Why Fire A Coach?

23 01 2009

Job security has never been an NBA head coaching perk.

Some folks call the yearly coach hirings and firings the “coaching carousel.”  Although it’s more like a coaching drop zone: the head coach gets in the saddle with three of his friends, they slowly rise to the top when suddenly the cable’s cut on them.  They fall, hit rock bottom within seconds and he’s left wondering, that was it?  That was quick; what do I do now?

I really am starting to wonder why newly-minted NBA head coaches even bother accepting the job proposal.  I’m talking more about the Marc Iavaroni’s of the world (not recycled hacks like the Larry Brown’s).

What exactly do they think they can gain by taking a team that went 22-60 before they joined the organization?

Iavaroni is a career NBA man.  He’s spent seven seasons as a player before working the assistant coach circuit. So it’s understandable that he’d take a head coaching shot.  But after dropping another 22-60 record in his first year, he goes 11-30 in his second year.  So the Grizzlies fire him.

The Memphis Grizzlies were scoring 93.0 points per game while giving up 99.2.

Their game pace was 22nd fastest out of the 30 teams, according to basketball-reference.com, their offensive rating is 102.3 (28th) while their defensive rating was 109.2 (22nd).

Even though Iavaroni had OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay and an assortment of seemingly, quick-pace guys, those numbers suggest that he was right to slow the ball down.

Was Memphis expecting a playoff run with a rotation including Mayo, Gay, Marc Gasol, Hakim Warrick, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Darko Milicic, Darrell Arthur and Quinton Ross?  Who were they kidding?  The FedEx Forum is a sparkly and pretty place but that’s about all you can say for the organization.

Head coaches are fired for several reasons.  Sometimes they just aren’t fit to be NBA head coaches.  Sometimes their team “quits” on them.  There are other reasons, of course.

I’m just not sure what would motivate the firing of Iavaroni halfway through the season.  The atmosphere must have just been horrendous because I just don’t see the logic in jettisoning a head coach halfway through the season.

The interim head coach rarely ever gets their team to perform better.  In fact, firing the head coach signals to the players that “Hey, season’s over.  Show up and play for 28 minutes and then do whatever after the game.  Just make sure not to go over 5 MPH over the speed limit because then Jay Mariotti is going to hurl a moral diatribe at you.  We’ll start over next summer.  Love, Management.”

I used to agree with the thought that cutting ties with a coach during a lottery-bound season is probably the best way to jump-start some production.  It’s a band-aid, right?  It can’t get any worse than this, can it?

Firing a head coach isn’t even a band-aid.  It’s really more like sticking a paper bag on a really ugly date.  When you take the brown bag off later, they’re still gonna look like Ann Coulter.  The only difference is now her face smells like mildew.

A bad team is a bad team.  It seems to me, with a few exceptions, that the worth of a coach is completely dependent on the skill of his players.  It’s not a secret that if you have great players, your team will perform.  And if your team performs, you’ll be seen as a great coach.

See: Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics — before and after Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

Anyone that’s elevated onto the NBA head coaching pedestal knows the game.  Most of them can manage egos and can navigate all of the locker room politics.  So why wasn’t Marc Iavaroni (and PJ Carlesimo, Sam Mitchell, Reggie Theus) given more time?

The Michael Curry’s of the world are put into ideal situations.  They land on good teams with good chemistry and the coach actually has a chance to succeed.

I understand that professional sports is a fickle bitch and I’m glad that coaches get at least some heat (as opposed to it all going to the players).

But what were people expecting from Marc Iavaroni this season?  Rome wasn’t built in a day…


The Forest and the Trees

14 07 2008

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a very interesting roster.  My friend, Dave, shot me an e-mail the other day.  He wanted to see if I had anything to say about the Wolves. 

The note served as a call to add some much needed flavor to my broth.  It may surprise some people to know that I have been keeping tabs on other teams, even though I’ve been writing about San Antonio, Brandon Jennings and Derrick Rose ad nauseum.

The Kevin Love-for-OJ Mayo trade shook up the NBA draft.  However, until Love or Mayo blow up, I contend that the centerpiece of this trade is Mike Miller.  He is a very efficient shooter who upgrades Minnesota’s second or third scoring option slot. 

Miller finished last season with averages of 16.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 43.2% from deep and 50.2% from the field. 

The Wolves perimeter player that comes closest to Miller’s efficiency is Rashad McCants who is shooting a respectable 45.3% from the field and 40.7% from three.  But after McCants, the shooting is about as pretty as a Geraldine Ferraro sound clip.

Take a look at the Timberwolves roster and you’ll find a whole lot of guys listed at “forward.”  Randy Foye is the only point guard currently signed by the organization.  So, with this group of ballers, who should Randy Wittman trot out come opening day?

Without the assistance of statistics, I would tell Wittman to send out Foye (1), Miller (2), Corey Brewer (3), Kevin Love (4) and Al Jefferson (5).  It seems like a no-brainer.  Miller can handle the ball, so have him out near the wings to assist Foye with ball-handling and entry-passes.  Brewer seems like a stud, so start him.  Love is a first-rounder; start him.  Jefferson is a beast; his physicality allows him to handle 5-men in the league.

However, I took a look at the Wolves’ 5-man unit statistics on 82games.com and realized the horrible truth.  Starting Corey Brewer doesn’t seem to help his team.  His on-court/off-court statistics don’t treat him well.  When he’s playing, the Wolves are -9.3 net points per 100 possessions.  While he’s in his warm-ups, the Wolves are better at -7.6 net points. 

Brewer’s Hollinger PER rating is an abysmal -9.4 at the small forward position.  My hunch is that he needs some more time to develop.  And although his defense got him into the league, that PER rating is a comparison based on Brewer’s production versus his direct opponents’ so it’s safe to say that his NBA defense isn’t quite up to snuff.

A look at Mike Miller’s PER rating shows that he’s decidedly better in the 3 role.  At shooting guard, Miller had a -0.5 rating and at small forward, he improved to +3.8.  Additionally, the Memphis Grizzlies scored 98.4 points and had a 32% winning percentage when Miller played as a 2.  While Miller was at the 3, the Grizzlies scoring average jumped to 104.2 points with a 49% winning percentage.

So, who takes the shooting guard position?  How about McCants, who was the Wolves’ second-best player last year.  McCant’s PER from shooting guard to small forward is negligible but his on-court/off-court statistic is relevant.  The Wolves are -4.5 net points per 100 possessions while he’s playing and drop to -12.5 net points while he’s sipping Gatorade.  So much for rest for the weary as that’s an +8.0 point differential, the inverse of Brewer’s contribution.

Over at Empty the Bench, Andrew explains why Al Jefferson at center is a crying shame.

“Defensively Big Al struggled for most of the season, but it was most noticeable when he was asked to guard longer and stronger centers. He lacks lateral quickness, length, defensive footwork and the instincts to recover. The numbers back up that anecdotal assessment. While playing at power forward Jefferson’s PER was 29.3 while the opponent’s power forward had a PER of just 19.5. That +9.8 PER ratio is stellar. However, when Jefferson is moved to the middle his advantage quickly falls off. As a center his PER went down to 25.3 while the opposing center’s PER rose to 20.4, amounting to a mere +4.8 advantage. At least statistically, Al Jefferson was less than half as effective when asked to play center.”

He goes on to question Kevin Love’s athleticism while saying that Love shares the same deficiencies as Jefferson.  Although I don’t quite disagree with this assessment, Love’s skill set is much more diverse and can provide a great complement to Jefferson’s hard-hat, physical-style. 

My concern is if Jefferson can “play up” to longer and more agile defenders.  When, you have a bunch of lower-tier bangers that are accustomed to guarding NBA centers, why not use them.  The Wolves have Jason Collins, Michael Doleac, Mark Madsen, Brian Cardinal and Craig Smith on the payroll.  Does Wittman really want to roll the dice with Jefferson at the 5?  If it’s a matter of giving Jefferson space to operate, Doleac and Cardinal have shown a willingness and ability to hit some mid-range shots.  Smith is athletic and can effectively hide Jefferson’s defensive deficiencies.  Would a combination of those players become an effective Timberwolves center?

My starting five is Foye (1), McCants (2), Miller (3), Jefferson (4) and Collins (5).  What’s yours?

Photo credit: The Sports Hernia