Usually, when a split between a team and a coach is described as “mutual,” that’s just meant to protect the reputation of the coach. Most mutual partings are dressed up firings or contract expirations without much desire for renewal. The Orlando Magic appear to be an exception, though.
On Saturday, it was reported that the Magic and head coach Steve Clifford had agreed to part ways. Clifford mostly exceeded expectations with the Magic. He made the playoffs twice, but circumstances out of his control pushed this team towards a rebuild. Few coaches have the patience for that. Orlando now appears to be in the market for one of them. Here are five of the best candidates for that job now that Clifford has seemingly willingly vacated it.
1. Terry Stotts
The Magic are reportedly interested in Stotts now that he has parted ways with the Portland Trail Blazers, but does the match make sense? Orlando’s last two coaching hires were veteran coaches that lost their jobs in their previous situations. Frank Vogel went on to become a very successful coach with the Lakers. The jury’s still out on Clifford, but with Orlando moving in another direction, it seems like a coach with a stronger developmental track record would make sense.
Is that Stotts? He oversaw the growth of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but both entered the NBA as four-year college players. They were far closer to finished products than most draft picks. More recent projects like Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons haven’t improved nearly as much as Portland likely hoped, and the Blazers’ affinity for former top prospects like Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere hasn’t led to much. Stotts is a good NBA coach, but he’s probably one better suited to an older roster.
2. Jason Kidd
Orlando would have quite a bit of competition for Kidd’s services if they chose to pursue him. Damian Lillard is lobbying for him, specifically in Portland, and Boston reportedly wants to interview him as well. But Magic GM John Hammond played a part in hiring Kidd in Milwaukee and was gone before the Bucks fired him in 2018. If their working relationship is still strong, Orlando might consider pursuing Kidd.
His schematic history is troubled. Milwaukee struggled on both sides of the ball by the time Kidd was let go. But superstars love him, and if the goal is developing talent, the man who helped Giannis Antetokounmpo become an MVP would surely make some degree of sense. Kidd’s off-court history is something that any potential employer will need to consider, and the Magic would certainly be justified if they chose not to consider him at all because of it. But if they are willing to overlook it, there are dots to connect here.
3. Jerry Stackhouse
If Orlando is going for a first-time NBA head coach, Stackhouse should be near the top of his list. He worked with Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman in Toronto. Coaches with Raptors ties are in demand right now. Nate Bjorkgren’s first year in Indiana didn’t go as planned, but Chris Finch looks like a home run for Minnesota thus far. Toronto’s organizational stability and creativity are something that other NBA teams want to emulate.
But Stackhouse’s credentials extend far beyond his time with the Raptors. He was an All-Star player but played for eight different teams, including five in his last five seasons. He can connect with stars and role players. He’s struggled in two years at Vanderbilt, but that’s not a program used to high-level winning. With the proper talent, he’d likely be far more successful. That was the case with Raptors 905, where he won a championship in 2017. There he had a hand in developing a number of youngsters who became core Raptors at the NBA level, including Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. If Orlando’s priority is player development, Stackhouse should be a compelling option.
4. Adrian Griffin
Griffin is another Raptors alum, but unlike Stackhouse, he has no head coaching experience whatsoever. He’ll get it someday, in Orlando or elsewhere. Griffin is widely respected for his work in player development but has also coached for a number of winning teams. He won his lone championship with the Raptors in 2019, but was also Billy Donovan’s top assistant in Oklahoma City for two seasons and worked under Tom Thibodeau in Chicago for five.
Between those stints in Chicago and Oklahoma City was a one-year stop in Orlando, giving Griffin some degree of familiarity with the organization. Ironically, despite working for the same organizations, Weltman and Griffin never directly overlapped. Griffin left Orlando in 2016. Weltman arrived in Orlando in 2017, but Griffin didn’t get to Toronto until 2018. It’s unclear how much familiarity there is there, and with first-time head coaches, that is usually critical.
5. Pat Delany
The least heralded name on this list is the likeliest internal candidate. Delany worked under Clifford in Orlando and Charlotte, but his career really took off in the same Miami Heat video room that once launched Erik Spoelstra’s career. Miami is an organization that tends to develop head coaches, so any experience with the Heat is valuable. Delany interviewed with the Knicks last offseason, but lost out to Thibodeau.
The Magic made the playoffs twice in a row under Clifford. They might’ve made it again this year if their season hadn’t been derailed by injuries. They might not believe that they need a new voice in the building. Promoting Delany would at least maintain a degree of continuity.