With the month of January coming to a close, there's no doubt the D-League has (most recently) seen many of its top prospects move on to greener pastures and earn themselves gigs (albeit it, regardless of how brief they may be) with NBA teams. The ability to offer such youngsters a ten-day contract or two is such an asset towards roster flexibility and/or exploration for big league teams.
As a result, there's been plenty of chatter, even following the minor league's annual showcase earlier this month, about who could and/or will be next.
While such players can earn themselves promotions midseason, coaches are obviously unable to do so. Having said that, the D-League is equally as invested in the progression of their coaches, staffers, officials, etc.. With that in mind, here's a look at five head coaches could make their way to NBA benches come next season.
**Editor's note: This is, in no way, necessarily a rankings system of any sort. Surely, a strong enough case to move up could be made for any number of coaches in the league. Here is simply a look at some of those very staffers with success on their side, a strong enough resume to boast, and a desire to continue following such a path**
Nate Bjorkgren, Bakersfield Jam
Putting it simply, Bjorkgren wins wherever he goes. After leading the Santa Cruz Warriors to the D-League Finals in 2012-13, the coach made his way back to the Iowa Energy (where he previously assumed assistant coaching duties --- winning a minor league title alongside Nick Nurse) to serve as head coach and be closer to his family. The Energy racked up 31 wins, tied for the second best record in the league.
Since, he's taken over for the newly minted single-affiliation Bakersfield Jam. The team currently owns the league's best record, and the coaching vet will lead one of the top squads during All-Star Weekend as well. Someone who has a knack for team-building, even in the ever changing D-League, Coach Bjorkgren has gained favor in the Suns organization in recent months while helping form quite a tight bond between the affiliates.
Casey Hill, Santa Cruz Warriors
Like Bjorkgren, Coach Hill has steadily found success on his continued journey to The Association. An assistant for Bjorkgren in 2012-13, Hill helped Santa Cruz achieve a repeat appearance in the D-League Finals in just his first year as head coach last season.
The son of former NBA head coach Bob Hill has been around the game all his life, and even has a bit of international coaching experience to boot as well. In today's game, that's truly invaluable. Someone genuinely invested in the relationship between the Warriors' affiliates both on and off the court, Hill is someone his players feel as though they can trust and learn from. He knows how to make in-game adjustments, as well as roll with the punches that surprisingly comes a team's way in the minor league.
Conner Henry, Fort Wayne Mad Ants
If there were ever a potential candidate to make the unprecedented leap from D-League head coach to NBA head coach (as opposed to doing an assistant stint first), perhaps Coach Henry would stand tall as the most likely.
The 2013-14 D-League Coach of the Year led the Fort Wayne Mad Ants to a minor league title in just his first season as head coach. He followed that up with a positive showing during NBA Summer League in Las Vegas last July. It was there where Coach Henry led a group of otherwise unwanted, overlooked, and/or under the radar D-Leaguers to a respectable record against other potential and/or already existent NBA talents.
As the coach of the D-League's lone remaining independently owned and operated team, Coach Henry is arguably depended on most (and subsequently has the most experience) when building a team with his own personal flavor. Someone with both NBA and international experience as a player, the coach has truly been through it all.
Nevada Smith, Rio Grande Valley Vipers
Even with the Reno Bighorns utilizing an ever unique system this season, Coach Smith's own run and gun style in RGV has been the talk (and often the toast) of the D-League going on two seasons now. His teams push the tempo, creating more and more offensive opportunities for themselves along the way.
It goes without saying that the Vipers and Houston Rockets have created one of the strongest bonds between affiliates in all of professional basketball. Coach Smith has been key in the development in many of Houston's more intriguing up and coming young guns. What's more, there's no doubt the unique style of play allows the Rockets to explore different things. So far, so good.
Scott Morrison, Maine Red Claws
Despite being a first-year head coach in the D-League this season, Coach Morrison has found quick success, including a top notch record for Maine. This resulted in him earning the honor of coaching against Bjorkgren in next month's D-League All-Star Game.
Morrison's teams play intelligently, with an up tempo style, but all the while, maintaining control and zeroing in on the highest-percentage opportunities that they can find on the offensive end. After amassing a decade of experience on the collegiate level, Morrison is already gaining favor within the affiliated Celtics' organization for his ability to integrate some of the NBA team's most important philosophies into his own coaching style along the way.