Steve Aschburner > INSIDE THE NBA
BDodgers at aol.com
BDodgers at aol.com
Sun Apr 12 04:26:11 UTC 2009
Steve Aschburner >
INSIDE THE NBA
Plenty of candidates poised to ride on latest spin of coaching carousel
Eight coaches have been fired in NBA since current season started
Ed Tapscott's preference for front office could mean a new coach for
Flip Saunders led Pistons to three straight Eastern Conference finals
With the possible exception of Congressional seats, the annual comings and
goings in the NBA's head coaching ranks is arguably our biggest game of
musical chairs. It's played with far greater frequency than the politicians'
version, certainly, and to the best of our knowledge, none of the vacancies
ever has been blatantly put up for sale. Not even in Chicago.
The chairs are in position again, 30 of them. Currently, they are filled
by 30 butts. But it's an equilibrium that never lasts, a temporary condition
in between the music. Eight of the men who sat in those chairs back in
November are parked elsewhere now, replaced one by one by wannabes, retreads
and other surrogates. Now they and the other 22 get to play again (to
varying degrees, based on their contracts) in a high-stakes game that keeps
contestants aspiring or coming back like it's a green-felt spot at a World
Series of Poker table.
Those who have been in want to get back. Those who are in want to stay.
Those who haven't yet played long for a chance.
"You hope it's not [a permanent condition]," said former Toronto coach
_Sam Mitchell_ (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/players/233) ,
fired Dec. 3 after a 39-point home loss to Denver dropped the Raptors to
8-9. "I've got control to a certain degree, but somebody's got to want you
first. Somebody's got to want you."
Mitchell, with a 156-189 record over four-plus seasons, had led Toronto to
the playoffs (and first-round exits) in each of the past two seasons and
was the NBA's Coach of the Year for 2006-07. He was done in by the team's
sluggish start, some injuries, player-development disputes and the reality
that he wasn't hired by general manager Bryan Colangelo. The Raptors' 22-39
mark since Mitchell has been gone might be vindication, were he seeking it,
and the guaranteed $10 million or so due him from the point of his
termination into the 2010-11 season would seem a pretty soothing balm.
Yet Mitchell sounds uninterested in the former and willing to work for the
latter. He has been living the life of a "paid bum" -- that's his mother's
term for him these days in Atlanta, attending his girls' volleyball games
and getting by without organized basketball in late winter and spring for
the first time in more than 30 years, 12 as a blue-collar NBA forward.
"I honestly have no regrets," Mitchell said. "Like I told Bryan when I got
fired, no coach agrees with being fired. I feel like today, I'll feel like
tomorrow and next week and next month, that I was doing a good job. But
that's not my decision. Once the decision was made, my whole thing is,
whatever you say to me or do to me, that's on you. I still control what I do with
it. And how I feel about it. And how I choose to deal with it.
"You just roll with it. Obviously, you'd much rather be working."
Natch. Mitchell and several dozen other guys who covet the challenge, the
competition, the status and the salaries of an NBA head coaching job. Eight
firings and hirings during this season might limit the number of vacancies
this summer. So might the tough economic times that have hit even the
moguls and magnates who own sports franchises; paying one or two former coaches
not to work, while signing someone else to a fresh contract, hits harder
now, less subject to whim or pique. Still, history tells us that somebody
who has one of these jobs soon won't and somebody who doesn't soon will.
The others? When the music stops, there will no chairs for them. Unless
it's courtside or in a studio, with a headset and microphone wired and ready.
Here are the five teams most likely to be hiring a coach this offseason
and five candidates especially eager to help lower this nation's unemployment
Where the jobs are
1. _Washington Wizards_
Ed Tapscott's work in place of Eddie Jordan has been an improvement --
after the 1-10 start that got Jordan fired, even Roy Rubin/Kevin Loughery
circa 1972-73 would have been. But Tapscott prefers and is at his best in the
front office, so it will be left to a replacement to shepherd _Gilbert
Arenas_ (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/players/3540) , _Caron
Butler_ (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/players/3608) ,
(http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/players/3247) and a top lottery pick through a healthier and presumably happier
2. _Sacramento Kings_
The Kings gave serious consideration to hiring Scott Brooks two years ago
before opting instead for Reggie Theus, who overachieved at 38-44 last
season but got fired at 6-18 this time around. Sacramento's losses have come at
brisker pace since then, and the Maloof brothers, who own the Kings,
aren't the types to stick with a bad hand of cards. They are the team most in
need of a big-name coach with more sizzle than Kenny Natt offers.
3. _Minnesota Timberwolves_
Kevin McHale always took a couple of weeks after the season to decide
whether he would return as Minnesota's vice president of basketball operations.
Now owner Glen Taylor -- for the same inexplicable reason -- is allowing
McHale to make up his mind whether to come back as the Wolves' coach. His
record since taking over for Randy Wittman is 18-40, but that can be broken
out according to pre- and post-_Al Jefferson_
(http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/players/3832) marks (11-18, then 7-22 after their
All-Star worthy focal point went down in early February). McHale hates the
coaching lifestyle and workload but still is enthused about his roster -- oh, so
he's the one -- and did get a nice pay bump from his exec's paycheck.
4. _Phoenix Suns_
Other than Natt and McHale, Alvin Gentry might be the interim coach
installed during this season who is on shakiest ground. Brooks needs only a bit
of leverage from some other opening, if he needs anything at all, to land a
full-time deal in Oklahoma City. Jay Triano is popular, bright and a
Canadian, strong selling points to be back in Toronto. Philadelphia's Tony DiLeo
steered the Sixers into the postseason without _Elton Brand_
(http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/players/3324) 's help. We've already
mentioned Tapscott, and Memphis' Lionel Hollins got a deal through next season,
whether he works it to conclusion or not. That leaves Gentry, who is 15-12
since replacing _Terry Porter_
(http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/players/271) despite injuries (_Amar'e Stoudemire_
(http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/players/3607/index.html) ), disarray and
dobbers that are down over the team's unexpected fall from playoff status.
Gentry deserves a fresh start -- coaching wasn't the Suns' primary problem under
Porter, either -- but a lot of capricious moves in Phoenix suggests
another could come at coach.
5. _Los Angeles Clippers_
Talk about injuries. It isn't so much that _Mike Dunleavy_
(http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/players/3601) has done a poor job this
season, it's just that he already was on borrowed time; no other coach in the
franchise's 39 seasons lasted more than four seasons (Bill Fitch, 1994-98)
and Dunleavy is wrapping up his sixth with just one postseason appearance.
Owner Donald Sterling used to change coaches more often than he changed
shoelaces, so you'd think the Clippers' dip back into the muck of 60 losses
would fire up this Donald. With the emphasis on "fire."
Who might fill them
1. Flip Saunders
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it works wonders on market value,
too. Detroit's struggles this season after three straight trips to the
Eastern Conference finals, and Minnesota's 130-226 record since Saunders got
fired there in February 2005, make him a must-consider candidate this summer.
He can afford to be picky -- there's always his alma mater, the University
of Minnesota, as an option whenever Tubby Smith gets lured away -- and he
likely won't be held back by things his past teams failed to accomplish.
Washington could be the best fit, given the Wizards' potent offense and
Arenas' need for a boss with loose reins.
2. Eddie Jordan
A return to Sacramento, where he preceded Rick Adelman? Players swear by
Jordan, even if they didn't win much for him in November, and he seems to
have gotten a raw deal both times he has been fired. The standard offset in
his contract holds appeal for a team happy to let the Wizards pick up much of
his first-year cost.
3. _Avery Johnson_
When exactly was Johnson exposed to a radioactive strain of ebola? You
would think that this guy -- admired and praised as a point guard,
head-spinningly successful as Dallas' coach -- would be working elsewhere by now. He
won 143 games with the Mavericks in two-plus seasons, while losing only 39,
before earning a pink slip with a 51-31 mark in 2007-08 while apparently
irritating _Dirk Nowitzki_
(http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/players/3252) and others. Johnson's decision-making on matchups and
rotations drew criticism, as did his style at times, but if we all learn something
in our first jobs, you've got to think he'd be a top candidate for a
4. Tom Thibodeau
Enough already with the bridesmaid dress. Thibodeau has been the next big
thing in the coaching ranks for almost too long, and Jeff Van Gundy --
himself a candidate to return, but maybe not for another season or two -- and
Doc Rivers continue to beat the Thibodeau drum. Like most sports leagues,
NBA folks like to steal other guys' winning formulas, so a return to the
Finals by Thibodeau's employers in Boston would freshen up his résumé. Another
assistant due for a shot: Dallas' Dwane Casey, whose 20-20 record when he
got fired in Minnesota in January 2007 seems Auerbach-esque next to what's
occurred there since.
5. _Sam Mitchell_
Of the 19 men who have won the past 20 Coach of the Year awards (Pat Riley
won two), seven seem to be off the coaching carousel entirely (Riley,
Hubie Brown, Lenny Wilkens, Don Chaney, Larry Bird, Del Harris and the late
Cotton Fitzsimmons). Nine are still employed -- but only two, Gregg Popovich
and Byron Scott, are still running the teams with which they won the award
(Don Nelson has changed jobs three times to end up back in Golden State,
where he won it in 1992). That leaves Johnson and Mitchell. Mitchell might
have an "in" with the Wizards, since GM Ernie Grunfeld gave him his first
assistant's job in Milwaukee. Another possibility is Minnesota if McHale
vacates. For now, since the job if filled, Mitchell considers the question
**************Feeling the pinch at the grocery store? Make dinner for $10
or less. (http://food.aol.com/frugal-feasts?ncid=emlcntusfood00000001)
More information about the celtics