Would John Whisenant Really Be the Worst Thing in the World?

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Obviously, I'd prefer the Maloofs stop pushing their friends into head coaching roles with the Sacramento Kings. It didn't work with Reggie Theus (a surprise choice), and because he was the Maloofs' guy and because the Maloofs maintain an iron grip on decisions involving the coaching job, Geoff Petrie couldn't can him last summer (when it became apparent his grating egotism had alienated the team's best player, the front office and many fans). Now we have Kenny Natt, and quite soon we'll have a fifth head coach in the last five years.

But let's imagine the status quo remains, and the Maloofs maintain an iron grip on decisions involving the coaching job. (Honestly, it's their right. They are the owners. We can wish it'd be different, but we can't exactly ask them to butt out.) Let's imagine the Kings hire John Whisenant.

I said as much earlier today, but (since I have been rebuffed in the comments) let me reiterate: Whisenant's pedigree is not a problem, in my opinion. Give me a suggested resumé for a head coaching hire for a young team with a .200 winning percentage, a shaky financial picture and a less than glamorous image. You think we should hire away Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich?

Every coach the Kings would be in position to hire will have problems, deficiencies on the resumé. Eddie Jordan lacks defensive chops. Flip Saunders' teams lack focus. Avery Johnson chokes offensive creativity. Tom Thibodeau lacks experience and people skills. Maurice Cheeks has a poor understanding of in-game tactics. Lawrence Frank isn't a great motivator. Isiah Thomas has a fondness of chauvinism. Every candidate is flawed. Accept that.

Whisenant's flaw: no NBA experience. Every college coach who tries to step up to the bigs has the same flaw. Reggie Theus had this flaw. It is a flaw, a deficiency.

Having coached in the WNBA, however, is not a flaw. When you're making your Pro-Con list, "no NBA experience" goes in the Con column. "WNBA head coach" does not go in the Con column. It goes in the Pro column. Maybe it's at the very bottom of the Pro column, under "Nice mustache" or "Makes a delicious stratta." But it's not a negative. You can't be a worse basketball coach because you coached women's basketball. Would coaching his kid's youth league team make Kurt Rambis a worse coach off the top? No! The lack of NBA experience is the problem, not the presence of WNBA experience.

Three years ago, Whisenant seemed like a lock to become the first post-Adelman head coach of the Kings. I had e-mailed Kevin Pelton, then of the Sonics/Storm, for his insight, as he was (and still is) the only analyst in the world covering both the NBA and WNBA. He gave me some great thoughts I didn't publish at the time (due to the sensitivity of Kevin's position). Now, along with his work for the Storm, Kevin writes for Basketball Prospectus (as you'll know from the myriad links I've posted). He gave me permission to publish this segment of our 2006 discussion on Whisenant's pro prospects.

I think the WNBA is a better background than it is given credit for, to the extent that it is a professional league. You have similar levels of player movement and a mindset that players are more important than coaches, which is not true of college basketball. Also, being a head coach is fundamentally different than being an assistant, so I think that experince is valuable.

If you're willing to hire a college coach, in my opinion you should be willing to hire a WNBA coach or a European club coach. Of course, there will be specific situational differences -- the question of NBA experience doesn't exist in a vacuum; you may support David Blatt because of his reputation as a motivator while rejecting Whisenant because you don't think his defensive system will work in the NBA. But this specific check box on your application -- "Do you have experience as an NBA head or assistant coach?" -- is fairly binary! The out-of-hand rejections based solely on his WNBA experience is a bit mind-boggling.

So again, if you reject Whisenant out of hand, would you support the hire of any college or European coach without NBA coaching experience?

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