George Karl was fired less than a month after this photo was taken (Getty Images)
The NBA entered the 2013-14 season with 13 new head coaches dotted throughout the league’s 30 NBA teams. Nine of those coaches are in their first year as a head coach, while four 50-win teams from last season ended up replacing their coaches at season’s end. On top of that, rumors have already started to swirl about Mike Woodson’s job security in New York, while Tyrone Corbin (many analysts’ pick as the first coach to be fired this season) has started Utah’s campaign with a 0-5 record.
One of the deposed coaches from those 50-win teams, weirdly, won the Coach of the Year Award just before he was fired. Former Denver Nuggets coach and current ESPN studio analyst George Karl, in talking with The Sporting News’ Sean Deveney, does not like what he sees as an outbreak that is costing the veteran coaching community too many jobs, and too quickly a turnover rate:
“I think right now, the 13 changes have scared a lot of coaches,” said Karl, who is working as an ESPN analyst now. “When you have three coaches who won 57, 56 and 56 get dismissed, and move on, it’s just difficult to understand. You have nine new coaches who have never coached an NBA game, and I am not saying there are not nine assistant coaches who are qualified to be good head coaches, but I just think the whole puzzle right now is, it’s too much. It’s too much change, it’s too much drastic reaction to failure and I think the pendulum will swing back to more realistic opinion of it all.”
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A current head coach, speaking under the guise of anonymity to Deveney, went deeper and more profanely into the subject:
“Everyone’s scared s---less out there. There’s different criteria being measured on coaches and it is not just winning. You can win your ass off and still get fired.”
The issue here is that, even in this copycat league, this isn’t a trend. OK, it’s technically a “trend,” but it’s certainly not something to worry about or criticize.
This is 13 different organizations making 13 individual decisions based on incredibly disparate influences, timetables and reasons. The Denver Nuggets weren’t trying to emulate the Clippers when they fired George Karl, just as the Memphis Grizzlies weren’t trying to ape the Charlotte Bobcats when they let Lionel Hollins walk, just as the Sacramento Kings weren’t positioning themselves alongside the Brooklyn Nets when former coach Keith Smart was shown the door.
Yes, because coaches usually make far less than the average NBA salary, and because their salary doesn’t count against the salary cap or luxury tax, teams tend to look to hire and fire coaches quickly because of their presumed level of influence – one that might be overstated at times, as this is still a player’s league.
For current and former coaches to complain about the turnover is ridiculous, though. Go up and down the list of teams with new coaches for 2013-14 – does anyone think any one of those franchises made the wrong move?
Even the most egregious examples – in Denver and Memphis – those were understandable. The Nuggets didn’t want 2012-13 NBA Coach of the Year George Karl on a lame duck contract, working with a new roster and new general manager in a year that was always going to be a drag due to the late season injury to forward Danilo Gallinari. And former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins and the team’s new front office did not see eye to eye. Both situations could have become untenable, if they weren’t already.
Now, you may disagree with some of the hires – re-treads like Maurice Cheeks, Larry Drew and rookie coaches like Jason Kidd spring to mind – but all three of those men come with significant NBA credentials, and all three were replacing coaches their teams weren’t listening to.
This isn’t a pendulum swinging to an extreme degree on one side, or a pattern. This is just something that happened in the spring and summer of 2013 a bunch of times, for myriad reasons. Yes, NBA coaches are under more pressure than ever, but that’s just fine. The more knowledgeable the media and fan bases are, the more prospective future coaches we’ll see grow into the role.
That’s good for the game. Even if it makes certain incumbents feel uneasy about their current status.
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