4/27 Relieve Sam Vincent of head coaching duties
4/29 Name Larry Brown head coach
Weird times in Charlotte. Firing your handpicked coach after a single season can never be considered a good thing and this is the second time Michael Jordan has done this (see Hamilton, Leonard in Washington). Vincent didn’t seem horrible from afar, though it wasn’t clear why he needed to play Jeff McInnis so much (though it also wasn’t clear why the GM even put McInnis on the roster). Still, Brown is a vast improvement and is much more likely to make this team competitive. Having said that, Brown is sure to despise most of this roster. Brown is hard on good point guards, so Raymond Felton is going to really feel some pain. It seems that he will probably ride Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, and Jared Dudley hard (his type of players). Jason Richardson will also make an interesting test case and I shudder to see Brown watch Adam Morrison play (the polar opposite of a Brown player). He can play but he is shot happy (7.3 threes attempted per game last year). Brown is sure to change that. Finally, I don’t anticipate quite as Brown having as many problems with MJ as he did with Isiah Thomas. True, Jordan and Isiah both seem like bad GMs but MJ has not been quite the meddler that Isiah was in New York. Brown will likely be given a free reign by Jordan early on. At the very least, there are now several reasons to pay attention to the Bobcats…
4/17 Relieve Jim Boylan of head coaching duties
Boylan was pretty neutral in his few months as head coach. He was obviously interim in nature and ran into all sorts of disciplinary issues as a result (Joakim Noah, Chris Duhon, and Tyrus Thomas all were handed suspensions for insubordination and/or skipping practices). In terms of concrete results, Boylan’s Bulls played slightly better (24-32) than Scott Skiles’ team (9-16). Going forward, the Bulls want a bigger name as a coach, Rick Carlisle and Tom Thibodeau have been mentioned. The recent change in Dallas and potentially elsewhere may add even more names to the mix. I realize that another defensive-oriented coach may be boring but the Bulls defense is what made them successful under Skiles. Skiles’ teams ranked second, seventh, and first in points allowed per possession form 2004-05 to 2006-07. This year, the offense was a little worse than usual but the defense fell to fourteenth in points allowed per possession. Returning to the playoffs should be fairly easy if they pick a coach in the Skiles mode of defense. As for Boylan, he’s expected to land on his feet and be an assistant for Skiles again, this time in Milwaukee.
4/29 Relieve Avery Johnson of head coaching duties
Weird end for Avery in Dallas. I don’t think this team underachieved this year but the fact is that playoff disappointments in the Finals in 2006 and in the first round in 2007 gave him little latitude in 2007-08. The fact is that this team eroded from killing its bench. Even before they traded their back up center, Jerry Stackhouse looked shot. In addition, Dirk Nowtizki was down a off his absolute peak and Josh Howard and Jason Terry showed a little decline too. To realistically expect AJ to make a playoff run with this team just made no sense. Still, when you work in the NBA unreasonable expectations are the norm. I would’ve given him another season but clearly Mark Cuban had had enough. Coaching is a rough business but Johnson is sure to catch on quickly elsewhere. Though I like Johnson, it bears mentioning that his slowdown, defense first style really needs the right personnel to work.
4/28 Pat Riley steps down as head coach, name Erik Spoelstra named head coach
I know he won title but the Riley in-and-out coaching tenures have reached the point of ridiculousness. Who would want to be a coach under Riley now? He bails when the team stinks and he takes the team back when they are even remotely interesting. Riley was even taking excursions during the season last year to “scout.” I suppose Spoelstra is happy to be on the coaching carousel (it didn’t hurt Stan Van Gundy) but this is a no-win situation for the new coach. The irony is that the Heat should be improved with a healthy Dwyane Wade along with Shawn Marion, a high draft pick, and plenty of cap room. The team would have to seem really good for Riley to even want to dip his toe into coaching again but I certainly wouldn’t want to coach under him.
4/11 Name John Hammond general manager
4/17 Relieve Larry Krystkowiak of head coaching duties
4/21 Name Scott Skiles head coach
Krtstkowiak’s tenure was short and non-descript and there was no way he was going to survive the purge of his front office support. So now, the Bucks are starting over again with a pretty solid brain trust. Hammond comes out as a VP with the Pistons, who have done quite well. It’s not clear to what extent Hammond can take credit for some of the great Piston moves but it certainly is a good indicator. As for Skiles, he fits well in Milwaukee. They were the worst defensive team in the NBA last year and haven’t had a team better than 20th in the NBA in points allowed per possession since 1998-99. Going back in further, the Bucks haven’t been better than league average in points allowed per possession since 1990-91, when they were eleventh, and haven’t been in the top ten in this category since 1988-89 (!). Skiles probably won’t fix this team next year but he will put on a path towards the playoffs. I do expect that he may discard a lot of the offensive-related weapons they have now (Charlie Villanueva, Yi Jianlin), which is another interesting subplot to watch.
New York Knicks
4/18 Relieve Isiah Thomas of head coaching duties
In the end, there was no great explosion or rush of emotion. Instead, Thomas’ quasi-firing was much more a denouement. This was a nice change of pace from the circus that surrounded Thomas’ firing of coaches. From Don Chaney, to Lenny Wilkens, to Larry Brown, they were all left to twist in the wind by the organization and forced to take a long walk of shame at the end. Instead, Donnie Walsh seemed to make an effort to keep things sane at the Garden. While I’m sure Knick fans (and press corp) would’ve loved to see Isiah be forced to discuss his horrible tenure, just getting him out was sufficient.
Going forward, the New York press has indicated that Mark Jackson is the front runner to get the job based upon his New York roots, his relationship with Walsh, and his reputation as a coach on the floor when he played. That may be true but Walsh certainly hasn’t rushed to hire Jax. Walsh has always retained an open mind in hiring coaches. A review of the coaches he has hired over the years in Indiana reveal a very eclectic bunch:
1986-1988, Jack Ramsay: Ramsay was a big name coach, having earned his reputation with the old Blazer teams in the 1970s.
1988-1991, Dick Versace: Versace was an instant with Chuck Daly’s Bad Boy Pistons.
1991-1993, Bob Hill: Assistant coach Hill replaced Versace and earned the permanent gig with a nice finish in 1990-91 (32-25). He had a previous interim job with the Knicks when they fired Hubie Brown in 1986.
1993-1997, Larry Brown: The legend. Like Ramsay, Brown was a big name and he obviously didn’t disappoint, though the players were ready to kick him out by 1997.
1997-2000, Larry Bird: A superstar player and local god, Bird had absolutely no coaching experience before Walsh tabbed him.
2000-2003, Isiah Thomas: Like Bird, star player, local god, and no coaching experience.
2003-2006, Rick Carlisle: Carlisle was a well-regarded assistant, though this hiring was apparently Bird’s call, as was his replacement, Jim O’Brien.
So, Walsh has a demonstrated recent history of hiring coaches with no experience. In addition, he’s hired coaches from virtually all fields. While Jackson may be the ultimate candidate, Knicks can take comfort in the fact that Walsh will do a thorough search.
4/14 Waive Darius Miles
Officially, Miles failed a physical on his ailing knee, which allowed the Blazers to remove his salary from the their cap. He’s owed $18 million the next two seasons but hasn’t played since 2005-06 and hasn’t been even a semi-regular since 2004-05. While it feels like a long time ago, back in 2004, the Blazers were falling all over themselves to pay Miles big bucks. It was a crazy time in the Blazer-land, the team stunk for the first time in a long time, but Miles was only 22, so one would think he wasn’t a horrific risk. In fact, he didn’t fit at all (they already had Rasheed Wallace and Zach Randolph), he didn’t help the chemistry (we all remember his stupid tirade directed at Maurice Cheeks), and he wasn’t healthy at all (if his career is indeed over, he’ll have stopped playing before age-25, which is even younger than Jon Bender was when he retired).
Miles is not remembered particularly fondly in Portland (John Cazano has written an nice article giving us the flavor of Miles tenure in Portland). Ultimately, it appears that the owner Paul Allen fell in love with Miles’ athleticism and youth and gave him a contract through the end of the decade based upon his early promise. The move couldn’t have turned out much worse and he is only a reminder of the dark seasons between the end of the Wallace-Arvydas Sabonis Blazers and the promising team they have now.