[From the FanPosts. Mitchell was off my short list last week, but this is a pretty good case that he could be considered better than Frank or Casey. In other coaching news, McHale is interested but hasn't been contacted. -ed.]
The Bulls stink at offense. This has been true for years. Here are the Bulls offensive efficiency rankings for the last 13 years (post-Jordan):
2009-10 - 27th of 30
2008-09 - 15th of 30
2007-08 - 26th of 30
2006-07 - 21st of 30
2005-06 - 23rd of 30
2004-05 - 27th of 30
2003-04 - 29th of 29
2002-03 - 26th of 29
2001-02 - 28th of 29
2000-01 - 29th of 29
1999-00 - 29th of 29
1998-99 - 29th of 29
It's a record of abject failure on offense. The best season they ever had was last year and that was with an empty suit coaching the team. The Bulls defense has, ever since the Skiles era, ranged from solid to great. The Bulls have the talent and personnel to be a top level defense next year. In their healthier stretches this year, they were one of the top 5 defenses in the league. Which brings me to the point of this post: the Bulls coaching search should be focused on bringing in a coach who has had success on the offensive side of the ball.
I have advocated JVG, but mostly because I believe he has the most cachet and proven winning record (just one losing record in 9 years as a HC and it was a 34 win season with significant injuries to T-Mac and Yao). Looking at the numbers for JVG, though, it's less encouraging. His teams have been dominating defensively (top 6 or higher every single year, usually higher), but they've been bad outfits offensively. His best offensive teams were only 15th out of 30 teams in offensive efficiency. He did that twice. The rest of his teams have been in the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency. JVG coached teams are also notoriously slow (granted, they were centered on Yao and Ewing, so this makes sense, but still... it's worrying). It makes sense to wonder, then, whether JVG is the best fit for maximizing this team's talent.
Lawrence Frank, who has been identified as on the Bulls' short-list, is a similar story. In Frank's full 82 game seasons as coach of the Nets, so I'm ignoring his 25-15 end of season run to start his HC run and ignoring his terrible 0 for 16 run to start this year, his team's off. efficiency have ranked: 26th, 25th, 16th, 25th, and 16th. So it looks like Frank won't be much help on the offensive side of the ball, either. Now it's arguable whether Frank had the talent to do much better on the offensive side of the ball than he did. He had a prime Vince Carter, plus a still very good Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, but the Nets depth was pretty horrid outside of those 3 guys. Nenad Krstic was really the only other average player on most of those teams. But still, it's a bit worrying that he's never really shown an ability to build anything approaching a top 10 offense. It's interesting with Frank, the seasons where his team's were better on offense, the defense dropped off. In the end, I think Frank is a guy who probably won't let a team underachieve, but won't ever push a team to be more than the sum of it's parts and who really seems like he would struggle to get a team to be top 10 in both offense and defense, which is pretty necessary to be a contender, unless you're absolutely dominating on one end or the other (see: the Suns on offense this year). For what it's worth, Frank's teams have been 21st, 18th, 16th, 16th, and 23rd in pace. So he's not necessarily a total slow-it-all down type guy, his teams are more middle of the pack in pace, which isn't so bad, but I'd prefer to see the Bulls really, really pushing it.
Mo Cheeks is another guy that's gotten a lot of talk as being on the Bulls' short-list. Let's take a look at the numbers for his teams in offensive efficiency. Here are the rankings of his team's on offense during his time in Portland: 6th/29, 8th/29, 10th/29. Then in Philadelphia his team's rankings looked like this: 15th/30, 26th, and 18th. Now, Mo's Philly teams had far less offensive talent than his Portland teams. He seems like a guy that if you get him the right pieces could build a very solid offense. His teams' defenses haven't been great. He had one top 10 defense (8th with 07-08 Philadelphia) and a number of middling defenses (13th, 13th, and 17th) plus some bad ones. So with defense, it seems like Mo Cheeks is pretty hit or miss. All in all, though, despite his .498% winning percentage as a coach, I don't think Mo is too bad an option. The one big problem I have with Mo Cheeks, though, is that his teams have been quite slow. The pace of his teams have been 23rd, 22nd, 29th, 6th, 22nd, and 20th. The one anomaly in that group is the 2005-06 Sixers. Interestingly, that team featured a 30 year old Iverson, a 32 year old Chris Webber and a 22 year old Iguodala, John Salmons, Matt Barnes, and Kyle Korver, plus Dalembert. They only finished 15th in offensive efficiency. It's interesting that they pushed the pace so much. Maybe it's an indication that Cheeks would push the pace with this bunch, but I'm dubious given that the one year seems like an outlier.
I looked at Dwane Casey's full season numbers and he got his team to be a top 10 defense, but he also had a young KG and his team's offense was 20th in offense. Granted, that team had lousy talent, but it's tough for me to really say he was a great offensive coach one way or the other based on this.
All of this leads me to one guy that hasn't been much talked about: Sam Mitchell. I think as unfair a deal as Casey got getting run out of town in Minnesota, Smitch got just as bad a deal in Toronto. Mitchell's winning percentage isn't going to wow anyone at .452%, but his Raptors teams improved over the course of his four years there. His first two years were pretty crappy. They won a total of 60 games in two years, but it wasn't for a lack of offense. Their offensive efficiency those two years were 11th and 5th, it was the defense that really did them in in those years. Then the next year, Toronto found balance under Smitch (10th in offensive efficiency and 12th in defensive efficiency) and won 47 games. Their point differential suggested a 44 win team, but they overacheived (and raised expectations as a result) and won 47 games. The next year, they further improved their point differential (suggesting a 49 win team) and kept their balance (9th in O and 13th in D). Unfortunately, their point differential predicted wins did not match their actual wins, they underachieved relative to their quality and won only 41 games. The next year the Raptors started 8-9 out of the gate and Smitch was (wrongly) fired.
Mitchell's teams' paces have been kind of all over the place, but they've been mostly uptempo. 10th, 14th, 9th, and 23rd. I think that's definitely a better fit for this Bulls team than what we've seen from Lawrence Frank or Mo Cheeks or Jeff Van Gundy.
David Berri (object of much scorn around many parts of the NBA blogosphere, but he was right on this, even if he used the flawed Wins Produced metric to express the point) had a pretty good post about Smitch getting fired when it happened and how unwise it was at the time.
Smitch's firing reminds me a lot of Flip Saunders getting fired. Find me a coach who can get you a top 10 offense and keep you above average on defense, and I'll show you a coach who will win a lot of ballgames for you. I think Sam Mitchell might be the right guy for the Bulls coaching position.
***Note: I don't know what Mitchell's relationship with Bosh is. This whole post assumes that Bosh doesn't harbor any dislike or lack of respect for Mitchell, if he does, then obviously that's a big barrier to hiring him, because I think Bosh should be the Bulls' guy this summer (Wade and LBJ not being likely to leave and Bosh being the 3rd best player available). I would imagine that Bosh likes Mitchell as he was the coach for the Raps the only times when Bosh actually saw the light of the playoffs. ***