Orlando Magic Coaching Search Power Rankings: The Early Stages of the Process

Kenny Atkinson successfully guided the Brooklyn Nets through a rebuild and into the playoffs. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Kenny Atkinson successfully guided the Brooklyn Nets through a rebuild and into the playoffs. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /

It has been a week since the Orlando Magic and coach Steve Clifford mutually parted ways.

The move came as a small shock. But with time passing, it has become clear exactly why Clifford opted to step away and why the Magic were willing to let an accomplished coach like him do so.

The team clearly shifted its goals at the trade deadline when they sent out the team’s top three scorers in Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon. The team is rebuilding and banking on young players and a draft pick to save the franchise and set its future.

Clifford is a strong developmental coach. And it felt like the Magic believed in his ability to coach the team. But with just one year remaining on his contract, they needed Clifford to commit to their vision. And it did not seem like he could do that. He wanted the team to push more toward winning quickly.

This is why president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said their vision no longer aligned.

So the Magic are back in the coaching search, along with three other teams for the moment. They are likely looking for a coach who will focus on development while keeping winning in the background. They do not want winning not to matter in this rebuild.

The Orlando Magic coaching search is already begun and while the team will remain fairly quiet, we will try to read the tea leaves and figure out who has the lead.

In other words, the Magic are looking for a coach very much like Clifford. Just one who will have the patience to work with young players and build them back up into a playoff contender in the next few years. And hopefully from there have the skill to take them beyond the first round.

It is still really hard to get a sense of who the Magic are after and what they want. But it is probably going to be the same thing they were looking for in Clifford in 2018.

When the Magic hired Clifford, they were seeking a coach who would instill discipline and a foundation to a young veteran team. His instruction was exactly what that team needed — even if their ceiling was limited.

Similarly, the Magic now are looking for a coach who is good at working with and getting the best out of young players and helping them reach their potential both individually and as a team.

No pressure. It is not like this is a specific thing anyone can point out.

These are all the factors we have to keep in mind as the Magic begin their coaching search.

To be sure, they are still in the beginning stages. Weltman and his staff do a really good job keeping their hand close to the vest. But a few rumors have popped up in the last week.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The latest came from Shams Charania of The Athletic who reported San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon will interview with the Orlando Magic. Additionally, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype reported on The HoopsHype Podcast he has heard LA Clippers assistant Kenny Atkinson, Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham and Brooklyn Nets assistant Ime Udoka connected to the magic job.

Additionally, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported earlier in the week Juwan Howard is not considering a jump to the NBA but that teams are trying to gather some intel on Anfernee Hardaway and include him at least in the interview process, even though he said he was flattered but not too interested in making the leap.

The Magic are still in the early stages. It does not feel likely they will be done with this process before the NBA Draft Lottery on June 22. For now, it feels like the Magic are putting together their initial list and are reaching out to serious candidates for a first round of interviews.

The hope is that their draft pick will be an attractor to some of the coaches higher on their list. But it is still too early to sort much of anything out.

There are still a lot of candidates to sort through. And this process is still going to be largely hidden from public view. There is no way to include everyone out there.

But we will try.

To stay on top of everything going on in the Magic’s coaching search, we are going to try to come through each week with rough power rankings of the Magic’s coaching search based on rumors, fan reaction and a dash of my opinion thrown in.

. . . Kenny Atkinson. 1. player. 77

Kenny Atkinson is perhaps the best-known name on the Orlando Magic’s early coaching list. Atkinson was the head coach for the Brooklyn Nets in the immediate aftermath of their initial spend splurge. He guided a young team that had no future draft picks to use from one of the worst teams in the league into a playoff contender.

That seems to be exactly what the Magic want. His teams played hard and even if they were at a talent deficit, developed well to the point that they hit the playoffs when they made a good all-in move to acquire D’Angelo Russell (a reclamation project at that).

If experience is a factor, Atkinson has experience doing the exact thing the Magic are trying to do. Much like how Steve Clifford helped a young veteran team become a playoff team in a previous stop and the Magic hired him to do the same for them, the Magic would be asking Kenny Atkinson to do the same.

player. 86. . . . David Vanterpool. 2

My personal pick for the coach is still David Vanterpool.

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum both credit David Vanterpool and his development work with helping them reach their peaks. They have been active advocates of him getting a head coaching job. And there was collective exasperation around the league when the Minnesota Timberwolves hired Chris Finch over him (not even giving him the interim tag however briefly that might have lasted).

Finch proved to be a solid hire for the Timberwolves. But Vanterpool is knocking on the door of a head coaching job. He interviewed for the Magic both in 2016 (when they hired Frank Vogel) and 2018 (when they hired Steve Clifford). In both cases, the Magic were looking for an experienced coach to speed up their progress.

With a blank slate and a load of guards to develop, it feels like this would be a really good opportunity to bring in Vanterpool and give him his shot as a head coach. That is if he wants it. He resigned from the Timberwolves after they did not pick him, so he is available to interview now. He should have his pick of his next job as one of the best assistants in the league, at minimum.

. . Becky Hammon. 3. player. 29.

Becky Hammon is part of the most significant rumor involving the Orlando Magic and their coaching search. No other reporting has directly linked a coach interviewing with the team quite yet. So Hammon is front and center right now.

Before getting to the historical notion of her becoming a head coach, Hammon is more than qualified to take the lead chair. She has been an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs for seven years. So she is as experienced as a coach as anyone on this list.

The moment Becky Hammon was connected to the team, unsavory parts of the Internet began claiming she cannot coach the NBA because she does not have playing experience — as if David Vanterpool’s 22 games and 411 minutes automatically make him more qualified than Hammon’s hall of fame career and extensive experience on the bench.

Hammon has to kill the interview and present a clear vision for how she would coach and assemble her staff. The Spurs tree has its share of successes and failures.

But she is not Jacque Vaughn (and his 12 years in the league and two as an assistant). Hammon is supremely qualified to get the interview opportunity. And it is only a matter of time before she becomes a head coach. If anything, Hammon is waiting for the right opportunity that can assure her success (making it less likely the Magic is the right fit for this historic hire).

. Chauncey Billups. 4. player. 77. .

Chauncey Billups is still relatively new as a coach. But most people believe he has been coaching far longer than that with how he ran teams as a Finals MVP point guard with the Detroit Pistons and others.

Chauncey Billups was super smart when he did a brief TV stint after his retirement from playing and he has been trying to find a way to get either onto the bench or into the front office — he previously spurned the Magic’s overtures to interview for the team in 2016.

Fans have latched onto the idea of bringing Billups on as a head coach and that is why he ranks this highly. He is a really popular choice as he was a constant bane to the Magic’s existence in the Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard eras of Magic basketball.

Billups will be a great head coach. But other people seem to share the same sentiment about Billups. It feels like Billups will have his pick of jobs — and the Portland Trail Blazers seem to have the “best” job on the market. For me, I would like to see Billups get more bench experience before taking the leap.

Anfernee Hardaway seemed to close the door on joining the Orlando Magic as a head coach with a radio interview last week. He said he was flattered by the interest (a lot of it generated by fans and even some in the media) but felt like he had work to do in Memphis (his hometown and alma mater).

Then Adrian Wojnarowski’s report seemed to put Hardaway back in the mix some. Even reporters in Memphis acknowledge that Hardaway has NBA ambitions. They expect he will leave for the NBA at some point in his career.

In all likelihood, Hardaway is going to use this moment to get some experience in the NBA interview process.

Coaches in the NBA usually encourage their assistants to take head job interviews so they understand what front office executives are looking for and develop themselves professionally. There is no reason to think that will not happen here. Even if Hardaway eventually stays in college for now.

6. player. 34. . . . Terry Stotts

Terry Stotts is probably the most experienced name on the market after he parted ways with the Portland Trail Blazers following another first-round exit. Stotts brings the most experienced (and reasonable) expectations of anyone on this list.

Terry Stotts has turned into the offensive-minded version of Steve Clifford. He does a good job laying a foundation and carving an identity but has clear weaknesses that have repeatedly held him back. Stotts has at least built solid defenses in the past, even if he could never sustain them. But it is clear that if you give Stotts a solid roster, he will do a lot with it.

The Orlando Magic are not likely a team in the running for him, despite their reported interest (now and in 2018). Stotts is probably looking for a team that is more ready-made for the playoffs so he can at least maintain his position in the coach pecking order with the hopes of building a team into a title contender. The Boston Celtics might be his best fit.

. . Ime Udoka. 7. player. 147.

Ime Udoka has been quietly one of the more intriguing names in coaching circles for a while. He is low on this list now, but it is not surprising to see the Orlando Magic interested in him. They expressed interest in him in the 2018 hiring cycle before going with Steven Clifford. By the end of this thing, he might be one of the top coaching prospects the team considers.

Udoka was a journeyman NBA player who latched on most significantly with the San Antonio Spurs. After retiring, he joined Gregg Popovich’s staff and was there for seven years before bouncing around to Brett Brown’s staff with the Philadelphia 76ers and then Steve Nash’s staff with the Brooklyn Nets.

89. . . . Darvin Ham. 8. player

Darvin Ham is the lead assistant for the Milwaukee Bucks and was previously a head coach in the G-League for the New Mexico Thunderbirds. But he has largely spent his coaching career as a NBA assistant. He has been tied most closely to Mike Budenholzer having worked with him with the Atlanta Hawks before joining him in Milwaukee.

Ham was a grinder as a player and one of the hardest workers in the league. If he has brought that to his coaching, that is a good thing.

But one of the things he should have to prove in interviews is how he separates himself from Budenholzer. While Budenholzer has put together a lot of strong regular seasons, Budenholzer’s playoff coaching and strategy has come under question. That should not reflect negatively on Ham. But he may have to suggest ways his current boss could do a little better.

38. . . . Tyrone Corbin. 9. player

I think I might be alone on this island, but I think the OrlandoMagic should at least consider staying in-house and hiring Tyrone Corbin. He has some head coaching experience already and he did a good job stepping in as the acting head coach this year with this young squad.

Familiarity should be something that is valued if the team never wanted to get rid of Clifford to begin with. Corbin should at least get an interview in this process. This next coach is probably going to have to absorb a lot of losses. So going with someone players know could help speed that process along.

But it is unlikely the Magic stay in-house. They are probably looking for a new voice and a more overarching vision for the team’s progress. Clearly what the Magic was doing worked to some extent, but not enough.

10. player. 147. . . . Mike D'Antoni

Mike D’Antoni is the longest of long shots for the Orlando Magic. There has at least been some reporting linking him to the team. But hardly enough to make me convinced D’Antoni is a real option.

D’Antoni has been a coach for elite teams and he is probably hoping to be back in a position to win a championship once again. That makes him more likely to land in Portland or Boston instead.

Plus, D’Antoni struggled in his lone rebuild situation with the New York Knicks. D’Antoni is a brilliant coach. But he needs the right alignment of roster and front office to get him to work effectively. The Magic are probably not a team that fits his eye. It was fun to dream.

Next. Orlando Magic 2021 NBA Draft Big Board 2.0. dark

This will be the first of our power rankings. We will update them weekly as we wait for the Magic to hire a coach. Agree or disagree with our list? Want to add someone to next week’s rankings? Drop a comment in the comments below or online @omagicdaily on Twitter.