Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Coaching Carousel

File this one away under the "General NBA" category, but since Zack broached the subject last night, I think it is fair game for me to delve into.

As teams fall one-by-one and leave the postseason landscape, the coaches get handed pink slips too. Today, the Suns fired Mike D'Antoni and the Mavericks fired Avery Johnson. There are rumors that the Raptors are going to let Sam Mitchell go as well. First, let me look at whether or not these coaches are truly at fault for their teams' shortcomings.

Sam Mitchell is a defense-first, grind-it-out coach, which doesn't gel with the "Suns North of the Border" scheme that Colangelo wants to build. Making the playoffs last year is what saved his job. However, this year's first round exit will be enough to allow Colangelo to justify showing him the door, especially with the news that Mike D'Antoni is now available. I'm not sure where a guy like Mitchell fits in, so it might be a few years before he gets another head coaching job in the NBA.

Mike D'Antoni is not at fault for what happened in Phoenix this season (or last season), but he has been tabbed as the scapegoat. Age, injuries and Steve Kerr are all more at fault than the coach who was the darling of the league the past few seasons for his free-wheelin', frenetic pace that brought casual fans back in droves. The advancing age of Nash, Hill and Shaq slowed everything down. The injury to Hill left the Suns without anyone capable of playing great inside/outside defense on Ginobili and Diaw. The deal that brought Shaq to the desert was the ultimate "Do or Die" move for Steve Kerr. Guess what -- they died. To echo the thoughts from a recent post by the guys at Hardwood Paroxysm: The Suns didn't get the break they needed this year or last year. That's not D'Antoni's fault. D'Antoni would be a good fit in Toronto, given that Colangelo loves his style of play, but I believe that the Tom Skerrit lookalike could go to Chicago and have the Bulls at contender status in as little as two seasons.

Avery Johnson. The Little General. The blame for the Mavericks playoff struggles go beyond the carcass of the player formerly known as Jason Kidd. After all, Kidd wasn't on the roster last year when they got bounced in the first round by the Warriors or the year before that when they let championship dreams slip through their fingers against the Miami Heat. Johnson's playoff record is a well-publicized 23-24, which is a fine effort for a coach that takes over a team that is making the transition from lottery to playoffs to contender. But Johnson took over a team that was already a title contender and racked up that record, including two first round exits in the last two postseasons. I think the players deserve a lot of blame (as they always do, since they are the ones actually out on the floor), but in this case, the coach is as much at fault as they are, which means his firing was justified, in this blogger's opinion. His future could include the New York Knicks.

Now, with that said, there has been a lot of talk about the apparently uncertain future of the Memphis Grizzlies own coach, Marc Iavaroni. In fact, there are those on the Grizzlies Messageboard -- as well as this very blog -- that say Ivy should be fired if Avery Johnson would be willing to come to Memphis. I cannot stress just how much I disagree with this opinion on so many levels. First, there is the already mentioned lack of postseason success. Next, there is the fact that the Mavs players went ahead and held a practice after Johnson had already canceled it, which is nothing short of a mutinous action. He lost his team's respect, period. Finally, there is the very obvious question of why AJ would want to come to Memphis to begin with? Is there one viable reason? Anyone? Bueller? Didn't think so. Let's put this ridiculous "not-even-developed-enough-to-qualify-as-a-rumor" idea to bed.

Marc Iavaroni might not be safe just yet, but after putting up with the Larry Brown and Scott Skiles rumors emanating from New York writers, do we really need the team's own fans coming up with their own far-fetched stories about improbable scenarios? Give Ivy a more talented team to coach and you might be amazed at how much better a coach he becomes. After all, even Phil Jackson has missed the playoffs before. So have Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich, just for the record. How about if we all exhibit the tiniest bit of patience with a young team, a young coach and a new GM? Or is that too much to ask?

Update: Some helpful info from Chip about some pretty good coaches who had limited success as rookie head coaches.

Mike D'Antoni:
1st season as Head Coach-Denver 14-36
1st season as Head Coach-Phoenix 21-40

Byron Scott:
1st season as Head Coach-New Jersey 26-56
1st season as Head Coach-New Orleans 18-64

Jerry Sloan:
1st season as Head Coach-Chicago 30-52
1st season as Head Coach-Utah 40-25

BallHype: hype it up!


Chris said...

Couldn't disagree more. Ivy did not do anything he or his reputation promised would be done:

1) Big man Specialist- Darko, if anything, regressed from the end of his tenure at ORL. Sure, most of it can be blamed on Darko himself, but this was supposed to be Ivy's forte.

2) Fun N' Gun- we didn't even remotely resemble the high-octane offense that Ivy was supposed to bring. Damon F'ing Stoudamire was our starting point guard at the beginning of the season.

3) You can fault Ivy and Ivy alone for substitution patterns that made zero sense. Everyone knows about Casey, but what about sitting Darko for quarters at a time when he was playing halfway well, because he had 3 fouls. So what if he fouled out?

If Avery Johnson or someone of his coaching caliber comes along, and Heisley is willing to pay, you jump. Hard, with both feet first. We are the Memphis Grizzlies. Sniffing the playoffs at this point would be a miracle. AJ has the highest regular season winning % of any active coach. I, for one, would love to see us competitive- forget about championships for now, I just want people to half-way give a crap about the team again. You are a damn fool if you don't take every opportunity you can.

All of that being said, don't fire Ivy for the sake of firing Ivy. If someone great (like AJ) becomes available, do it. If not, don't make any moves. Exact same principle we (hopefully) are using with our cap space.

Spartacus said...

First of all, Avery Johnson is not a great coach. Great coaches have success in the postseason. I want the next Jerry Sloan on the bench, not the next Flip Saunders.

Second, aren't you contradicting yourself?

Point 1: Darko sucks because of Iavaroni's tutelage.
Point 3: Iavaroni should have played Darko more.

Which is it?

Also, on Point 2, did Iavaroni ever actually say that he was going to run Phoenix's high octane system or did you just assume that? The Damon as starting PG issue has been beaten to death and there still isn't a consensus agreement about whether it was the best move or a bad move, so don't bring it up here.

Anonymous said...

Look, I would rather have either Avery Johnson or D'Antoni than Iavoroni, especially D'Antoni. I can't believe Ivy even thought about letting Kinsey go and then keeping all the other garbage on our team like Casey Jacobsen and Andre Brown, or even Darko, Swift, and of course Brian Cardinal(but that was a money issue. But you can't blame him for Darko sucking. Have you seen Darko play? He just has absolutely no talent or athleticism to make up for his lack of talent. I mean there is no reason for him going before Melo, Wade, Bosh, Howard, or Barbosa, and that is just one draft. What did scouts and coaches see in him? Was it that he was 17? Who cares if he's 17 he just has no skill and I don't think he will ever develop skill. Plus he is a colossal jerk, which makes things even worse.

ChipC3 said...

I think the real issue here is whether or not Johnson is a great coach or not. He inherited a championship caliber team. He took them to the finals in his first full season and then back to back first round exits the next two years including losing complete control of things this season ending in his being fired.

I don't exactly believe that Avery is that great of a coach. He coached a great team. It will be interesting to see how he does in his next job I just don't believe that this is the place for him. When he left Dallas his youngest contributing player was Josh Howard who is 28 after all. Memphis and Dallas are very different situations.

Anonymous said...

>Sam Mitchell is a defense-first, >grind-it-out coach,

HAve you seen Toronto play?
If that is Mitchell's strong point, then he should get fired.

Stop smoking the crack pipe folks , D'Antoni aint coming. Just like top free agents.
Going to Memphis is as appealing to NBA players/coaches as crossing the border to Canada. The same applies to Avery like was mentioned in the article.

Anyways, this is a crappy team (not necessarily the starting 5 who I believe all have their roles but outside Navarro the bench is the worst this side of the Heat) playing in the hardest division in pro sports. If this was the Atlantic, the playoffs could actually be in view next year.

And guess what? Theyre only going to be slightly better next year no matter who coaches them.
Getting to be a 500 team is going to be challenge so yes, I agree, how about some effing patience?

Chris said...

1) I’d love to have the next Jerry Sloan too, but right now I’d take Flip Saunders over Lionel Hollins or Sidney Lowe. It’s called rebuilding, not languishing. Baby steps.
2) You’re missing my point on the Darko issue. Ivy is supposed to be good with big men- tutor them, coach them, etc. Half of the time he didn’t give Darko a chance because he sat him frequently, hurting rhythm and confidence. Technically, that plays into his rotations as well. I never said Darko sucked because of Iavaroni’s tutelage- I just said Ivy was supposed to improve the abilities that Darko, somewhere, fingers crossed, does have.
3) Thought the Damon argument was relevant to my point, but if you don’t want me bringing it up, fair enough.
4) “Marc Iavaroni's life has been nothing short of a whirlwind since he was hired in May to coach the Grizzlies.Eager and enthusiastic, he is -- finally -- less than a week away from the start of training camp. And as much as Iavaroni wants to institute a more free-flowing, eye-pleasing offense, he's leaving no doubt as to where the Griz will start on their to-do list.”
5) Added as a point to that, our defense sucked.

August West said...

Avery isn't a good coach, IMO. Seems like a poor communicator and hasn't developed a single player overt the past 3 years.

Who has gotten better under his direction? Is that the kind of track record we'd fire a first-year coach for?

I say give Ivy one more year unless we can get a coach with a long, mostly successful track record.

GrizzledGrizzFan said...

Moot point - Iavaroni's coming back according to RonRon

AussieGfan said...

You need at least 2-3 years to evaluate a coach properly because that's how long it takes for him to make the changes and roster for long term success, especially when the coach is trying to build from scratch, rather then take over an established playoff team which has established star players. Add to that, it was his first season as a head coach and it would be silly to get rid of him at least at this stage.

Wallace and Heisley need to establish a goal or target for season 2, factoring in the lineup, the rookies, the aim of the season (30 wins 40 wins etc) and if he achieves it he deserves to stay until he fails to reach the goals set.

Right now the biggest factor for Ivy imo, is who they draft and who they can sign on the free agency or if they even do the big signing this offseason or next.

At the same time he needs to establish a style, a work ethic and a general confidence within the locker room for things moving fowards towards the future. Regardless of wins or losses, if he fails to do this and loses the respect of the players, whenthat happens maybe he should go.

He made alot of mistakes during the season, but the season was a write off anyway. That season is over and scapegoating people gets you nowhere. Coaches are always the first to get the blame. He is a highly rated coach, many people on the outside looking in think of Memphis as sabotaging Ivy's chances rather then the other way around. But hopefully as the team matures and can bring in some talent those outsiders can be made to eat some words. Because I don't know if anyone wants to see Ivy let go only to excell somewhere else. Which is exactly what is happening with Gasol and the Lakers right now. Feels good doesn't it...