Dunson Checks In

As the Nets chase futility, they'd be wise to research the name Roy Rubin, who  coached the '72 76ers to the worst regular season record in NBA history after making the treacherous leap to the pros from Long Island University.  Rubin was fired just 51 games into the experiment and replaced with player-coach Kevin Loughery.  

And yet Louisville coach Rick Pitino is in talks for his 3rd NBA head coaching job despite a 192-220 career professional head coaching record.  I can tell you that no where in Coach K's meticulously planned career objectives is it to pass on coaching Kobe Bryant in the NBA just so he can abandon perennial contender, Duke to turnaround the worst unit in a century of basketball.

Plus, why would the New Jersey Nets give Rick Pitino, another go-round with the National Basketball Association.  Hiring coaches from the collegiate level hasn't worked with John Calipari, Leonard Hamilton(hired by Wizards from Miami), Jerry Tarkanian and frequent offender Tim Floyd(lured from Iowa State by the Chicago Bulls).    

College basketball is essentially a college run minor league bachelors program.  The NBA is where you earn your doctorate.  If your going to give a college coach a promotion he'd better have Olympic experience (Coach K)on his resume or be willing to pay his dues as the coaching equivalent to the Best Supporting Actor.  
If NBA franchises are going to hire from the college ranks, why not scour on opposing benches or overseas?   Before the league can contemplate overseas expansion, how can it's executives ignore their overseas peers.  Sure there are rule and personality differences but how is it any different from the NCAA's rule book.  With that said, here is my short list, specifically for the New Jersey Nets' not so coveted head coaching vacany.  And yes, 3/4 of the names you've never heard before--in English.

#4 Aito Garcia Reneses
Garcia has won 9 Liga ACB titles with FC Barcelona.  To put that in perspective, the Spanish League has been rated one of the top 3 European Leagues in the world.  During the 2008 Olympics Aito Garcia coached the loaded Spanish national to a silver medal and a near upset of the United States national team.  With Spain emerging as the premier talent exporter to the NBA, Garcia's Olympic experience proved he could successfully wrangle NBA personalities.

#3 Zeljko Obradovi
At just 49 years old, Obradovic is already the winningest coach in Euroleague history and the winner of 7 Euroleage championships with four different teams.  Since taking the helm of Panathinaikos BC, Europe's Phil Jackson has developed a world renowned franchise and in 2007, Donald Sutherland errr... Gregg Popovich referred to Obradovic as the best coach in Europe.

#2 Tom Thibodeau

Doc Rivers may have graduated from scapegoat to guru after the Big 3 brought a championship to Beantown but it's no accident the Celtics ascendence corresponded with Thibodeau's arrival.  Tom Thibodeau is one of the highest quality defensive coaches in the NBA.  As an assistant in Houston, New York and now Boston, Thibodeau's scheme has been effective for 2 decades.  Thibodeau had a lengthy tutelage under Jeff Van Gundy in New York which was notorious for it's scrappy defense.  Thibodeau followed Van Gundy to Houston where his vaunted scheme turned a roster led by Yao and McGrady--two players not known for suffocating defense into a defensive juggernaut.  In 20 seasons as an assistant coach, his teams have now finished in the top 10 in defensive scoring 17 times!  Thibodeau transformed a team of offensive minded veterans into a dominant defensive unit.  The Nets have the foundation for a post defender in athletic center, Brook Lopez.
Thibodeau has been a high profile head coaching candidate for 2 consecutive off-seasons but has been passed over for Vinny Del Negro, Mike D'Antoni, and Eddie Jordan.

#1 Ettore Messina
Italians love Jersey Shore right?  Italian coach Ettore Messina is the clear front runner of all candidates in the NBA, unemployed, collegiate or overseas. I'm going to skate ahead of ESPN and kickstart the Messina to Jersey rumors.  Messina has won 4 Euroleague championships and in his first season as head coach of Russian team, CSKA Moscow, Messina led the Russian powerhouse to it's first Euroleague title in 34 years.
If any one is going to serve as the precusor to an inevitable first wave of European coaches it will be Messina.  There are a few factors which favor Messina getting hired in Jersey.  
(1) Messina succeeded Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni as head coach of Benetton Treviso in 2002.
 Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov owned a share of CSKA Moscow, which hired Messina in 2004.
(2) Rumors of Messina have floated around the NBA like UFO sightings for years.   He was linked to the vacancy in Sacramento and in 2008, evidence pointed toward Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo hiring Messina.   
(3) There has been rampant speculation this month Bryan Colangelo could be migrating south from Canada to head New Jersey's front office.  His father may be director of USA Basketball but in 2009, Colangelo hired Canadian product Jay Triano to serve as the interim coach for the Raptors and in 2006 selected Italian Andrea Bargnani with the #1 overall pick.
(4) In fact, during his tenure as general manager of 'Mom and Pop' run Phoenix Suns, Colangelo hired Messina's predecessor Mike D'Antoni.
(5)  Although he is only in his first season as head coach of Real Madrid, the winningest franchise in European history, Messina has been a journeyman coach overseas.  I don't think he wouldn't hestitate to hop a flight across the Atlantic if the opportunity presented itself.
Messina would of course be a test case as the first European head coach in NBA history and the Nets would be a model franchise to experiment with.  They are young, in turmoil and therefore receptive to his message and style, if translated correctly.


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