Mar 27, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni looks on during the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Jeff Hanisch/Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
This is utter insanity.
Seriously. How else can we describe what’s taking place in the NBA?
Coaches lose, and they get fired. Coaches win, and they get fired, too. Coaches are handed teams that resemble something along the lines of a D-League club in purple and gold (that means you, Los Angeles Lakers), and guess what? Those coaches get fired.
Maurice Cheeks didn’t even last his first season in Detroit. Mike Brown barely survived the first year of his second stint in Cleveland. Mike D’Antoni took the blame for a laughable roster that boasted a ruthless gunner off the bench as its best player.
This isn’t to say these guys deserved to keep their jobs. It is to say perhaps they didn’t even deserve those jobs in the first place.
Meanwhile, Steve Kerr was hired by Golden State despite never even coaching a team of seventh-graders. Then again, you could’ve said the same about Mark Jackson, and he sure did OK.
But Jackson was fired by the Warriors for … wait, why was he fired again?
What a lot of people fail to realize is that not everyone will contend for the Finals every year. Someone has to be bad.
What a lot of owners are saying is fine. We’re bad. But that doesn’t mean we have to put up with it.
Exhibit A: The Cavaliers were expected to finally make the playoffs in the Kyrie Irving era, and the fact the Eastern Conference was historically awful should have assisted such a quest. Instead, Irving (while still good) had his worst season and the Cavs were overrun with drama and bad vibes — no matter what pieces they traded for or who they signed.
An NBA coach doesn’t need to be a brilliant X’s-and-O’s guy, but he does need to maintain control of his locker room. Jason Kidd did it with no experience in Brooklyn. Steve Clifford did it in his first season with Charlotte. Brown may be a better tactician than both. But strategy means nothing when you don’t have the leadership skills to implement it. It’s like having no strategy at all.
The Cavs’ issues cost former general manager Chris Grant (who forced Brown on the organization a second time) his job, and perhaps his career. The Cavs’ issues also meant the third embarrassing firing for Brown (including one with the aforementioned Lakers) in four years. Read: If Brown wants another coaching gig, he should probably consider putting in a call to the Tufts University Jumbos. His NBA days are likely done for a while.
On the other hand, sitting out this season were George Karl and Lionel Hollins. Karl led Denver to a franchise-record 57 wins in 2012-13 and was named Coach of the Year. Hollins guided Memphis to the Western Conference finals. Neither was invited back. The Nuggets failed to make the playoffs and the Grizzlies got bounced in the first round. How’s that for taking the next logical steps?
As of this moment, Cleveland, New York, Utah, Minnesota and the Lakers remain coach-less. Their potential candidates are said to range from major names (along the lines of Karl and Hollins) to guys still in uniform (Oklahoma City guard Derek Fisher) to former-bosses-turned-assistants (LA Clippers’ Alvin Gentry and Indiana’s Nate McMillan) to people you may or may not know (Chicago assistant Adrian Griffin and Atlanta assistant Quin Snyder).
One thing’s for sure: Gone are the days when GMs felt they had to recycle the same old fellows. Mike Budenholzer was a first-timer who had some success in Atlanta. Same with Clifford and the Bobcats (well, Hornets again) and Jeff Hornacek with Phoenix.
Or how about Terry Stotts in Portland, Randy Wittman in Washington or Dwane Casey in Toronto? Nobody will confuse those three for Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach and Larry Brown. But Stotts, Wittman and Casey pushed their teams to surprising heights despite a lack of coaching pizzazz.
It’s probably good that owners are no longer buying the overused lines of winning being "a process," or that the team will be decent once it finally cashes in on its "assets." Those approaches tend to lead to "fan apathy" and cost franchises "money."
The alternative is trying to win now. Sixteen teams will do it by making the playoffs. Fourteen others will not. All will have their reasons for finishing however it is they finish.
But no matter the results, the men on the sidelines will take the blame. In today’s NBA, that’s just the way it is — and yes, perhaps just the way it has to be.