Championship or bust: Firing competent coaches in the NBA

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 9.54.39 PMANN ARBOR, MI— I can say I’ve never heard of anyone getting fired for overachieving.  Overachievers may catch a few snide remarks from their co-workers, but they are usually among their employer’s favorites.

This is not the case in the National Basketball Association.

Seven of the 16 playoff teams from the 2012-2013 season will have a new head coach when the new season starts next month. The changes out west include Denver, Memphis, and the Clippers.  The switches in the east are Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Boston.

I can excuse the Clippers, Bucks, Nets, and Celtics changes, because they were warranted.  I’m not convinced my junior high basketball coach couldn’t coach the Clippers to a first-round playoff exit, so it was clearly time for Vinny Del Negro to go.

The Bucks needed to change from Scott Skiles, to produce more offense.  And let’s be honest, Jim Boylan isn’t really the best option out there.

The Celtics’ hand was forced with the departure of Doc Rivers, and I think Brad Stephens is a brilliant mind that will help a team that I don’t expect to be very good this season.

Brooklyn had an opportunity to hire someone to be the face of that franchise.  Jason Kidd should be better than P.J. Carlesimo, especially with a team that can basically coach itself, considering all the experience on that roster.

Now, the other three of the aforementioned changeover teams have done what I can only call a brash-immature-act.  I will arrange these moves in order from less (but still very) audacious to most ludicrous.

Atlanta fired Larry Drew to replace him with Mike Budenholzer.  Drew led the Hawks to the playoffs all three years he was at the helm. True, they only made it out of the first round once.  But in reality, Atlanta did not (and still does not) have the talent of the top tier teams in the east.

Drew took the Hawks to exactly where they should have been.

The second qualm I have with this move is based on the man they hired in Mike Budenholzer.  Yes, he’s been a disciple of Gregg Popovich and worked with the multi-champion Spurs.  But now the Hawks’ newly anointed coach is all over the news for DUI charges.

Now let’s move to Memphis:  I thought Lionel Hollins was a fool when he said the Grizzlies would be a better team without Rudy Gay.  When that trade was finalized, I laughed and thought this was Memphis reverting to what Memphis usually represents: penny-pinching that sacrifices talent in favor of the dollar.

The Grizzlies then shocked me along with the NBA on their road to the Western Conference Finals, riding the back of the defensive star Marc Gasol to finish second in one of the toughest divisions in basketball.

However, it seems Memphis may be reverting back to penny-pinching as it chose not to renew the deserving Hollins’ expiring contract.  Rather, the Grizzlies picked up the cheaper contract of assistant David Joerger.  This seems like an attempt to replicate Hollins’ tactics for a fraction of the price.  But I doubt the same result is produced.

Moving farther west, George Karl won the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award last season and led the Denver Nuggets to a 3-seed, all the while not having a single All-Star on the roster.  He made the playoffs all nine seasons he coached in Denver with a team of role-players who overachieved since the departure of their one star, Carmelo Anthony.  Karl has the second most wins for any coach ever in Denver, and now he is out of a job.

It is madness.  Karl wanted to be in Denver, and he repeatedly asked for a contract extension.  The only excuse I can formulate on the Nuggets’ behalf rotates around the “what have you done for me lately” record, which in Karl’s case is lose to a lower seeded Warriors team with more talent than he had.

Now with the departure of Andre Igoudala in addition to Karl’s absence, don’t expect much in the Mile High City unless Peyton Manning is making the calls.

These owners and general managers in the NBA are much like the parents of modern society.  They all think their kids are smart and talented.  All are champions.

So they’re surprised and disappointed when reality hits and they finish sixth and exit in the first round.  Or in the case of Lionel Hollins make it to the Western Conference Finals.   Anything short of the NBA Finals is a failure for which, someone has to take the blame: the coach.

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