A growing trend in the sports world today is to blame the coach. Next season, for instance, 13 of the NBA’s 30 teams will begin the season with a new coach.
Coaching changes and firings are apart of the game, but there seems to be little outside of winning an NBA title that can protect you from getting the hook. Six coaches who led their teams to the playoffs this season were fired after being eliminated. Among those are the Los Angeles Clippers who were the fourth seed in the playoffs, but were eliminated by the fifth seeded Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies made it all the way to the Western Conference finals only to lose to the San Antonio Spurs. However, both the Grizzlies and Clippers head coaches were let go — Lionel Hollins of the Griz and Vinny Del Negro of the Clippers.
Both coaching changes are not just bad for the fired coaches, they’re bad for the NBA.
Hollins led the Grizzlies to a 56-26 regular season record, a franchise mark, and in the playoffs, exceeded everyone’s expectations as the fifth seed. He voiced loyalty in returning to the Grizzlies but management and he appeared to have different views of the team’s direction. His contract wasn’t renewed and his heir apparent is his own assistant coach, David Joerger, who has never coached an NBA game. Hollins’ dismissal shows just how quickly NBA executives pull the trigger when a season ends in anything less than a championship. Stability of a team often leads to success, and Hollins was certainly on his way. He began in 2008 with the Grizzlies, and improved the team’s record each season, starting with two missed playoffs in 2009′ and 2010′, to three consecutive playoff appearances. His successor will begin next season knowing that there is little room for error.
Del Negro was let go in May after a first-round exit in the playoffs. His 128-102 career coaching record with the Clippers represented the best winning percentage in franchise history. But that wasn’t enough to secure his job. Del Negro became the newest victim of superstardom in the NBA. Stan Van Gundy, former coach of the Orlando Magic knows a thing or two about what Del Negro is going through. Van Gundy was fired after his star center, Dwight Howard, was critical of the coach and said he wasn’t happy playing under him and might not continue with the team if he stayed on board. Van Gundy was fired and ironically, Howard was traded away shortly thereafter after voicing further displeasure with the team’s direction. Del Negro may not be the best NBA coach, but he proved capable. However, his star point guard, Chris Paul, who is currently a free agent, apparently was not a fan of his and the Clippers didn’t want to risk losing Paul. Paul, however, was irked at comments that he had anything to do with Del Negro’s dismissal, but he was allegedly in communication with Doc Rivers, who is now at the helm in L.A. after being traded by the Boston Celtics for a draft pick, to ensure that both would be together next year. It’ll be interesting to see when and if Paul re-signs with the Clippers.
Jason Kidd will take over in Brooklyn next year to coach the Nets; he has never coached a game in his life, having just retired as a player from the NBA. He is replacing P.J. Carlesimo who had a tremendous year as an interim coach and led the Nets to the playoffs, and a first round exit.
Mike Malone will take over in Sacramento to coach the Kings. He has never been a head coach, but has been a longtime assistant in Golden State. He will be responsible for leading the Kings back to relevance after they nearly lost their club to Seattle.
Steve Clifford will take on the dreadful Charlotte Bobcats owned by Michael Jordan. He will also have a new assistant coach in Patrick Ewing, Jordan’s former rival from his playing days. The two have zero games combined as head coach and will lead a team with arguably the worst roster in the league and no real upside. It wouldn’t be surprising to see another coaching change for this franchise either during the season or at its conclusion.
Mike Budenholzer and Jeff Hornacek will take over the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, respectively. Neither has any head coaching experience and will take on rosters in flux. The Hawks might have a complete change in roster if they lose star Josh Smith — and they might possibly corral Dwight Howard to play in his hometown. The Suns have a couple of first round draft picks that can be added to a roster full of talented but all-starless players. Both will have difficult inaugural seasons.
Brian Shaw will take over in Denver, and has big shoes to fill. Shaw has been an assistant for the Indiana Pacers for a while and appears ready for his first head-coaching gig. He will have a talented roster to work with, with or without guard/forward Andre Iguodala, who is currently a free agent. He could be in for the long haul due to the Nuggets young roster and his success as an assistant coach.
Miami Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra has escaped being fired on several occasions, having the difficult task of coaching a few of the games biggest personalities. But he seems pretty safe now having repeated as NBA champions. He is not a fan of how his profession is being handled, “I think it’s really a shame for the profession of coaching that it’s been so volatile. But I’m also very grateful that our organization doesn’t behave in that manner.” Spoelstra is the second longest tenured NBA coach behind Gregg Popovich — both coaches of the NBA Finals this year. Spoelstra was hired in 2008 and has 394 career games coached under his belt.
Spoelstra turns 44 in November, and is possibly looking at a longtime position in Miami. But he has a long way to go to be able to catch Popovich’s 1,328 games coached with the Spurs. Will Spoelstra, or any other coach for that matter, be with the same team in ten or fifteen years? In this NBA, it seems unlikely.