The NBA is the most ruthless pro sports league when it comes to firing coaches. We’ve seen coaches get fired in the midst of a winning season, very early into their multi-year deal, and even following a Coach of the Year Award. But what is most mind boggling about the NBA coaching carousel is how it seems like the same few guys continue to get jobs. Coaches that give the impression of success, but have never truly accomplished anything. How and why do guys who have coached for 10 or 20 plus years and never won a conference finals series keep getting new gigs under the impression that they’re a championship caliber coach, and why are teams so quick to give up on their current coach?
Doc Rivers is one of only seven current head coaches to win a championship (Greg Popovich, Steve Kerr, Erik Spoelstra, Nick Nurse, Rick Carlisle, and now Frank Vogel). He is also the only coach in NBA history to blow three seperate 3-1 leads. The Clippers did fire him following the most recent collapse, but then the 76ers gobbled him up within a few days.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking that Doc Rivers is a worthy head coach. He seems to have a pretty good resume and is only one of the few coaches to win a title. But if you actually look at his career, you’d see that the narritive of Rivers being a great coach is misleading.
Rivers has been am NBA head coach for 21 seasons now. At the helm of the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics and the LA Clippers, he posts a regular season win percentage of just over 58%. But the story for Rivers has always been his playoff struggles. In 21 seasons, he’s won just one championship, had one other Finals appearance, and one other ECF appearance. The bulk of his career, he’s struggled to make it out of the first round. Considering the talent he’s been fortunate enough to coach (Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Rondo, McGrady, Griffin, Paul, Leonard, and Paul George), that’s pretty unacceptable.
Rivers isn’t the only one to continuing to land jobs despite a lackluster resume.
Mike D’Antoni has been somehow labeled an offensive genius. His seven second Suns teams are still regarded as one of the most deadly offenses ever, despite no Finals appearances. James Harden turned into a 30 point machine under D’Antoni, but hasn’t made a Finals series since he left OKC. Plus, he could only manage an eight seed (and eventual first round sweep) with Kobe, Dwight Howard and Nash.
Yet here he is – 16 underwhelming seasons under his belt – as the top coaching candidate in the association.
Why is it that teams keep falling in love with coaches who, frankly, have accomplished next to nothing.
The sample sizes are large, too. Doc 21 seasons, D’Antoni 16, Tom Thibodeau (who was chosen to lead the NY
Garbage Fires Knicks to the promise land), nine seasons.
Billy Donovan blew a 3-1 lead with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Couldn’t get them back to the finals. Yet the Chicago Bulls think he can lead *checks notes* Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen to success.
It’s maddening to watch teams waste years of their star players primes or important development years under a head coach that clearly isn’t the right guy (Beal and Wall with Brooks or Embiid and Simmons with Brown, for examples of the latter).
What’s even more head scratching is when a team gives up on a coach who is yet to prove themselves.
The Cleveland Cavaliers dumped David Blatt after just one season…a season that ended after game six of the NBA Finals. A season that probably would have ended in champaigne had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love not gotten hurt.
Now, sure, Ty Lue did take the reins and won a title in 2016, but the two Finals series that followed, he compltely flopped. The Cavaliers had zero answers to the Warriors offense, and their own offense was shockingly simple, stagnant and boring.
And now, he’ll be bringing that junior varsity offense to the LA Clippers.
Who else could take these coaching roles, then? Look at some of the more successful coaches in the league right now.
Erik Spoelstra started as a film coordinator. Nick Nurse was the Raptors’ assistant under Dwane Casey during the “LeBronto” era. Pop was an assistant for six seasons. Brad Stevens came from college. Steve Kerr was brand new to the coaching game.
Most teams seem to have reservations about going with a “new” coach. They tend to avoid grabbing guys with little experience and favor the long time failure.
Brent Brown has a career win percentage of 39.1%…and he’ll have a job soon enough. Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy will be tied to every coaching rumor from now until the day they die. Washington won’t fire Scott Brooks until Bradley Beal finally forces his way out.
As Houston, Indiana, and New Orleans (three hopeful playoff contenders next season) look for a new coach, maybe they should gloss right over Van Gundy, Jackson, D’Antoni, or Brown. Look to college, look towards other successful coach’s benches, look to former players (props, Brooklyn).
Dave Fizdale, Kenny Atkinson and Dave Joerger are perfect examples of coaches that were given up on way too soon. Juwan Howard leads the list of potential college prospects. Or an assistant like Sam Cassell.
There’s more options than the regular failures. Take a shot on one.
Stats provided by Basketball Reference