Coaching carousel: Attempting to predict who fills Popovich’s bench

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Project Spurs illustration

With the Charlotte Hornets hiring James Borrego as their new head coach, so begins the annual tradition of NBA organizations looting through San Antonio’s assistant coaches to fill their vacancies.

Borrego’s hiring marks the sixth Spurs assistant to leave Popovich’s bench since the end of the 2013 season. And the poaching could still be far from over as Becky Hammon, Ettore Messina and Ime Udoka are still rumored candidates for various coaching positions through the association.

The number of coaches who end up leaving will ultimately determine how difficult filling the bench will be either internally or externally.

Just as a reminder, none of these coaches have been rumored to be leaving their current positions or have shown any desire to come to San Antonio. All the candidates mentioned below are educated guesses in hopes of informing the public on who potentially could fill any voids left behind.

DUTCH GAITLEY

If Borrego ends up being the only Spurs assistant hired, it would make more sense for the organization to promote from within.

The 30-year-old Gaitley was promoted to lead video coordinator by the Spurs in 2016 after Will Hardy was promoted to assistant coach. Hardy’s promotion lined up with Chad Forcier’s departure as Forcier took over as lead assistant of the Orlando Magic under Frank Vogel.

Prior to San Antonio, Gaitley was a 6-foot-9 forward at Temple University where he earned a Master’s degree in Sports Administration.

Gaitley eventually joined Temple’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant before going to Lehigh University as a video coordinator and then joining the Spurs in 2013 as a video intern.

JEREMY CASTLEBERRY

If the Spurs lose multiple assistants and refuse to hire external candidates, Jeremy Castleberry would be next in line after Gaitley.

Castleberry has been all over the Spurs organization since 2013, working with the Austin Spurs and serving as an assistant coach during Spurs summer league in 2016 and 2017.

If Castleberry’s name sounds familiar, he was also a walk on at San Diego State during Kawhi Leonard’s time with the Aztecs and has played alongside Leonard since the age of 14 with the two remaining close to this day.

Castleberry currently serves as San Antonio’s assistant video coordinator under Gaitley.

TY ELLIS

Currently an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns, Ellis was originally brought aboard when the Suns used Earl Watson to replace Jeff Hornacek.

Now that the Suns have hired Igor Kokoskov as their new head coach, there’s been no word yet on whether he’ll retain the current staff left behind or if he’ll seek out his own assistants.

Regardless, Ellis is a highly qualified assistant who’s risen in the ranks pretty quickly. His experience includes playing in the G League and overseas, while he’s spent a large amount of his coaching career as a G League assistant.

He also helped Team USA win gold at the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup as an assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy.

EARL WATSON

The aforementioned Watson is also an option to return to where it all started.

Immediately after Watson retired in 2014, the former point guard accepted a position as an assistant coach with the Austin Spurs.

Popovich’s cosign and mentoring of Watson saw his coach stock skyrocket overnight from Suns assistant to head coach. Then in true Suns fashion, Watson was fired after an 0-3 start to this season and replaced by Jay Triano on an interim basis.

While things didn’t go as planned with Watson in Phoenix, he’s still young enough to change any negative perception the Suns organization left on him.

Besides, Watson already failed at his attempt to become the next Skip Bayless, so maybe it’s best if he sticks to coaching.

FRANK VOGEL

Probably the biggest name on this list, or at least the most recognizable, Vogel is without a doubt a talented coach who will most certainly get another head coaching gig in the association soon.

Unfortunately for Vogel, being dumped unceremoniously by his two previous employers has soiled his image just a tad.

Vogel was a rumored candidate for the Phoenix Suns job before Kokoskov was hired. If Vogel doesn’t go the television analyst route, maybe finding his way onto a successful coaching staff as an assistant coach could boost his reputation and chances at another head coaching position.

BRET BRIELMAIER

Currently an assistant with the Brooklyn Nets, Brielmaier was hired by San Antonio in 2009 as a workout coach, eventually earning a promotion to video coordinator.

Brielmaier left to join the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013 before being whisked away to Brooklyn by Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson. He’s only 32 years old, but Brielmaier could be up for some head coaching jobs in the near future.

MIKE WELLS

A seasoned coaching veteran, Wells is currently an assistant for the Utah Jazz under Quinn Snyder. The name may be unfamiliar, but Wells has an extensive resume.

Wells began his career with the Houston Rockets in 1995 as assistant video coordinator for the eventual NBA champions. He later followed Rudy Tomjanovich to the Lakers in 2004 before joining the Spurs from 2005 to 2009.

Wells also spent time with the Washington Wizards as well as at the collegiate level with Toledo, South Florida and George Mason.

JOE PRUNTY

Prunty is still under consideration to coach the Milwaukee Bucks without the interim designation, but if he were to lose out to the current plethora of candidates, Prunty could continue his career as an assistant.

While only 49 years old, Prunty has nearly two decades of NBA experience on his resume.

Prunty started in San Antonio in 2002 before moving on to the Dallas Mavericks in 2005. He eventually left the Metroplex to join the Portland Trail Blazers in 2008, then shifted to Cleveland in 2010 before making stops in Brooklyn and finally Milwaukee under Jason Kidd.

TAYLOR JENKINS

Jenkins is another coach in limbo as the Atlanta Hawks have hired Lloyd Pierce to take over for Mike Budenholzer.

If Jenkins finds himself on the way out, he could return to the Spurs where he led the Austin Spurs to the 2012 G League championship.

There’s still a good chance he stays with Budenholzer wherever he ends up, as the two have worked closely together since their time in San Antonio.

MANU GINOBILI

There’s still a slim chance he retires and decides to jump into coaching like fellow Argentinian Pablo Prigioni. Plus who wouldn’t want Ginobili calling ATO’s for the Spurs?

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