The Sake of Change

Auerbach_Red-2This season, four NBA franchises have changed head coaches. These types of coaching changes occur when a team is struggling and failing to meet expectations, whether those expectations were realistic or not. Either that, or a head coach doesn’t get along with his player(s). Most of the time I’m not a fan of midseason coaching changes. To me it’s like trying to fix a brick wall with scotch tape. When a team struggles the reasons for the struggle go beyond just bad coaching. Sure, coaching could be part of it, but a sub-talented roster or bad chemistry could also be part of the reasons too. That being said, coaches are always easier to remove than players and I thought now would be a good time to examine the teams that have changed coaches both before and after the change happened.

Brooklyn Nets – Avery Johnson (14-14); P.J. Carlesimo (17-8)

The freshly relocated Nets got off to a blistering start this season. The resigning of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez combined with the trade of Joe Johnson gave the Nets some star power to give the residents of Brooklyn something to talk about. Their 11-4 start only added to that excitement and earned Johnson Coach of The Month for November. Things quickly changed as the Nets dropped 8 of their next 11 games and Johnson was quickly shown the door. Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov is desperate to have big stars to match the big lights of his team’s new city and that includes the coaching position. Johnson has a tendency to keep a tight leash on his players which didn’t sit well with Williams. The team rallied behind Carlesimo, who has a slightly less hands on approach than Johnson. However, with Williams admittedly having a sub par season and Gerald Wallace being almost a non factor on the court, the Nets have only played .500 ball in their last 10 games. They’re also among the teams rumored to be looking to make a deal before the trade deadline.

Verdict – C: Nets management entered the season believing they had enough talent to contend for a title. That simply isn’t the case when you look at the roster. Their talented enough to make the playoffs, but not enough to challenge the Heat in a 7 game series. Carlesimo is a good coach, but he’s yet to figure out how to spark Williams back into All-Star form. And, while he has the respect of his players, he’s not the brand name coach that Prokhorov desires.

L.A. Lakers – Mike Brown (1-4), Bernie Bickerstaff (4-1), Mike D’Antoni (20-23)

No team in the NBA does drama quite like the Los Angeles Lakers. The off-season acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash immediately put them into title contention in the minds of well, everyone. Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks were also brought in to shore up a weak bench. Brown instituted a Princeton offense and everyone in Lakers’ Nation was giddy with the potential of this new team. That giddiness was erased quickly as the team went winless in the preseason and then proceeded to lose four of their first five games. After being reassured by Jim Buss that his job was secure, Brown was then let go by the Lakers the next day. Bickerstaff took over until D’Antoni was brought in after the Lakers briefly courted with Phil Jackson. The team is in uncharted waters at they’re currently 3 games out of the playoffs.

Verdict – F: Where does one begin on this? A parade this June was certainly possible with a roster with this much talent even that talent was top heavy. Brown’s biggest mistakes were over coaching and not settling on a rotation. The preseason was spent adjusting to both a new roster and a new offensive system and bad habits on the court developed. Still, if the Lakers front office wanted to reconstruct the Nash/D’Antoni pair that badly, they should have made that change during the off-season. Nor should they have leaked news about insincere about negotiations with Jackson, whom they never had intentions of hiring. Despite having won 8 of their last 11 games the Lakers are still in dire straights. Injuries, terrible defense, a weak bench and a lack of chemistry on the court are all challenges that would be difficult for even the Zen Master to overcome. And that’s before even mentioning the delicate relationship between Pau Gasol and D’Antoni. As stated above, no team does drama like the Lakers.

Milwaukee Bucks – Scott Skiles (16-16), Jim Boylan (10-9)

This is a weird change to address. Especially from a distance. Skiles is a good coach who usually gets the most out of the talent he’s given. He’s also hard-nosed and incredibly demanding of his players. This season’s Bucks team was going to fight for a bottom seed playoff spot and a first round exit. The Brandon Jennings/Monte Ellis experiment has produced mixed results and at least one of them could be departing this summer. Skiles had this team playing to the maximum of their ceiling and his dismissal from the team was mutual. He was in the final year of his contract and had expressed his desire to GM John Hammond not to return next season.

Verdict – A: Unless you follow the Bucks closely, which I don’t, this was a mild surprise. If a coach no longer wishes to coach for you then it’s time to part ways and both parties did the right here. The team wasn’t going to over achieve under Skiles and this gives the Bucks front office a chance to see how the players respond to Boylan. The Bucks are in the terrible position of having a roster good enough to make the playoffs, but not win in them and it will fall on Hammond to improve their roster.

Phoenix Suns – Alvin Gentry (13-28), Lindsey Hunter (5-8) 

Not too long ago, the Suns were in the Western Conference Finals. Amar’e Stoudemire is gone and, more importantly, so is Steve Nash. Which puts the Suns in rebuilding mode for the foreseeable future. Like Skiles in Milwaukee, Gentry and the Suns mutually agreed to part ways after a 13-28 start to the season. I’m not completely sold on the mutual part. While he’s not exactly a coaching genius, Gentry is at least well-respected in NBA circles. He was given the task of coaching a rebuilding project where his best players were Goran Dragic and Martin Gortat (no offense to those guys). To compound things, Gentry was replaced by a guy in Hunter who has no prior coaching experience to speak of.

Verdict – F: Robert Sarver continues to make his case for worst owner in the league. Not for letting Gentry go. He probably wanted out anyways. How do you ignore someone like Dan Majerle? Majerle had his best playing days with the Suns and has paid his dues as an assistant in Phoenix. He was also a fan favorite there, which would help with the fan base during the rebuilding process and the departure of Nash. , the interview process was a farce as Sarver and GM Lance Blanks apparently had already decided to go with Hunter.

 

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