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NBA Tip-Off: Merry Christmas Coach... You're Fired!
So a while back I got into a friendly argument with someone about the firing of coaches in professional sports, with me advocating a theory that the NHL fires more head coaches during the season than any other professional sport. How's that position worked out for me so far this season? Not so good. Having just barely passed the quarter-season mark of their respective seasons there have already been 5 firings of head coaches in the NBA, compared with only 3 (I believe) in the NHL. The NBA coaching carnage timeline:
November 22nd - Oklahoma City Thunder fire coach P.J. Carlesimo after an abysmal 1-13 start. This team just stinks. I'm not kidding. They are seriously bad and could well threaten the NBA record worst season ever mark of 9-73 set by the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1972-1973 season (the Thunder are currently 2-21). Getting fired is never a "good" thing, but once he's got some distance on it P.J. may actually come to the conclusion that in this case it wasn't necessarily a "bad" thing either.
November 24th - Washington Wizards fire coach Eddie Jordan after a 1-10 start. Even though the Wizards have been without franchise player and All-Star Gilbert Arenas the entire season, the team still has enough talent that they should have been able to make a better showing than that. The early season problems had nothing to do with an inability to score - the team averaged 95 points a game through its first 11 - but rather a total lack of defense. Since Jordan was ousted the team hasn't improved much in that area, going 3-6 and allowing an average of 104 points a game by the opposition.
December 3rd - Toronto Raptors fire coach Sam Mitchell after a disappointing 8-9 start, including the worst defeat in team history, a 132-93 loss to the Denver Nuggets. Of all the firings this one is probably the most "unfair" to blame on the coach as the team was seriously hampered early on by injuries to key players Jermaine O'Neal (knee) and Jose Calderon (hamstring). Of course the mediocre record was probably just an excuse for GM Bryan Colangelo to get rid of Mitchell. Colangelo, who inherited Mitchell when he became GM in 2006, is a "new school" GM who prefers to run a much more up-tempo, European style offense and Mitchell's approach is more traditional and conservative. If not now, Mitchell's firing was most likely inevitable simply because of the philosophical differences between him and the front office.
December 8th - Minnesota Timberwolves fire Randy Wittman and replace him with Kevin McHale. Yes, that Kevin McHale, and this pretty much signals the beginning of the end for him in MInnesota. Anytime an owner asks the GM to come out of the front office and start coaching it's inevitably a precursor to the GM getting the ax. In essence, the owner is saying to the GM, "You made this mess, you clean it up." And McHale won't be able to; the Timberwolves are a floundering mess at 4-18, prevented from being the cellar dwellers in the Northwest Division only because they've got the putrid Oklahoma City Thunder in the same division.
December 13th - Philadelphia 76ers fire Maurice Cheeks, despite having given him not one but two contract extensions in the past 12 months. Though the 76ers are a disappointing 9-14, they did add Elton Brand over the off-season and it does sometimes take a little bit of time to fully integrate a new, key piece and shake the kinks out. Of all the coaches kicked to the curb it is Mo Cheeks that I feel the worst about. Not only is Cheeks a 76ers legend, having been one of the team's starting guards during their championship '82-'83 season, but he's also just an unquestionably class act. He'll get another head coaching position soon, and any team should be proud to have him.
So, 45 days into the season and 16% of all NBA head coaches have already been fired. And it may not be over yet, as rumors abound that Sacramento Kings coach Reggie Theus and Memphis Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni may be next on the chopping block. And though I still maintain that year-in and year-out over the past 20 years the NHL has fired more coaches during their active season - and earlier in the season - than the other professional leagues, there can be no denying that this year the NBA is king of the coaching carnage.
Last Edited on: 12/13/08 5:10 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
I guess it is just easier for a team to blame and fire their head coach than it is to get rid of the poor players that are probably behind most of the problems. Although I did know about a couple of them, I didn't know about all those firings. I have to admit I really haven't kept up with much NBA since the 80's when Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem, & Michael Jordan were around. I've been a bit more interested this year with the Celtics doing so well winning the championship last year, over LA to boot, but I'm afraid I am more of a fair weather fan with this sport. It is interesting to me, and makes me feel old, to see the players I loved to watch now coaching. Who would expect you would find the old Atlanta Hawks player Doc Rivers coaching the Celtics? :) It will also be interesting to see how Kevin McHale turns out as a head coach with Minnesota.
The one constant I do find though, is that Celtics GM Danny Ainge still has that puzzled look on his face from time to time that he used to have on the court when he was called for a foul. "Who---me??!!"