Stop Using NBA Coaches as Scapegoats

Stop Using NBA Coaches as Scapegoats

Stop using NBA Coaches as scapegoats

Coaches coach, players play, and excuse makers make excuses. The NBA has become a cesspool of finger pointing and refusal to acknowledge personal failure as the nexus for poor performance. This endless trend of scapegoating coaches for the failures of players is nonsensical and disingenuous. Every win and every loss comes down to: talent, scheme, and effort. It’s just that simple. Coaches are responsible for the scheme, while the players own (or should own) the talent and effort portions.

What did we learn from the Mark Jackson firing? Nothing. No really, absolutely nothing. A team he built, operating in much the same fashion, running virtually the same sets, with minor adjustments to defensive philosophy, performed with new head coach Steve Kerr as they had with Jackson. Under Jackson’s direction, the Golden State Warriors increased their win total, and playoff advancement EVERY year. Oh, and remember Jackson accomplished this great feat largely without Stephen Curry, who was a constant no-show due to chronic ankle surgery. Yet, this was ground for termination?

I’ll repeat the initial inquiry. What did we learn from the Jackson firing? We learned that the alleged prodigal basketball mind (Kerr) who coached the Warriors to its first NBA championship in 40 years was merely a figurehead. Kerr was a left over part from a piece Ikea furniture that still manages to function as expected. The Warriors did not become more dynamic, they did not play faster, and they did not shoot at a higher percentage from distance because of Kerr. They played better than the year before as they had the year before that and the year before that and the year before that. The firing was unjustified, period.

Kerr is the NBA equivalent of wearing a belt with suspenders. His assistant coach, who had zero coaching experience, Luke Walton, led this same team to the best start in the history of the NBA. Does that mean it’s time to anoint Luke Walton as the next Red Auerbach? No, nor should we attribute that early season success to a “system” that Kerr established. What does it mean? It means that players played at a high level, and the Warriors have the best players! Walton, like Kerr, was fortunate to inherent the most talented team in the league.

Considering a novice in Walton, who was a mediocre talent during his career, led this team to a historic record, logic dictates that Kerr under performed the year before.

Who fires hall of famers? The Houston Rockets, that’s who. Head coach Kevin McHale was let go after eleven games. Scratching your head yet? Good, you should be. General Manager Daryl Morey, claimed in his post McHale firing press conference, “The team is not responding to Kevin McHale.” No, the team was not responding to adversity and physical challenges. McHale was the least of their concerns. Signing an injury prone center (Dwight Howard), notorious for lacking the ambition to be great, was Morey’s first mistake. Assuming the team would somehow erect a new identity with Howard serving as the cornerstone to building a winner was absurd. Howard had done nothing since leaving Orlando to indicate that he was worthy of a max contract or worthy of consideration as a franchise bedrock.

Instead of a pink slip, McHale deserved a medal for guiding a team missing its best defender/top rebounder not only to the playoffs but also to the conference finals! Since firing McHale with a record of 4-7, the Rockets have gone 23-20. Does this record showcase the amount of “response” Daryl Morey was hoping for when he terminated the hall of famer?

Overly quick exits must be a contagious theme. Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers fired Mike Brown five games into the season. No, that was not a typo. The Los Angeles Lakers fired a coach after they played only five games. Granted, four of those games resulted in losses. But the point is, he was fired too soon. What possible expectations could the Lakers front office have had with that roster? The same issues that plagued the franchise then, remain problems for them now. If anything, the Lakers have regressed since Brown’s firing.

Moving east, the Cleveland Cavaliers firing of David Blatt was a classic representation of ego and lack of accountability. A team as supremely talented and deep as the Cavaliers has no real excuse for suffering a 34-point loss. It was an embarrassment. But that embarrassment was not Blatt’s. Why not? Simple: Blatt was not wearing a uniform. Blatt didn’t throw any errant passes. Blatt didn’t turn the ball over. Blatt didn’t give up six offensive rebounds. Blatt didn’t refuse to close out on jump shooters and give up a whopping nineteen 3-pointers. You know who did? The Cavaliers players. The players. Not the coach.

Who are these players? Two top draft picks (James, Irving), a walking double-double (Love), and a league leading rebounder (Thompson), and they allow a team to score 132 in their building, and the coach is blamed? Any objective analysis of their play will conclude that Blatt’s firing was a backwards reactionary decision.

Our most recent entry into the inexplicable is the New York Knicks’ firing of head coach Derek Fisher. Fisher had not even held the position for 18 months before being terminated. It was no secret; Fisher accepted the job in a volatile situation with an unproven president of basketball operations (Phil Jackson) calling the shots. But firing Fisher was a waste of a quality basketball mind, with untapped potential.

Did he inherent the kingdom of a Golden State? No. Fisher inherited the dysfunction of a franchise that just fired a coach (Mike Woodson) who led the team to a 54-win season and a birth in the conference semifinals. A franchise that re-signed a player (Carmelo Anthony) that it would prefer to not have on their roster but retained him nonetheless for public relations. A star player, who makes everyone else around him worse. An injury prone star that is allergic to team basketball and never averaged more than 4 assists per game in any season his entire career. If the Knicks failures were caused by poor strategy or scheme, realize Fisher was hired in order to implement the strategy and scheme of Phil Jackson.

At this level of basketball, coaches play a minuscule role in the outcome of games played. Whether it’s a win or a loss, the players on the court determine the outcome in 99.99%  of the games played. Coaches should only be evaluated based on the .01% of the time their decision-making positively or negatively impacts the game.

Enough is enough! Start holding players accountable for their play, and stop allowing front office staff to scapegoat coaching as the reason for performing poorly. 

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