Kevin McHale, Lionel Hollins, Jeff Hornacek, David Blatt, and Derek Fisher. What do all these men have in common? They were all fired before the halfway point of the season by general managers who used them as scapegoats. Here are some examples:
I’ll start with Kevin McHale. The Houston Rockets had 4 straight winning seasons under Mchale, including a Western Conference finals birth last season. All four of those seasons the Rockets win percentage went up. After finishing 56-26 in the 2014-15 season, Houston started off 4-7 this year. Surely nothing to panic about, the season was still young. But General Manager Daryl Morey wanted to shake things up. By fixing this God awful roster filled with young nobody’s and aging veterans you ask? No. By getting shooters to space the floor? No! He made sure he got Josh Smith and his mind boggling 29.6% three point shooting back though. The Rockets have 4 players on this team that average double figures. James Harden (27.9), Dwight Howard (14.3), Trevor Ariza (12.4), Marcus Thornton (10.1). See what I’m getting at? Harden is the focal point, and then the talent starts to taper off. They have one main rebounder (Dwight averages 12 per game). The leader in assist is Ty Lawson with 3.7. Certainly a deficiency in talent here. On TNT Thursday, Kevin Mchale said, “Dwight [Howard] couldn’t do back-to-back practices, and wasn’t going to be able to do back-to-back games until December, James Harden had sprained his ankle during the summer and came in overweight, and we just weren’t playing very well.” But… Mchale is the problem. Got it.
Let’s take the cases of Jeff Hornacek and Derek Fisher. Let’s throw advanced stats out the window for a second. Pretend you’re a scout. Meaning trust your eyeballs. Look at the rosters of the Suns and the Knicks. Are their rosters conducive of those teams primed for playoff runs? The Suns two best best players, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight went down with season ending injuries this season, however before those injuries happened, Phoenix was nothing to fear. First they tried a 3 point guard system, with Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas. All on the floor at the same time! There was only one ball…. so after a couple of trades they went to 2 point guards. Then drafted Devin Booker. First half of this season is when both Bledsoe and Knight went down. The picture I’m trying to paint is Jeff Hornacek didn’t have much stability to work with. His two seasons in Phoenix were marred by injuries, trades, and dysfunction. Derek Fisher’s combined coaching record was 40-96. Horrible right? Right. However, Carmelo Anthony played in only 40 games before injuring his knee. Can you name another player from last year’s Knicks roster ? Exactly. Anthony is back playing again in 2015-16, along with rookie sensation Kristaps Porziņģis. But again can you name another player from the Knicks roster? Has Phil Jackson made any roster moves to improve the overall talent in New York? Has the Suns GM RyanMcDonough done the same in Phoenix?
The mess in Sacramento is a prime example of, how much easier it is for GM’s and owners to find a scapegoat rather then fix the real problems plaguing a franchise. In the 2014-15 season Sacramento had three head coaches, and lost a general manager. Replaced said GM with Vlade Divac, who essentially hired himself. The teams best player, DeMarcus Cousins, who has yet to experience a winning season since entering the NBA in 2010, has been surrounded by mediocrity. Cousins is on his fifth coach, third general manager, experienced an ownership change, and seen many a player come and go. Not to mention the Franchise Almost moving. All that in 5 years. Let’s circle around to coach George Karl, who was hired a year ago, making him the third coach within a year, was reported to be getting fired, then when the dust settled will remain with the team. Let’s look at the real problem. The roster. Last season was the first time the Kings had an All-star selection since 2003, when Brad Miller was selected. Over 10 years without an All-star. So Karl is working with a roster that has a point guard whom leads the league in assist but can’t shoot. A small forward in Rudy Gay who seems to be in every trade rumor every single season, only averages 17 ppg, and is your second highest paid player on the team. Costing the Kings $12M this season, $13M next season, and has a player option in the 2017/18 season where he can make $14M. George Karl wasn’t the one who Traded for this player or signed him to this massive contract. Then you have the teams best player, and arguably the best Center in the league, DeMarcus Cousins. 5 years into his career Cousins puts up goudy numbers but he’s still having questions raised about his maturity level. He’s second in the league in technical fouls, and has been in the top five in the category since entering the league in 2010. Headache for opponents, headache for coaching staffs as well. The talent pretty much tapers off after their three best players, and has no real help from the bench. The last four drafts haven’t produced any talent to brag about, and the Kings have trouble attracting anyone. Well there was the time they offered Andre Iguodala a contract, then abruptly took it back. What else do you expect from a franchise run by an owner widely considered clueless, even by the minority owners in the same organization. But, shhh… George Karl is the problem.
For years we have all watched coaches get the Axe because of issues with star players, having losing records with horrible rosters, and owners and/or GM’s giving in to a fanbase. i.e. throwing continuity out the window. We seen it when Deron Williams forced hall of fame coach Jerry Sloan to quit, then ended up in Brooklyn where he was the reason Avery Johnson got his walking papers. What about when Mike Brown was fired from the Cleveland Cavs (the first time) after losing to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals? That roster couldn’t get over the hump even with LeBron at his peak. More recently the Cavs firing David Blatt. After losing to the Warriors in the finals with a depleted roster, and having only one of their three stars, Cleveland started this season 30-11. Best record in the East. Blatt was fired for being “in over his head.” When he was hired he didn’t even know LeBron would be on the team. Blatt thought he was coming in to a rebuilding project. But hey, here we are.
I’m trying to illustrate to you, how can you build cohesion, and consistency if a franchise changes coaches like you change your underwear? What does this say to potential free agents? To a fanbase? Hell to the players on your roster! Greg Popovich has been the San Antonio Spurs coach since 1996. That’s 20 years if you can’t add. His team’s have been to the playoffs 18 straight years. He has 5 titles, and has won coach of the year 3 times. Consistency my friends. These things don’t happen to organizations who change coaches every year or two or even three. I won’t even get into the complications getting hired and fired causes on the family, in terms of moving and switching kids schools. So next time you call for the coaches head of your favorite team, look at the bigger picture first. Problems always start from the top down.
Writer for TheCouchSports.com, LiveFromWoodward.com, & PTA. Editor, and Co-Host of The Couch Sports Podcast, and a Certified Beardsman.