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01-28-2004, 01:03 PM
Who's next on the chopping block?

Another coach bites the dust.

Is it time for David Stern to step in and slap down a temporary restraining order between coaches and general managers -- at least in the Eastern Conference? In the span of less than a year GMs have systematically wiped out a staggering 17 coaches, including 14 in the Eastern Conference. Someone has to stop the madness.

In the past 48 hours we've seen Byron Scott, coming off two straight Finals appearances, fired and Jim O'Brien, with the second-best record in his division and a two-year run of successful playoff appearances, resign.

It's more than a trend folks. It's an epidemic. It's a bad game show where the answer to every question is the same -- "dump the coach."

Team on a five-game losing streak? Dump the coach.

Star player unhappy with how the coach is coaching? Dump the coach.

Coach doesn't want to play the rookies? Dump the coach.

Players don't get along? Dump the coach.

Trade doesn't pan out the way a GM planned? Dump the coach.

Coach is more interested in winning than rebuilding? Dump the coach.

What is going on? Has it ever been this bad?

Insider talked to two NBA coaches who still had their jobs as of late Tuesday night. They, understandably, wanted to keep their jobs and talked off the record about what was going on the league.

It's really reaching a breaking point. Coaches just aren't able to do their job in this environment. We have to have a certain amount of control and the respect of the players. A GM can take both of those things away in a heartbeat.
Anonymous NBA coach
"It's really reaching a breaking point," one coach told Insider. "Coaches just aren't able to do their job in this environment. We have to have a certain amount of control and the respect of the players. A GM can take both of those things away in a heartbeat. Sometimes they do it unknowingly, but the net result is the same -- guys won't follow if they don't believe you're really the leader."

Mavs assistant Dell Harris was even more to the point. "The irony of it is for all the shifting around, the teams that have done best are the ones that don't shift around," Harris told the Fort Worth Star Telegram. "If you can divorce your parents every time you get upset with them, kids would have no parents."

The coaches Insider spoke with point to two key choices made in the Scott and O'Brien debacles.

In New Jersey, Rod Thorn's decision not to offer Scott a contract extension after two consecutive appearances in the Finals sealed Scott's fate. As rumors spread about Jason Kidd's displeasure with the coach, it only magnified the feeling in the locker room that Scott's days were numbered and that Thorn and Kidd were the real decision makers in New Jersey.

Jim O'Brien never saw eye-to-eye with Celtics GM Danny Ainge.
In Boston, Danny Ainge's decision to trade Eric Williams for Ricky Davis over the vehement objections of the Celtics' entire coaching staff was a death knell. Ainge essentially said talent and potential were more important than hard work and the winning system O'Brien had put in place.

Williams was the paragon of everything O'Brien thought an NBA player should be in his approach to the game. Davis was the polar opposite. Ainge's choice sent a message that wasn't lost on anyone -- in the long run, the chance Davis turns into a decent NBA player meant more to the franchise than O'Brien.

It also didn't help, both coaches noted, that Ainge was a frequent visitor to the bench, screaming instructions to players during games. Nor did it jive that Ainge made "suggestions" about who should and shouldn't be playing. O'Brien handed out playing time based on work ethic and effectiveness on the court. He was trying to win basketball games. Ainge wanted it handed out on potential.

According to sources, Marcus Banks became the latest flash point. Banks had lost control several times over the course of the past few months and, during one point, screamed at O'Brien about his playing time and role on the team. O'Brien benched him. Ainge, who had dubbed Banks the Celtics' point guard of the future, quickly "suggested" O'Brien unbench him. That never goes over well with the coach.

Most GMs Insider talked to on Tuesday didn't disagree with the sentiment.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it with coaches and their teams," one GM told said.

It's really getting out of hand. I think it shows some sort of fundamental flaw somewhere. Coaches are hired to be fired, and it's true that their shelf life, for the most part, is limited. But this? It's a product of the luxury tax and hard cap.
Anonymous NBA GM
Said another, "It's really getting out of hand. I think it shows some sort of fundamental flaw somewhere. Coaches are hired to be fired, and it's true that their shelf life, for the most part, is limited. But this? It's a product of the luxury tax and hard cap. Management is trying to rein in costs, get under the cap, clean the slate. They also have to cater to any stars on the team to make sure they're happy and want to stay. Stars are our bread and butter. Coaches are still trying to win. At times, those two agendas are opposed to each other. When things start going bad, firing the coach is the easiest, and some times only, change to make."

At times, the team might prefer the coach to the player, but with strict trade rules, trading the player just might not be an option. Other times, it's a coach's refusal to change his system to incorporate a new philosophy and the new players he's been given to work with. Other times, teams just decide that, despite the success, a certain coach has taken a team as far as it can go.

Some GMs blame the Pistons for opening the floodgates. When Detroit fired Rick Carlisle, who had guided an underdog team to the Eastern Conference Finals, a shockwave reverberated through the league. It gave teams like the Pacers and Nets the opening to do something they felt was right, even if it was unpopular.

That's not all it is. A big part of the changes we're seeing have to do with the inordinate amount of new GMs, team presidents and owners in the league. There are a lot of new guys running teams who are itching to make changes and find a coach who more accurately reflects their views on how the team should play.

There are seven teams in the East with either new owners or new management put into place in the past year -- the Pacers (Larry Bird), Bucks (Larry Harris), Bulls (John Paxson), Celtics (Danny Ainge), Knicks (Isiah Thomas), Wizards (Ernie Grunfeld) and Nets (new ownership). All seven have fired their coach or watched him resign.

Of course, firing a succesful head coach isn't the worst thing in the world if you have someone like Larry Brown waiting in the wings. The Pacers had Bird's favorite, Carlisle, still licking his wounds. The Nets may have just flat out gotten lucky. You think O'Brien would look great stalking the New Jersey sidelines? He's everything Scott wasn't in terms of Xs and Os and game preparation. What's the Celtics' plan? Just pray Ainge doesn't look in the mirror and find the perfect fit. It's bad enough coaches and GMs can't get along these days. What happens when they're the same guy? History suggests disaster.

The tension inherent in the two jobs can work, as long as there is communication and commitment to a shared vision. A coach's job is to win. A GM's job is to always keep the franchise relevant and moving forward. While it's true the two don't always mix, it doesn't mean every relationship has to end in divorce. If GMs can find a way to do their job, while giving the coach enough tools to do his, it usually works. It's when either the coach or the GM's power becomes unbalanced that disaster strikes.

Right now there's a major power shift toward the management side of things. Once the purge ends, teams get the players they want and more coaches sign new, lucrative long-term deals, the firings will dwindle from a flood to a trickle.

Until then, everybody just better keep their bags packed.

More coaches on the block?

Don't expect the dumping spree to end in Boston. Word is running rampant in the league that Terry Stotts, the only coach left in the East who was coaching the same team last season, will be dropped the minute NBA owners approve the sale of the Hawks. According to several reports, the new ownership group has been negotiating with former Magic head coach Doc Rivers about a dual coach and GM role in Atlanta.
In other words, the chances seem very high that every coach in the East will have been fired or resigned before the season ends. Every coach.

Don't be surprised if more turnover happens in the East this summer. The Magic haven't done much since they fired Rivers, leading many to speculate Johnny Davis could be gone. New Sixers head coach Randy Ayers has struggled mightily in Philly and could be on the chopping block if a more experienced sage comes along. The Nets and Celtics are being run by interim head coaches, which could very well mean fresh blood is on the way there as well.

The West hasn't had as many problems, but there are rampant rumors that change is afoot there as well. Nate McMillan has openly complained about his situation in Seattle, and there is talk he's been at odds with management about personnel issues. Mo Cheeks has been reduced to tears in Portland, and some have suggested that he may be nearing the end of his rope. Mavs coach Don Nelson has been on the hot seat all season, and conventional wisdom says owner Mark Cuban pulls out the ax if the Mavs underperform in the playoffs this year. Jeff Bzdelik has done a wonderful job in Denver, but a flare-up with young star Carmelo Anthony can never be good. Both Hubie Brown and Jerry Sloan have openly talked about the possibility of retiring at year's end.

Peep Show

New York Knicks: Trouble in paradise? Isiah Thomas and Knicks fans may be happy with new head coach Lenny Wilkens, but Shandon Anderson isn't. "I'm just in awe right now because I don't understand why I'm not playing," Anderson told the New York Times. There's talk that Anderson is on the trading block. He's fine with that. "I don't think they are going to let me sit on the bench making the money I make, just trying to be peaceful," Anderson said. "I just want to play, just let me know something. I don't want to be the 12th man on the team. If that's the case, you know, just, make it happen, don't let me sit and not knowing what's going to happen the next day."

Indiana Pacers: Can Jonathan Bender play through the pain. He lasted just three games coming off the injured list after offseason knee surgery. "I've never had pain in my knee before," he told the Indianapolis Star. "It's new for me. Real new. I need to get it strong enough that I won't have setbacks. Right now I'm going to have setbacks. I have to get it stronger and get the confidence to go out there and give it 100 percent." Teammate Reggie Miller believes that Bender needs to toughen up. "His mind-set is he wants to be 100 percent healthy," Miller said. "But the NBA is a very unhealthy game. You're always going to have bumps and bruises. There's going to be times when he has to play through it."

Philadelphia 76ers: Glenn Robinson is seething after seeing just four minutes in the second half of Tuesday's loss to the Nets. "I feel like I'm in the doghouse, and I'm not playing that way," Robinson told the Philly Daily News. "I know I'm not playing that way. It's not just tonight; it's been several games. Go back and look at the games. Give me a chance. It's 82 games [over the course of the season]. I don't expect to be shooting 12-for-16 every night, but dang, give me a better chance than what I'm getting, especially when I'm playing well." Robinson is just the latest Sixer to criticize Randy Ayer's coaching style. "Sit me down and show me the rotation, but don't put me back in the game so I can get it corrected. I can't play like that. I don't feel that's a reason to come out of the game and stay out of the game. If you're going to take me out, just take me out of the game. Don't take me out and show me what I did wrong and then still punish me. Put me back in the game."

Seattle SuperSonics: Brent Barry broke his ring finger on his shooting hand Tuesday, creating yet another major injury dilemma for the Sonics. "The team I thought we were starting to come together and now what it does is it changes our lineup all over again," Ray Allen told the Seattle Times. "I was just about to tell Luke (Ridnour) to get ready. Be prepared and then Nate called him in the game. For him it's going to be tough because he's been yanked around a lot. It's something he hasn't been used to in his playing career. Now he has to now get back in shape for the couple of minutes in the game he's going to play. Antonio (Daniels') minutes are going to increase, everything changes." Not only was Barry the "glue" that held the team together, he was also one of the Sonics' best trade assets. No word yet on how long he'll be out

01-28-2004, 04:41 PM
Mavs coach Don Nelson has been on the hot seat all season, and conventional wisdom says owner Mark Cuban pulls out the ax if the Mavs underperform in the playoffs this year

Cuban, however, is anything BUT Conventional. Ditto for Nellie.

Of course...."UnderPerforming" is a relative term. What does it really mean? a 1st-round exit certainly fits...A 2nd-round exit is disappointing, too....

So I guess this Mavs team shouldn't have any reason NOT to make it to at least the WCF(Real FINALS).