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Coaching changes give NBA fresher feel

Heading into the 2017/18 season, there was surprising stability in the NBA coaching ranks. It was easier to gauge how each team would play given that head coaches had been widely retained and schemes were firmly in place.

But we already know that next season will have a different feel, with nearly a third of the league bringing in new head coaches. In the Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks selected David Fizdale to replace Jeff Hornacek, and the Charlotte Hornets chose James Borrego to replace Steve Clifford, who was snapped up by the Orlando Magic after they parted ways with Frank Vogel.

Mike Budenholzer swapped the Atlanta Hawks for the Milwaukee Bucks (and the chance to coach the uniquely talented Giannis Antetokounmpo). In turn, Lloyd Pierce, most recently an assistant coach in Philadelphia, gets his chance in Atlanta.

Dwane Casey, who may well be named Coach of the Year, will run the show for the Detroit Pistons next season after being fired by the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors stayed in-house in promoting assistant Nick Nurse as the new head coach.

In the West, things have been less chaotic. The Phoenix Suns opted for highly-rated Igor Kokoskov after Jay Triano filled in on an interim basis for most of last season. The Memphis Grizzlies, somewhat surprisingly, gave J.B. Bickerstaff the head coaching job after an interim stint of his own.

All that movement creates lots of questions and means re-evaluating the ceilings of several of these teams. Here’s a closer look at two of the most intriguing appointments.

Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks underachieved this season in a big way and could be a threat for a top three finish in 2018/19. In Antetokounmpo, they have an elite talent and a potential MVP. Budenholzer might be the perfect fit to maximize his young star’s immense potential, including more minutes at the 5.

The supporting cast is solid too, with Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe capable of sharing some of the burden on both ends of the floor. Milwaukee desperately needed this kind of change after Jason Kidd’s exit and Joe Prunty’s disappointing stint at the helm. Look for the Bucks to make a leap next season, especially with a refreshed Budenholzer after the grind in Atlanta this year.

Kokoskov, Phoenix Suns

This hire was met with almost unanimous applause. Kokoskov has earned a strong reputation, both in Europe and with the Utah Jazz, and he is inheriting a young but talented group. But he will need time to develop this roster.

The positive signs are there, though. With Devin Booker looking to take the next step, Josh Jackson likely to be better in his second year and DeAndre Ayton probably heading to Phoenix as the number one pick, it is not too much of a stretch to picture this team challenging for the playoffs in a year or two. Plus the Suns have cap space to pursue more established stars this summer. Keep an eye on Phoenix.

About Tom Oldfield

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