent at coaching the pick and roll, a staple of the international game, and has the respect of the hoops world for taking a once downtrodden franchise into the Finals. In four years, there could be at least two more Finals trips in store for OKC. More important is the respect he could command from the aforementioned Westbrook, Harden and Durant combo pack. Those three will be cornerstones for the next FIBA teams (pro Olympics or not) and having them vouch for Brooks and get on board with his system would be his biggest selling point. That kind of influence works best if the team is still NBA all-stars, but it would transfer to a U-23 format, as well.
4. MIKE D’ANTONI
There has never been a question D’Antoni’s style of run-and-run basketball is suited best for — and rooted from — international play rather than the NBA. He never quite got it over the hump in Phoenix or New York, but 1) it’s fun and attracts players and 2) he has experience as a Team USA assistant in both the 2006 Worlds and these 2012 Olympics.
His style can fit any level, though it takes the best to run it right. That could be changed, however, if he becomes a college coach in the near future and can break the up-tempo style on the campus level. D’Antoni is reportedly open to the idea of coaching collegiately, something he’s never done before. If that were to happen he’d have collegiate and pro experience mixed in with national team (he played with Italy in 1989, too) tenure. The one thing he would have to add, however, to make Colengelo’s cut, is a defensive-minded assistant.
3. JOHN CALIPARI
Calipari is Kentucky’s coach right now (assuming he will be in 2016 is tempting fate), which obviously bodes well if the Olympics become a U-23 based tournament. Coaching young players are his bread and butter and let’s not laugh this next idea off too much: the 2016 roster could be made up of a number, possibly a majority, of former Kentucky players (and Derrick Rose). His teams have pumped out that much high-level talent in his three years in the bluegrass already that who knows what possibly four more years could bring.
There’s also his unquestioned, and possibly unparalleled in all of basketball, talent of winning without having much time together with a team. He’s taken two Kentucky teams to the Final Four with less than eight months of coaching, suggesting he can implement his system (give the ball to the lottery pick) fast. The critics say having the best players makes any implementation that much easier, but that would be the exact situation he’d find himself in in 2016.
2. GREGG POPOVICH
Colangelo’s other finalist in 2005 to take over the transformation of USA Basketball from a novelty every FIBA year to a multi-year commitment was San Antonio’s Pop. Some have already made the case he become the winner should Coach K decide to step away, and with good reason: He understands how to win with international players and certainly how to beat them, too. No other team has had as much success in the NBA that has been so heavily based on its foreign players than San Antonio.
Here’s what Colangelo told the Sacramento Bee in May:
“If you recall, Mike and Pop were my two choices in 2005,” Colangelo said in a phone interview. “When I talked to Coach K, he almost jumped through the phone. I didn’t sense that same enthusiasm in my conversation with ‘Pop.’ Afterward, he sent me a letter and said I misinterpreted what he said. He felt I had misjudged him, and maybe I did. But that was a long time ago. How can anyone argue with his record, his performance? With him as a great coach?”
The Bee‘s Ailiene Voisin also points out Pop spent five years studying intelligence near the Soviet border after graduation from the Air Force Academy. He loves his country and has been the best basketball coach in the world not named Phil Jackson since he became the Spurs’ head coach. Next?