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11-25-2003, 12:33 PM
Which coach will be next to fall?

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The NBA may be reaching another watershed moment in its history. Players have turned to the dark side. They have taken the game hostage. Only a small handful of rebel coaches are offering any sort of resistance.

As players bolt to the NBA younger and younger, the quality of basketball being played has suffered. The only place you find good fundamentals these days is on the side of a milk carton. Any attempts by coaches to teach or discipline are usually met with a pink slip.

An unprecedented 11 teams opened the 2003-04 season with a new head coach.

The inmates are running the asylum, and the fans are chafing at the inferior product they're seeing on the floor.

Three weeks into the regular season two more head coaches -- Doc Rivers and Bill Cartwright -- have lost their jobs. Three others -- the Suns' Frank Johnson, the Knicks' Don Chaney and the Nets' Byron Scott -- appear to be on the hot seat.

Do the math: There's a great possibility that more than half of the coaches in the NBA will have been fired in a 12-month period.

That's insane.

Players Playing Machiavelli

What's going on? It really doesn't have much to do with winning or losing. Teams statistically get a small bump in wins when they fire a coach mid-season, but it's rarely enough to justify the move itself.

Long term, things can get better if a team can find a coach who can change the culture of a team. Last season, Grizzlies president Jerry West did just that when he fired Sidney Lowe after the Grizzlies got off to an 0-8 start. West brought in Hubie Brown, a disciplinarian who changed the way the Grizzlies did things. The move wasn't enough to put the Grizzlies in the playoffs, but it did change the atmosphere in Memphis.

"It's not so much that you always want to replace the coach," Grizzlies president Jerry West told Insider in training camp. "Sometimes you want to replace the players. It's not easy to do that overnight. So sometimes, you're best shot at winning is finding a coach who is more conducive to giving players the success they can have."

In fact several GMs blame the new collective bargaining agreement for having an unintended consequence.

"They've made it so damn hard to trade players," one GM told Insider. "The only way to shake up the organization during the season is really to fire the head coach. They're scapegoats. They really are. It's rarely their fault that things have gone awry. It's not easy to motivate guys making $10 million a season. For the most part, they do what they want."

And what they seem to do, lately at least, is get their coaches fired.

As Doc Rivers found out, Tracy McGrady has the power to influence change in Orlando.

Even high-profile coaches like Rivers, Doug Collins, George Karl and and Rudy Tomjanovich have lost battles with players.

Tracy McGrady can deny it all he wants, but sources inside Orlando insist that while McGrady didn't come out and ask for Rivers to be fired, he was doing plenty behind the scenes to make sure Rivers hit the bricks.

Karl's high-profile feuds with Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell forced Bucks management to trade away the Big Three. However, after the team was blown apart, new GM Larry Harris didn't see the point in keeping a coach like Karl to coach a bunch of young, unproven players.

Collins was squashed after young players like Kwame Brown complained that they were being mistreated.

Cartwright tried to dish out plenty of tough love to players like Jalen Rose and Jamal Crawford. But when GM John Paxson wasn't able to trade them away, Cartwright got the ax instead.

Former Pistons head coach Rick Carlisle led his team to the Eastern Conference Finals only to get kicked to the curb after several reported dust-ups with management about his use of some of the Pistons' young players.

While there are still a few untouchables out there like Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan, most coaches have had to re-evaluate their approach to the game.

"I don't ever remember my dad taking players to dinner and lunch and to a football game to try to build relationships, but now it's very crucial for coaches to build a rapport with players off the floor," Warriors head coach Eric Musselman said during training camp.

"Its a necessity if you want to keep your job."

The Coaches Strike Back

What's been so interesting is that in the wake of the massive coaching upheaval, several coaches are taking a different approach. They're starting to fight back.

Cavs coach Paul Silas announced Monday he told leading scorer Ricky Davis to stay home from a road trip to New Orleans for conduct (presumably on the court) detrimental to the team.

That's a new approach. One that was apparently embraced by Cavs GM Jim Paxson.

"Basically anyone who has any kind of negative impact on what we're trying to do (was asked to leave)," Paxson told the Morning Journal. "This gives us the best chance to get better and have a chance to win. At different times, you have to take different actions to get things to where we want them to be. I'm confident they'll be dealt with the right way and ultimately it was the right thing to help this team win."

Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks got Bonzi Wells suspended for two games and stripped him of his captain's role after a dust-up on the bench. When Wells returned, Cheeks refused to put him back into the starting lineup.

Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan got Glen Rice waived after he felt that Rice's attitude wouldn't mesh with the young, impressionable team he was trying to mold.

New Bucks head coach Terry Porter talked management into waiving forwards Anthony Mason and Jason Caffey after he felt they would be a bad influence on his young team.

Are coaches regaining their power?

"Not really," one GM told Insider. "Silas can get away with benching Ricky Davis, but he couldn't do that to LeBron James. Mo Cheeks can sit Bonzi Wells, but he'd have a hard time doing that to Zach Randolph. If a coach loses an irreplaceable player on the team -- he's lost. Period. If Phil Jackson loses Shaq, Phil's gone. If Gregg Popovich loses Tim Duncan, Gregg's gone. If Jim O'Brien loses Paul Pierce he's gone. Franchise players are so hard to find, if a guy like T-Mac doesn't like you anymore ... pack your bags."

The Battles Rage On

If that's true, then there are some pretty interesting coach-player battles on the horizon. Who will be victorious? Insider takes a look:

Bryon Scott would be wise to try his best to please Jason Kidd.
Byron Scott vs. Jason Kidd: This is no contest. Scott has taken the Nets to the Finals two straight years, but with the Nets struggling out of the gate and Kidd growing unhappy with a stagnant offense, Scott will be gone in a heartbeat.

Jim O'Brien vs. Paul Pierce: Again, no contest. Pierce is already complaining about O'Brien's offense. He misses Antoine Walker and believes O'Brien was partly responsible for his departure. If the Celtics' offense continues to stall and Pierce has to shoot 30 times a game to keep the Celtics in it, O'Brien could be the next casualty of Star Wars.

Frank Johnson vs. Stephon Marbury: This is a bit closer, but if Johnson can no longer motivate Marbury, he's gone. The Suns have two top-notch assistants -- Mike D'Antoni and Marc Iavorni -- waiting in the wings. After taking three steps forward under Johnson last season, Suns GM Bryan Colangelo won't hesitate to pull the trigger if he thinks the Suns are taking a step back this season.

Don Chaney vs. Dikembe Mutombo: Mutombo doesn't have enough juice left to get anyone fired, but his second-guessing of Chaney's decision to keep him out of games probably strikes a chord with Knick GM Scott Layden. Layden spent too much cash on Mutombo not to use him. Layden claims he's Chaney's biggest fan, but as the losses pile up for the Knicks, Layden is really just waiting for the right new coach to come along.

Jeff Van Gundy vs. Steve Francis: This is a tough one. The tension between Van Gundy and Francis has dissipated because of the Rockets' hot start. But if the team hits a swoon, Van Gundy will seize the moment to coerce Francis to give up the ball more to Yao Ming. If Francis resists? My money's with Van Gundy on that one.

Mo Cheeks vs. the Blazers' whole roster: Cheeks got a reprieve a few weeks ago when he received an extension from the team. As long as he stays friends with Zach Randolph, he should be in good shape. No one else on the roster is really in the team's long-term plans.

Paul Silas vs. Ricky Davis: Pack your bags Ricky.

Around the League

Speaking of coaches on the hot seat . . .

-Several league sources told Insider that Bulls GM John Paxson had brief discussions with former Magic head coach Doc Rivers about the Bulls' head coaching vacancy, but Rivers told Paxson that while he was interested in the job, he wanted to take the season off before taking another head coaching gig.

Rivers would've been the perfect fit for the young Bulls. Too many players had tuned Bill Cartwright out. Rivers is a strong motivator and would've provided a nice change of pace for the Bulls younger players.

With Rivers off the board, Paxson decided that what the Baby Bulls need was an even bigger dose of tough love. Those same sources insisted to Insider Monday night that Scott Skiles was Paxson's top candidate to replace Bill Cartwright. Both the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times are also reporting that Paxson is already negotiating with Skiles over contractual terms.

It's an interesting pick. Skiles is a tough, no-nonsense coach who rubbed players like Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion the wrong way in Phoenix. Skiles quit midway into his third season with the Suns claiming he was burned out.

"I'm an intense guy," Skiles told the Sun Times. "I get here early, I stay late, we work, we try to get it right. It may appear sometimes my frustrations are getting the best of me, but they don't. I'm sure upon reflection, I'll look at some things that I may have done differently, but on the whole, not a lot."

I'm sure Jalen Rose, Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford are thrilled. While Skiles did put up tangible results in both seasons with the Suns, he did it at the cost of alienating his players. With so many under-performing young players on Chicago's roster, is Paxson risking a mutiny by bringing another hard ass into the locker room? Or does he see this as a temporary fix until Rivers is ready to coach?

"This team is under performing, and we have to find ways to win, period," said Paxson. "I am not satisfied with the team's start, and changes have to be made. This represents the first change, but not necessarily the last."

If Skiles really is anything more than a short-term fix, then you've got to believe Paxson will start moving players The roster is filled with too many distractions. If Paxson thought players were unhappy before, wait until they get a drill sergeant for a head coach.

If Rose and/or Crawford aren't gone by the end of the week, look for fireworks 24/7 in Chicago this season.

-Should Ricky Davis pack his bags? The announcement on Monday that Davis wouldn't be joining the Cavs for practice or for the road trip to New Orleans came with little explanation.
Ricky Davis
Cleveland Cavaliers

14 15.3 5.9 4.9 .428 .660

"Attitudes have to change, and that's what we're going about doing," coach Paul Silas told reporters after practice on Monday. "It's just some issues I'm dealing with. I've dealt with issues before with guys, and we'll deal with these and move on."

Insider first reported on Nov. 6 that Silas was still struggling with Davis and that Davis was already on the trading block. Speculation that Davis and Michael Stewart were on the verge of being traded reached a frenzy Monday afternoon after the announcement.

So has Davis played his last game as a Cav?

"If I was trying to trade him, he'd be traded," Cavs GM Jim Paxson told the Morning Journal. "Teams are having conversations all the time in ways to help your team. If we have something to announce, we'll announce it. You're not doing your job if you're not pursuing other opportunities with any of your players."

So, there's nothing imminent regarding Davis? "No, I'm not saying that," Paxson said.

When asked if Davis was going to be traded, Silas smiled.

"I'm not going to answer that," he said. "That's all you're going to get out of me. You can ask questions between now and kingdom come and I won't answer them."

Glad that got cleared up.

-The tragic news that Alonzo Mourning needs a kidney transplant and must retire was met with shock around the league. While everyone knew that it was a risk that Mourning wouldn't play out his full four-year contract, no one expected his career to be over 12 games into the season.

Mourning's loss might not be felt on the court, but he'll be missed in the locker room. He was the Nets' hardest working player, and the way he pushed himself was an inspiration to his teammates -- with the possible exception of Kenyon Martin.

Martin's dig on Mourning about his kidney condition seems even more offensive (if that's possible) now that Zo needs a transplant.

Martin did his best to apologize on Monday.

"Yeah, I apologized to him. In the heat of the moment you know you say things that you wish you hadn't," Martin told reporters. "No matter if it's basketball or at work, no matter what you're doing you say things you wish you could take back. I apologized to him right afterward. But it still don't take it back that I said it. But I apologized to him; he accepted my apologies."

"It's terrible news, man. He's part of this family. It's terrible. It's a terrible thing. His health and life are more important than basketball," Martin said.

Speaking of basketball, the Nets will essentially get no financial relief from the league because of Mourning's retirement. Mourning's salary is fully guaranteed and was uninsurable because of his pre-existing condition. The team won't be entitled to a "medical exception" (which would give the Nets half of his $4.9 million in salary exceptions to go sign another player) because Mourning's condition was pre-existing when it signed him. The only real relief will come in July of 2005 when Mourning's salary comes off the cap.

-Another guy with a history of season-ending injuries told reporters on Monday that he won't follow Mourning's lead and retire. The Magic's Grant Hill claims that his rehab is going well and that he expects to play before the end of the season.
"I want to play this year," Hill said. "I want to play, whether there's five games or 10 games left.

"I'm not rushing to come to the rescue or anything, but I would love to get some games under my belt if I can. Obviously, we have to see where I'm at in this step-by-step process."

Peep Show
By Terry Brown
NBA Insider
Tuesday, November 25
Updated: November 25
9:19 AM ET

Philadelphia 76ers: It's true. Larry Brown really did coach the Allen Iverson and the Sixers once upon a time. "But he's the enemy now, so that's all you have to look at," Eric Snow said in the Philadelphia Daily News "It's nothing personal. Well, not me, but it may be to some other people. He was the enemy the day he left here, even more of an enemy the day he took the Detroit job. That's the team that put us out of the playoffs. You always want to beat that team; it probably adds a little more incentive to it." So, no hugs, no kisses when Brown returns for the next Pistons-Sixers game? " . . . coming in [our] building, he's the enemy, and that's that," Iverson said. "He's not with us anymore . . . A lot of fans in Philadelphia probably feel betrayed. A lot of people feel hurt. Just like me. I'm hurt, too...I was hurt over the whole thing, too, especially with [Brown's joining] a team that knocked us out of the playoffs."

Cleveland Cavaliers: Ira Newble was suspended first. Now, it's Ricky Davis and Michael Stewart. Who's next? "Based on conversations Paul [Silas] and I had, we don't feel it's in our best interests to have them around the team," general manager Jim Paxson said in the Cleveland Plain Dealer after telling reporters that Davis and Stewart would not be traveling with the team. Davis wouldn't elaborate when reached by phone later. "I respect the decision of the organization," he said. "All I want to see is for us to be successful. If the team believes this will help then I support it."

Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce is handing out dresses for any teammates who think they need them. "I think we're one of the softest teams in the league," he told the Boston Globe. "It all comes down to toughness. It just seems when the tough get going, we start running. Teams push us around, we don't push back. We have to get some toughness." He wasn't done just yet. "We just don't understand how to win," he said. "We get leads at the half and we settle on it and don't compete for the rest of the game. I don't want to blame this on us being a young team, and we've just come together, but it's got to get to a point where everybody's on the same page and knows what we have to do to finish ballgames. We're not doing enough sacrificing right now to get over the top."

Seattle SuperSonics: Vladimir Radmanovic hurt his knee Sunday night, but there's a pretty good chance he's going to survive. "I didn't feel it right away," Radmanovic said in the Tacoma Tribune. "When I sat on the bench for the first time, I felt the pain. My knee was locking up. I played the game anyway, but after the game it was more painful." The team performed a precautionary MRI on the knee in question and had the forward sit out practice on Monday. He's expected to play in the next game.

Washington Wizards: Chris Whitney isn't trying to be confused with Magic Johnson or Oscar Robertson. He just wants to play a little point guard while Gilbert Arenas rests the strained muscle in his abdomen for the next two games. "I've been in this situation before, playing behind a great point guard," said Whitney in the Washington Times. "Now it's Gilbert. I don't go out there and try to do things that I don't do. Those guys are special. I just go out there and try to play the game the right way."

San Antonio Spurs: Ron Mercer is almost ready to return to the lineup after injuring his right foot and missing the last eight games. But are the Spurs ready for him? "It's going to be like almost starting over," Mercer said in the San Antonio Express News. "I have to get back in there and get used to certain things, get in a rhythm. It will be tough." But he'll have a little help. "For the most part, we're getting healthy," Rose said. "But what's more important is we're getting more comfortable with each other."

New York Knicks: You knew this was going to happen sooner or later. "We miss his energy, for sure," head coach Don Chaney said of Latrell Sprewell in the N.Y. Post. "He had great energy. And one thing I know we miss is his passing. He made some great passes. He hit guys who were open. He was a great passer." But that doesn't mean Keith Van Horn isn't carving out his own niche. "Fans have been really good," Van Horn said. "I love playing at the Garden. The situation has worked out well. I knew once I got the opportunity to show them what I can do, they'd appreciate the type of player I am."

11-25-2003, 12:41 PM
Some thoughts:

I guess this answers the question about Zo's status. NJN are f'd, and I'm so glad the Mavs didn't get Zo.

I always thought Silas was a players' coach, and now he's fighting with players left and right? The Cavs must be in really bad shape, chemistry-wise.

Also, Doug Collins didn't lose the fight with Kwame. He was fired b/c MJ hired him, and MJ was (rightfully and fairly) shown the door.

From the perspective Insider provides, Nellie's job should be quite safe still, has he ever had any squabbles with any of the big three here?

11-25-2003, 01:37 PM
The Ricky Davis thing is too funny. They could have let him walk or tried to get a S&T when he was a FA, but now they are stuck with him and not a lot of people want to take on his attitude. I guess a desperate team would make a trade. Maybe the Raptors or Boston should make a move for him.