NBA

How coaches have stacked up in playoffs

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Randy Hill

Veteran columnist Randy Hill is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.
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The best recipe for coaching success in the NBA seems to be one part chess master and two parts psychologist. Add a generous portion of talent, stir vigorously and you might reach the playoffs.

That's when it really gets interesting.

We're here to take a look at the 16 head coaches involved in the 2010 NBA Playoffs and determine which of three categories our sideline sharpies fall into, based upon how their teams have performed. It should be noted that even the most accomplished and/or celebrated coaches often are at the mercy of such iffy propositions as shooting accuracy and brain cramps that may adversely impact the immediacy of a defensive rotation.

So, with that caveat firmly in place, let's take our subjective study and steer the Sweet 16 into the Cold, Lukewarm and Hot categories. Some of these coaches have reputations that easily can survive any critical notes we may throw their way. Others may either ride the wave of postseason perception to a hefty pay raise, a desperation analyst's gig or a job as someone else's assistant.

WHO'S COLD

LARRY BROWN, CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

Before going into why LB's name leads off this category, please understand that I would subject myself to at least one hour of Charles Barkley tee-shot videos for the opportunity to attend a 15-minute clinic conducted by Coach Brown.

With respects paid, I now have to wonder how Larry's Bobcats could be swept by a team whose superstar center sat on the bench for almost half the series. Sure, we might credit Brown's basket-attack strategy for Dwight Howard's foul issues (a reach), but we also give Tyson Chandler a nod for letting the referees see the consequences of an elbow to the throat.

The Bobcats stumbled into obliteration with Vince Carter providing little assistance to Orlando's cause. And Brown's strategy certainly did little to prevent Jameer Nelson from looking like the second coming of Chris Paul.

ERIK SPOELSTRA, MIAMI HEAT

Without Dwyane Wade's Game 4 eruption, Erik's Heat would have been swept by an aging team that allegedly is allowed to even watch game film at a reduced price.

Perhaps Spoelstra's biggest problem was putting too much faith in Jermaine O'Neal and Michael Beasley when toughness and defensive stops were needed and offered by Miami employees who play the same positions. Free-agent-to-be Wade has been close to Erik over the years, but we'll see how that affects the summer shopping season; if Miami keeps Wade and lands a big-time playmate, will Pat Riley scratch that coaching itch?

RICK CARLISLE, DALLAS MAVERICKS

This guy's a good coach of a No. 2 seed that just lost to one of the best seven seeds in league history. But Rick went by the book, stayed with his veterans and only played rookie Roddy Beaubois for 31 stinking minutes in six games, including 21 in Thursday's 16-point Game 6 effort.

POLL

  • How much impact do coaches have in the NBA?
    • Not much, it's a player's league
    • Plenty, if they are good coaches

OK, so that's a minor reason why the Mavericks lost to the San Antonio Spurs and has little to do with Carlisle's inability to create an atmosphere of defense that's required for Dallas to win a title. But this Cold classification isn't nearly enough (according to popular conjecture) to force owner Mark Cuban to make a change.

MIKE WOODSON, ATLANTA HAWKS

If Woodson could limit the number of times Al Horford attempts that face-up isolation from the free-throw line, we might be required to focus on how often his team fails to dig in on defense. With more attention to defensive detail, the Hawks may not be on the brink of elimination against a team with its center in street clothes and a rookie dominating much of the series at point guard.

VINNY DEL NEGRO, CHICAGO BULLS

Well, Vinny didn't do that badly in the Xs and Os department against Cleveland, but a chill must be attached to any coach that began the playoffs shortly after an alleged physical altercation with the team president. And he might have reached the Lukewarm roster by sending a second defender at LeBron James late in the shot clock and actually denying a return pass. Just sayin'.

LUKEWARM

SCOTT BROOKS, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

The regular-season Coach of the Year does a great job of focusing on what's important during those sideline huddles we're allowed to hear on TV. But the 2-3 zone he rolled out in the third quarter of Game 5 looked like something that had never been worked on in practice. Maybe it had, but it's Scott's job to inform his post defenders that just standing along the back line won't prevent Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum from flashing to the ball and getting it.

Brooks also did little in Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers to put point guard Russell Westbrook in a better position to attack Kobe Bryant without the Laker bigs lurking in the lane. How about sending your bigs north of the free-throw line and clearing out a side?

But the plucky Thunder already have done enough to keep any tarnish off of Scott's C of the Y hardware.
Phil Jackson  Dilip Vishwanat

Phil Jackson is letting Kobe make some strategic decisions, which isn't necessarily a bad idea.
Dilip Vishwanat


PHIL JACKSON, LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Perhaps the greatest sideline psychologist the league has seen, Phil's Round 1 credits include saying "OK" when Bryant offered to guard Westbrook and take teammate Derek Fisher off the hook. But hey, Phil could put Adam Morrison on Kevin Durant and remain bulletproof in terms of his coaching legacy.

STAN VAN GUNDY. ORLANDO MAGIC

He coached the team that swept the team coached by Larry Brown despite Howard's foul trouble and Carter's inability to play like an alpha dog. But we can't move Stan to Hot that easily with Larry sitting in the Cold clubhouse, right? Van Gundy has plenty of time to become Coach of the Playoffs or make some maneuver that provokes public scrutiny from Superman ... either Superman.

NATE MCMILLAN, PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Despite losing to the Phoenix Suns in six, Nate will remain a hero in Portland because his Blazers required three oil changes on their training-room gurney this season. But he also seemed to be one step behind Suns coach Alvin Gentry in making timely personnel alterations on the perimeter.

ADRIAN DANTLEY, DENVER NUGGETS

We admire and respect George Karl, and the Nuggets may be even or ahead of the Utah Jazz going into Game 6 with their head coach sitting on the bench. But the character-driven Nuggets (not in a good way) always had the potential to fall apart with George at the wheel; so Dantley deserves a bit of respect for not going completely cuckoo and switching from Denver's philosophy of "random offense" for a more functional two-man isolation game near the elbow co-starring Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony in Game 5.

Unfortunately, AD's efforts may not inspire speed-dial attention from teams with coaching vacancies.

DOC RIVERS, BOSTON CELTICS

We're not sure if Doc wants to stay in Boston, but his realization that some of those ballyhooed bench additions are failing to pan out could allow the Celtics to remain in the playoffs for a few games longer than we expected.

MIKE BROWN, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

We need a more interesting sample series before elevating Mike to the Hot list, where triumph and glory could be enough to keep LeBron on the roster.

HOT

SCOTT SKILES, MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Scott Skiles

Scott Skiles is helping the Bucks thrive without a whole lot of talent.
Kevin C. Cox


Dan Gadzuric and Kurt Thomas are playing center, Luke Ridnour is the secret weapon and rookie Brandon Jennings looks like the second coming of Tiny Archibald. After steering the Bucks to a 3-2 series lead against the Atlanta Hawks, we're now wondering how many years before Scott and his defense-first mandates will cause the players to turn on him.

If he can finish off Atlanta and somehow take down Orlando, it might be a good idea to allow any dissenting players to leave and actually keep the coach this time.

ALVIN GENTRY, PHOENIX SUNS

Let's see ... after Andre Miller scalded his team in Game 1, Alvin went bigger, putting Grant Hill and Jared Dudley on the Portland point guard. This was a fine adjustment that kept Andre on relative ice and enabled Jason Richardson to focus on scoring.

Gentry also coaxed the Suns into fits of timely defense, maintained faith in his bench and watched his team win two road games with center Robin Lopez still out with a bad back.

JERRY SLOAN, UTAH JAZZ

Without Andrei Kirilenko around to slow down Anthony, Sloan generated more offense and won three games in a row against the Denver Nuggets. The changes include less reliance on his four-high and flex sets, with no frills, middle screen-and-roll tactics featuring Deron Williams to exploit Denver's tardiness in post-trap, defensive rotation.

Center Mehmet Okur blew an Achilles in Game 1, but Jerry's history of sweating details has enabled an understudy to step in without mucking up the routine.

GREGG POPOVICH, SAN ANTONIO SPURS

He managed to coach his team to a Game 5 victory with Tim Duncan supplying four measly points. But Pop could completely whiff in a series and still have better job security than almost anyone in the league.
Tagged: Hawks, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Lakers, Heat, Bucks, Magic, Suns, Trail Blazers, Spurs, Thunder, Jazz, Hornets, Andre Miller, Tim Duncan, Dan Gadzuric, Grant Hill, Dwyane Wade, Luke Ridnour, Al Horford

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