Best head coach-free agent fits

Which coaches would be best at making free agents better?

Updated: July 7, 2014, 1:04 PM ET
By Bradford Doolittle | ESPN Insider

Turner/GundyUSA TODAY SportsStan Van Gundy has made immediate impact with players who had potential similar to Evan Turner.

Last week, while Jason Kidd danced around uncomfortable questions during his introductory news conference in Milwaukee, he mentioned several times that a coach's primary responsibility is to make his players better.

While you can argue whether that is precisely true, that trait is one of the more valued aspects in the coaching profession. Winning trumps everything, but over the long haul, coaches who are best at getting the most from the talent with which they have to work are the guys who tend to stick around.

Conversely, one of the under-the-radar storylines of the free-agent season is about formerly lauded players who aren't getting many early nibbles in the marketplace. The best example is Indiana's Evan Turner, whose name has barely made a ripple this summer even though he's just four years removed from being the second pick in the draft. The Pacers allowed Turner to become an unrestricted free agent by declining to make him a qualifying offer.

Instead of looking for a team that will allow them to put up numbers, maybe they need to find a coach who will actually help them get better.

Players like this are just hoping to find a rotation spot in the NBA. With their staying power in serious jeopardy, they are grasping for a niche that will allow them to stick around for the foreseeable future. Usually this involves searching for a team that may not be a playoff contender but has a spot available that will at least allow the player to get plenty of court time.

But maybe these guys are thinking about it in the wrong way. Instead of looking for a team that will allow them to put up numbers, maybe they need to find a coach who will actually help them get better.

Some coaches are better at this than others. I have a metric for tracking this, of course. It simply looks at players with at least three years in the league who find themselves playing for a new coach. Did these players get better or worse, after you adjust for typical aging patterns?

By adding up all these little changes, you can get an idea which coaches have the most impact in this area. Gregg Popovich is the best at this, adding an estimated 14.1 wins more than expected just on his work with new veterans alone. Others who shine by this measure include Doc Rivers, Flip Saunders, Rick Carlisle and Stan Van Gundy.

With all this in mind, let's look at five players in need of career rehab and put them each with a coach who can help them stick around the league for the long haul.

Free agent: Evan Turner | Coach: Stan Van Gundy


If any player needs to shake the alpha-dog mentality, it's Turner. He came into the league as a skilled wing who stuffed the box score during his final season at Ohio State as an oversized point guard. His greatest virtues -- or so we thought -- were playmaking and defense. As a pro, Turner has often tried to fashion himself as a go-to scorer. He was given a chance to be that on last season's miserable Philadelphia 76ers squad, but his true shooting percentage of .504 was unplayable for a featured scorer. He tried to adapt on the fly after being traded to Indiana, but his efficiency suffered even more in a lower-usage capacity. By the playoffs, Turner was largely forgotten.

Van Gundy needs playmakers on the perimeter but doesn't have many dollars to offer. Turner's lack of deep shooting might prevent him from a starting role, but the veteran coach can help him focus his game on Detroit's second unit. Van Gundy has had immediate, positive impact with a variety of players at a similar stage as Turner. The list includes Lamar Odom, Maurice Evans, Keith Bogans, Dwight Howard, Rafer Alston and Jameer Nelson. That's a diverse group of skill sets, which shows Van Gundy can find the diamond-in-the-rough in any kind of player.