Differentiating assistant coaches a difficult task for Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic appear to find themselves differentiating between several first-time coaches and assistant coaches in the league. That is a tough task.

The Orlando Magic coaching search continues on in secret.

The team is less than a week away from the NBA Draft Lottery and there is no sign the Magic are any closer to hiring a new coach.

To their credit, they have kept their coaching search quiet and out of the media. That does not mean they are sitting idly by. They are going through their process and going through their final interviews. It seems likely the team will be close to making a decision.

With the Toronto Raptors’ elimination from the Playoffs, their last widely speculated coaching candidate — assistant coach Nick Nurse — is now available for hire and an interview.

Not to mention there is a likely long break between now and the beginning of the Conference Finals. The team could interview candidates with the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and the other teams remaining in the Playoffs.

The team’s list likely contains every other coach that is up for other jobs. A cavalcade of assistant coaches and former head coaches. That leaves a pretty wide open pool.

The Orlando Magic reportedly interviewed Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka and former Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale. Fizdale eventually took the New York Knicks job. But he is the only coach with lead experience the Magic have confirmed to interview.

Even with the limited information fans have, there are definitely camps developing as far as who they want to see hired.

The reality is their guess is as good as anyone else’s.

The Magic seem to be honing in on several assistant coaches — at least, that is the public information — and it is hard for the public to get a sense of exactly what their responsibilities are and what they accomplished. Really they separate themselves in the interview. And that stays behind closed doors.

Interview results are seen in the final decision a team makes.

But what do we really know about any of the known candidates for the Magic’s head coaching job? What is real and what is just noise? That is more difficult to understand.

David Vanterpool is often credited with helping Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in their development. That was something coach Terry Stotts told Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports earlier this year as Mannix tried to survey potential assistant coaches ready to jump to the lead chair.

Stotts also confirmed to Mannix that Vanterpool acted as the team’s “defensive coordinator.” Portland, a team that has struggled with its defense in the past, had the eighth-best defensive rating in the league this season, giving up 104.2 points per 100 possessions.

Vanterpool had a decade-plus-long career overseas and played 22 games in the NBA. That helped him forge relationships with fellow players.

That certainly seems like it would check two marks off the Magic’s checklist. Vanterpool is a coach who has worked to develop and get the most out of two of the best guards in the league and has a strong defensive mind. That would seem to be two pillars the Magic want to build off of.

Of course, Ime Udoka also comes from a strong pedigree and is a former player too. He had a seven-year journeyman career that helped him build relationships around the league. LaMarcus Aldridge spoke very highly of him. Udoka was a big reason why Aldridge even joined the Spurs.

As Francis Okupa of ESPN wrote, Ime Udoka was the one who kept Gregg Popovich cool. He was the one who had to be the one holding the sometimes cantankerous coach back. But his main role, Udoka told Okupa, is to build relationships with players.

At least a theme has developed among the candidates we know about.

Unlike David Vanterpool and Ime Udoka, Nick Nurse does not have the same playing experience. But his building of relationships is at the bedrock of what has made him work in the league. He has been a longtime assistant — both Terrence Ross and Bismack Biyombo described Nick Nurse as “My guy” when media asked about him — who has worked with players.

Most of his work has come on the offensive end. He is a noted shooting coach and offensive mind. He was the first coach in the G-League’s history to win a title with two different teams.

Nurse is given the most credit for overhauling the Raptors’ offense. While the Playoffs were not a great example of this, the Raptors finished with the third-best offense in the league. They scored 111.0 points per 100 possession. That is up from 107.0 last year. It is not like the Raptors were pushovers under nurse’s previous offensive teachings either.

There are still no reports the Magic have interviewed Nurse or even that they are interested. At this point, it is speculation that president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman would use his connection to his previous franchise to tap Nick Nurse as his next coach.

That was the same assumption many had the Magic would chase Raptors 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse. And the Magic have not interviewed him, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, despite some conflicting reports.

Those are just the names the media has gotten some wind of for the Magic. They have surely interviewed more candidates as they have gone through their process. And there may be a few more still to come as the Playoffs wind down.

Orlando has gone slowly through its process. That does not mean they are clearly identifying a type.

If any of these coaches are their guy, they all seem to be of a type. They are strong player development and relationship coaches. And they also have a specific focus that they have built some success with their current teams.

Of course, no one really knows if they can translate these from being an assistant to being a full head coach. Neither Udoka nor Vanterpool have been a head coach at any level. Nurse has been a head coach in the G-League.

It is therefore really hard to differentiate between them. And really the only people who can are the ones who sat in on the interviews.