How Celtics’ new head coach opening ranks among top NBA jobs

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Where do Celtics rank among most desirable head coach openings? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics and new president of basketball operations Brad Stevens are in hot pursuit of a new head coach, but they’re not the only team in on the chase.

The Celtics are one of six NBA teams with head coach vacancies entering the 2021 offseason, joining the Portland Trail Blazers, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards. That number could increase after the NBA playoffs if the Atlanta Hawks don’t give interim coach Nate McMillan the full-time job or if the Milwaukee Bucks part ways with Mike Budenholzer. 

Since the C’s are pursuing many of the same candidates as other teams — Los Angeles Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups is interviewing with both Boston and Portland, for example — it’s worth asking the question: What’s the most desirable head coach job available?

Forsberg: These rising-star assistants should be on Celtics’ radar

Boston seems like an enticing destination with two budding young superstars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. But you could make cases for the other teams with vacancies as well — which is why we’re here.

Let’s lay out the current situations of each team with active or potential head coach openings to see how the Celtics’ gig stacks up.

Boston Celtics

Ownership: Wyc Grousbeck/Boston Basketball Partners (since 2002)

President of basketball operations: Brad Stevens (since 2021)

Highest-paid players:

  • Kemba Walker ($35.2 million/year through 2022)

  • Jayson Tatum ($33.9 million/year through 2025)

  • Jaylen Brown ($26.6 million/year through 2024)

Draft assets: 2021 first-round pick (No. 16), 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick

Potential candidates: Chauncey Billups, Sam Cassell, Darvin Ham, Charles Lee, Ime Udoka, Jamahl Mosley, Becky Hammon, Kara Lawson, Nate McMillan

Why the job is enticing: Tatum and Brown. That’s the selling point. With two All-Stars under 25 who are both under contract until at least 2024, the Celtics have a foundation that NBA GMs dream about. They also play in a sports-obsessed town that’s thirsting for another title. If a new head coach can help raise Banner 18 at TD Garden, they’ll earn a permanent place in the history books of the NBA’s most successful franchise.

Red flags: Boston has a brand-new executive in Stevens, and if he can’t move Kemba Walker, there’s not much flexibility to add talent around Tatum and Brown. That could leave the Celtics’ new coach with the unenviable task of trying to solve this team’s perplexing chemistry issues while trying to contend with Eastern Conference giants like the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks. Oh, and any result short of an NBA Finals appearance will be a failure.

Desirability ranking (1 is most desirable; 6 is least desirable): 1 of 6

It’s a tall task, but the opportunity to lead a storied organization with two young superstars under team control makes the Celtics job the best on the coaching market.

Portland Trail Blazers

Ownership: Jody Allen/Paul Allen Trust (since 1988)

General manager: Neil Olshey (since 2012)

Highest-paid players:

  • Damian Lillard ($44.1 million/year through 2025)

  • C.J. McCollum ($33.3 million/year through 2024)

Draft assets: 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick, 2024 first-round pick

Potential candidates: Chauncey Billups, Becky Hammon, Dawn Staley, Mike D’Antoni, Brent Barry

Why the job is enticing: Damian Lillard is the kind of transcendent talent who can carry a team deep into the postseason. With the right head coach and a few more pieces, the Blazers could be a serious contender in the Western Conference. At the very least, Portland’s new boss will be working for a perennial playoff contender … assuming Lillard stays.

Red flags: This becomes a completely different job if Portland trades Lillard. The Blazers could get a ton of assets for the All-Star point guard, so we could see Olshey blowing it up to trigger what could be challenging rebuild in a loaded West.

Desirability ranking: 2 of 6

A lot depends on whether Lillard stays or goes, but Portland is a great basketball market and the Blazers have a solid foundation if the Lillard-McCollum backcourt duo remains intact.

Indiana Pacers

Ownership: Herbert Simon (since 1983)

President of basketball operations: Kevin Pritchard (since 2017)

Highest-paid players:

  • Malcolm Brogdon ($21.3 million/year through 2023)

  • Domantas Sabonis ($18.8 million/year through 2024)

  • Myles Turner ($20 million/year through 2023)

Draft assets: 2021 first-round pick (No. 13 lottery-pending), 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick

Potential candidates: Terry Stotts, Mike Brown, Marc Jackson, Jason Kidd, Mike D’Antoni

Why the job is enticing: While they lack a superstar, the Pacers boast a well-rounded starting five led by two underrated talents in Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon. We could see this team at least winning a playoff series in the near future, and the head coach to accomplish that feat will earn instant credibility in basketball-crazed Indiana.

Red flags: The Nate Bjorkgren era (all 72 games of it) did not end well, and the new coach will have a lot of work to do in gaining the trust of players and staffers. The Pacers also are the classic NBA purgatory team; they haven’t won a playoff series since 2014 yet also haven’t picked in the top 10 since landing Paul George in 2010.

Desirability ranking: 6 of 6

We suppose there’s a draw in restoring NBA success to the Hoosier State, and it won’t take much to clear Bjorkgren’s low bar. But it’s been years since there’s been real excitement around this Pacers team, and it’s hard to see that changing in the near future.

Orlando Magic

Ownership: The DeVos family (since 1991)

President of basketball operations: Jeff Weltman (since 2017)

Highest-paid players:

  • Gary Harris ($21 million/year through 2022)

  • Terrence Ross ($13.5 million/year through 2023)

  • Markelle Fultz ($16.7 million/year through 2024)

Draft assets: Two 2021 first-round picks (No. 3 and No. 8 lottery-pending) 2022 first-round pick, Chicago Bulls’ 2022 first-round pick (top-three protected)

Potential candidates: Chauncey Billups, Darvin Ham, Becky Hammon, Ime Udoka, Anfernee Hardaway, Terry Stotts

Why the job is enticing: The Magic finally embraced the tank this season, and the result is two likely top-10 picks in the 2021 NBA Draft. Ross, Fultz and Jonathan Isaac are the only players under contract past 2023, so Orlando has plenty of roster-building flexibility while boasting an intriguing young core if Fultz and Isaac can get healthy.

Red flags: The Magic have been an NBA afterthought ever since Dwight Howard left a decade ago. While they have the means to acquire a star free agent or two, it’s hard to envision a superstar signing with Orlando — especially if Fultz and Isaac continue to be plagued by injuries.

Desirability ranking: 3 of 6

Orlando has churned through six head coaches through 2013 and isn’t exactly a basketball hotbed. But the chance to work with two potential franchise-changing talents via the 2021 draft makes this job more coveted than it may seem.

New Orleans Pelicans

Ownership: Gayle Benson (since 2018)

Executive vice president of basketball operations: David Griffin (since 2019)

Highest-paid players:

  • Brandon Ingram ($31.7 million/year through 2025)

  • Steven Adams ($17.5 million/year through 2023)

  • Eric Bledsoe ($17.5 million/year through 2022)

Draft assets: 2021 first-round pick (No. 10 lottery-pending) 2022 first-round pick, Los Angeles Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick

Potential candidates: Teresa Weatherspoon, Jason Kidd, Ime Udoka, Charles Lee, Jacque Vaughn

Why the job is enticing: Friendly reminder that Zion Williamson is only 20 years old. Even if Lonzo Ball departs in free agency, the Williamson-Ingram duo is one of the NBA’s most promising. Add a potential top-10 pick to the mix, and there’s a blueprint for New Orleans to be a playoff team once again.

Red flags: Outside Williamson and Ingram, there’s not much to get excited about a Pelicans team that’s made the playoffs just once in the last six years. If David Griffin can’t bring in a third star in the near future, it’s hard to envision New Orleans making any noise.

Desirability ranking: 4 of 6

Like the Pacers in the East, the Pelicans are somewhat stuck in West purgatory. But there’s a benefit to working for an aggressive GM in Griffin, and having one of the best young talents in the NBA on your roster ain’t too bad either.

Washington Wizards

Ownership: Ted Leonsis (since 2010)

General manager: Tommy Sheppard (since 2019)

Highest-paid players:

  • Russell Westbrook ($41.4 million/year through 2022)

  • Bradley Beal ($35.9 million/year through 2022)

  • Davis Bertans ($16 million/year through 2024)

Draft assets: 2021 first-round pick (No. 15), 2022 first-round pick

Potential candidates: Becky Hammon, Wes Unseld Jr., Sam Cassell, Kenny Atkinson, Mark Jackson

Why the job is enticing: The Wizards’ surge into the 2021 playoffs offers optimism that Washington can make a legitimate postseason push in the final years of Beal and Westbrook’s contracts. Thomas Bryant and Daniel Gafford are intriguing young pieces, as well.

Red flags: Beal is eligible for an extension this summer, and if he signs it, the pressure will be on his new boss to succeed where other Wizards coaches have failed in making this team a legitimate contender. The next Washington coach faces an uphill battle.

Desirability ranking: 5 of 6

The Wizards need more than Beal and Westbrook if they want to win their first playoff series since 2017. The new head coach also will inherit the NBA’s worst defense in 2020-21 and an impatient fan base that won’t be happy if Beal follows in John Wall’s footsteps out of town.

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