A high-ranking NBA official told me today that the decision-makers in the Hawks front office want to replace Mike Woodson with Pitino.
I tried to confirm this story with someone in Pitino's circle or on his staff. I got two responses. One person said it was news to him. The other said that it's a rumor that's definitely out there, but that it is not true. If it is true, there is great incentive for Pitino's people to dispel such an idea until after the Hawks season concludes. However, it is also fair to state that Pitino has not held any direct talks with anyone from the Hawks organization. Plus, even if he were to talk to someone in Atlanta, it doesn't necessarily mean he would take the job.
Such a move would be somewhat curious on both sides actually. Woodson has done a very respectable job with a roster full of young talent--with particular emphasis on "young." After taking the eventual champion Celtics to a 7th game in the first round last year, Atlanta came back this season and earned the 4th seed in the East by posting a record of 47-35.
But for whatever reason, it seems as though Woodson has been on his way out for the past two seasons. In fact, many people around the league believe that it was the Hawks strong first round playoff showing that saved his job last year. And if Atlanta were to knock off Dwayne Wade and the 5th-seeded Heat in the first round this season, it would make replacing Woodson over the summer even more difficult.
As far as Pitino is concerned, I am sure many people would be shocked to hear that he would even consider going back to the NBA after what happened in Boston. Or better yet, some might wonder why another NBA team would even give him a shot to coach again in the league. As I have said before, trying to figure out what motivates Coach P might require a PhD in psychology.
I have also learned that no decision should surprise you when it comes to Corporate America. There have been many good people who lost their job simply because someone above them didn't like them personally or how they went about their job, regardless of the results.
Pitino might look at another opportunity in the NBA as a means to redeem his last venture into the league. Remember, he guided the Knicks to the playoffs. So, it's not like he can't coach professional players. It just didn't work out in Boston for a couple of reasons.
1) Despite having the worst record in the league that previous season, the Celtics did not win the Draft Lottery. So instead of getting the obvious number one pick that year, Boston had to watch Tim Duncan head to San Antonio, where he would eventually win three NBA titles.
2) Pitino had too many former UK players on his roster. The tactics he used to motivate guys at Kentucky did not fly once those guys were A) making more money than him and B) did not need him to re-up their scholarship every year.
I am sure UK fans will have a field day with the possibility of Pitino leaving Louisville for the NBA. Some will say that Pitino is scared of John Calipari because he knows he would be the underdog in any recruiting battle between the two rival programs. I think "scared" is a bit too strong of a word, but I do know that Pitino and his staff realize their work on the recruiting trail will now have to step up considerably.
Speaking of recruiting, I guess this is as good a place as any to throw in this little tidbit, especially since it relates directly to Louisville. The word around many league offices is that elite 2010 UofL recruit Jeremy Tyler wants to follow Brandon Jennings' road to the NBA. Instead of going to college for one season, several league execs believe that Tyler will go play professionally in Europe for one season before entering the 2011 NBA Draft.
I am not sure if Pitino and his staff are aware of this belief, but if they are, maybe that's another reason he would want to get out of the college game and go back to the NBA. The paychecks are definitely more, and the headaches are definitely less.