Transactions 4/18-7/6 (Coaching Edition)

Atlanta Hawks

5/28       Named Mike Budenholzer

Larry Drew didn’t actually do anything wrong that merited him losing this job.  The Hawks had a little talent and not much depth and played accordingly.  The Hawks apparently decided that the decent team of the past six years was over and it is time to rebuild.   It’s not clear if the Hawks will be terrible without Josh Smith.   A core of Al Horford and a free agent or two to be named later is not an awful team (or at least not bad enough to be in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes).   The post mortem of the 2007-2013 Hawks though will not be kind.  Despite six consecutive playoff appearances, the Hawks won exactly two second round playoff games (by comparison, the Lenny Wilkens Hawks of the 1990s won four second round playoff games in a six year span).

As for Budenholzer, it is pretty much impossible to know what his tendencies will be as a head coach.  We can say for certain that his pedigree and training were excellent, as he has been an assistant with the Spurs since 1996.  Between those nice qualifications and his link to another further Spur in GM Danny Ferry, this was enough to get him this shot.  For 2013-14, Budenholzer will have to improve the Hawks mediocre offense (18th) without Smith.  Assuming the presence of a healthy Louis Williams, Horford, and another free agent (Paul Millsap has been mentioned), the Hawks could be around .500 again with an outside hope that Budenholzer and Ferry come up with a plan to get this team to a higher level of competitiveness at some point.

Boston Celtics

6/26       Allowed Doc Rivers to leave as head coach in exchange for draft picks

6/30       Waived Terrence Williams

7/3         Named Brad Stevens head coach

One of the more inane talking points coming out of the Doc Rivers coaching drama is whether Rivers was quitting on the team.  Boston writers and fans put a lot into the emotional side of the game, ie whether someone is a true Celtic and truly “feels” the ethos of the green.  Rivers, on his end, insisted that he was not quitting on Boston.  Despite the arguments back and forth it was pretty clear that Rivers was bailing on the Celts. But who really cares?  Rivers had a really nice run in Boston.  Not only did he help the talented team gel much more quickly than expected but he squeezed several nice playoff runs out of a team that looked finished several years ago.  Even if you put aside the title in 2007-08, Rivers was masterful in knocking off LeBron in 2009-10 and coming one quarter from beating a healthier Lakers team in the Finals.  Let’s also not forget Boston going to the Conference Finals last year and taking James and the Heat to the brink again.  The Pierce-Garnett-Allen core was over and Boston will be bad in 2013-14 no matter who the coach is.  Why not give Rivers away and get a first rounder as compensation?   A veteran coach like Rivers would be superfluous on the Celts heavy rebuilding job anyway.  Thank him for the good years and for the draft pick when he ran out.  Similarly, Rivers’ protestations that he didn’t quit are a bit hollow.  Yes, he would’ve stayed and collected checks for a bad team but he understandably took the raise and the move to a contender.

As for Stevens, we have another unknown commodity.   College coaches usually don’t succeed in the NBA but most coaches don’t succeed anyway either.  The challenge for Stevens will be to get a system in place and develop the younger players while losing copiously next year.

Brooklyn Nets

4/26       Signed general manager Billy King to a contract extension

6/12       Named Jason Kidd head coach

Will Kidd work as a head coach?  Not to belabor this point but we have no idea what tendencies any new coach will have whether he be a college coach, a longtime assistant, or a star turned coach like Kidd.  Kidd’s assets appear to be his place in Nets history and his reputation as a brilliant player.  None of this means that Kidd will have any head coaching proclivities (check Bob Cousy’s coaching record for an example).    What is more distressing here is that the Nets are presenting the hire as a public relations coup (that the tabloids quickly swallowed).    Let’s be honest, the Nets are a cash rich team with some good players and some aging vets.  They are probably not quite a title contender but could be a top team in the East.   Under those circumstances, the best move would have been for the Nets to go for a George Karl, who has always excelled at cobbling together relevant teams quickly.  This is not to say that Kidd will be a bad coach (and the return of Lawrence Frank as assistant will help) but this seemed more like a move aimed towards making a splash than based on any sort of logical process.

Charlotte Bobcats

4/23       Fired head coach Mike Dunlap

5/28       Named Steve Clifford head coach

The hope was that Rich Cho’s presence would instill a coherent plan in Charlotte but alas this doesn’t seem to be.  Take the case of Dunlap.  Sure he probably wasn’t a great coach but what were his major sins to be axed so quickly?  Generally speaking, management indicated that it didn’t think he could deal with vets and that didn’t play Tyrus Thomas band his big contract.  Dunlap might have been a hard ass but is getting in tiffs with a fungible vet like Ben Gordon really evidence that a coach is tough to deal with?  Dunlap may have buried Thomas and his big contract but TT was no better last year in 2011-12 under Paul Silas. In addition, young players like Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist developed solidly under Dunlap, which was pretty much the only goal for the team anyway.

Michael Jordan has hired three obscure coaches now (Leonard Hamilton in Washington, Dunlap and Sam Vincent in Charlotte) and has dumped them all within one season.  The utter lack of organizational strategy is troubling.   The Bobcats are supposed to develop the youngsters and stink enough to get a high draft pick or two more.  MJ seemed to come to terms with this when he fired Larry Brown and let the vets go but it appears his attention is now wavering again.  There is nothing worse than floundering between strategies.

Cleveland Cavaliers

4/18       Fired head coach Byron Scott

4/24       Named Mike Brown head coach

It seemed that Brown got a raw deal last time in Cleveland when he was abruptly let go apparently to woo back LeBron James.  Brown was solid enough in Cleveland and his defensive schemes should help the Cavs improve their biggest weakness (27th on defense last year).  In all, he is a upgrade (though not a great one) over Scott.  Brown’s return, though, raises the more interesting academic question: how many coaches have had two tenures with one franchise and how did they do in round two?  Let’s take a look to see what hope the Cavs should have with Brown (For this review, we will exclude interim coaches who have had a sprinkling of cameos with one franchise):

Mavericks, Dick Motta: Motta was the Mavs’ first coach from 1980-81 to 1986-87.  He was 55-27 that last year but resigned after the Mavs had a disappointing first round upset by the Sonics.   He was brought back in 1994-95 after Quinn Buckner flamed out with a 13-69 record in 1993-94 and had got into arguments with the young talent (Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn).  The Mavs felt Motta would mesh better with rookie Jason Kidd, as well as Jackson and Mashburn.   The team improved markedly to 36-46 but regressed to 26-56 the following season and Motta was let go again.

Nuggets, Dan Issel: Issel, a franchise hero, helped develop a young core from 1992-93 to 1994-95, including a stunning upset of the Sonics in the 1993-94 playoffs.  Issel abruptly resigned in the middle of 1994-95 citing burnout (Denver was 18-16 at the time).  Issel returned in 1999-00 and given control of the franchise.  He piddled around .500 for two seasons before getting fired after a 9-17 start in 2001-02 near or around the time that he yelled a racial slur at a fan.

Warriors, Don Nelson: Good old Nellie.  He built some fun teams from 1988-89 through 1994-95 before being fired after botching the Chris Webber saga.  Despite leaving with hard feelings, Nelson was brought back in 2006-07.  He coached a big upset of the one seed Mavs in the 2006-07 playoffs and the team won 48 games in 2007-08 (but missed the playoffs).  At that point, Nelson seemed to lose interest.  He apparently lobbied against his own GM Chris Mullin and tried to get a buyout so he could retire to Hawaii.  After to 20-something win seasons, Nelson was set to return in 2010-11 but was so apathetic he was able to convince the Warriors to let him go shortly before training camp.

Lakers, Phil Jackson: This is obviously the most successful return coach (two titles in his second run in L.A.).  Of course, Jackson’s departure and return (and recent near re-return) are a special case and he is such a coaching legend that he can basically pick his gigs.  While we are looking at the Lakers, let’s give a special nod to John Kundla, the Lakers’ title coach in the 1950s with George Mikan and crew.  Kundla left as coach after the 1956-57 season when they went 34-38 (though the team still made the conference finals).  Kundla moved up to become GM and persuaded the recently retired Mikan to coach.  Mikan started out 9-30 and was fired by Kundla.  Mikan’s firing was not as professional as the ones today when the fired coach thanks management for the opportunity.  Mikan told the press that he knew he didn’t coach well but did blame Kundla for trading to scorer Clyde Lovellette the year before: “Kundla made that deal.  I didn’t, and I wouldn’t have.”  These were surprisingly combative words for Mikan, considering that Kundla worked together for so long.  Kundla went back into coaching the rest of the season and went 10-23.  The next season Kundla went 33-39 but still made a run to the NBA Finals with a rookie named Elgin Baylor.  Kundla quit at the end of the year to coach the University of Minnesota.  The story was that Kundla heard that the team was soon to be moving to L.A. and he didn’t want to go anywhere.  Kundla coached nine years in college but never made the tournament (he was 110-105 overall) and quit in 1967-68.

Memphis, Lionel Hollins: By our standard of review, Hollins isn’t really a return coach.  He was an interim coach for the Vancouver Grizz in 1999-00 (where we went 18-42).  In 2004-05, Hollins went 0-4 in four games between Hubie Brown’s resignation and Mike Fratello’s hiring.  Lastly, Hollins got the permanent job also as an interim replacement for Marc Iavaroni in 2008-09.  As you probably remember, Hollins’ last gig worked out pretty well and the Grizz turned into a perennial playoff team.  In retrospect, it is funny that the Grizz saw fit to give him the permanent job after going 13-26 in 2008-09 yet let him walk after going 56-26 this year.  Life isn’t simple and we have some idea why this happened now but this is one of those cases where looking at raw data misses a lot of the story.

Miami, Pat Riley: Riley is also not a pure return candidate.  After a nice tenure in the 1990s, Riley abruptly quit right before the 2003-04 season.  The team was coming off of two terrible seasons and, at the time he resigned, Riley said that the team needed “a new voice” and set it up so long time assistant Stan Van Gundy would get that chance while Riley went to the front office.  We all remember what happened after that…Van Gundy ended up with a much better team than expected but was forced out when he didn’t mesh with Shaquille O’Neal.  Riley returned and won another title before tanking the team again to set up cap room for a new coach (Erik Spoelstra) and a run at LBJ and Chris Bosh.

New York, Red Holzman: Holzman was the the Knick coach during the glory years of Willis Reed and Walt Frazier.  Holzman started out in 1968-69 in New York and won two titles and hung around with the team until 1976-77.  Those final three season of Holzman’s first tenure the team had sank back down to .500 and the aging core was not replaced.  According to a 1978 Sport Illustrated article written by John Papanek, management felt the game had passed Holzman by and he was forced into a consultant role in favor of rookie coach Reed.  Reed’s team was slightly better (43-39) but he chafed management and was fired after a 6-8 start in 1978-79.  GM Sonny Werblin fired Reed not because of his record but because Reed complained publicly about management decisions.  When Reed demanded a public vote of confidence, that was the end.  Werblin said: “I told Willis maybe a dozen times that we were all in this together, that he could not play himself against management and do his talking through the papers.”  Holzman, calling himself a “company man” agreed to return as coach.   He lasted four seasons this time, including one 50-32 season before being replaced by Hubie Brown in 1982-83.

Seattle, Lenny Wilkens: Wilkens was first a player-coach for the early Sonics (1968-1972).  The team improved in all three seasons and Wilkens was a star player but was traded for the younger Butch Beard.   The Sonics who had won 47 games in 1971-72 under Wilkens fell to 26-56 with Beard at the point.  Wilkens played a few more years (including a couple as player-coach in Portland). After retirement as a player, Wilkens came back to coach the Sonics in 1977-78 season.  The team had fired coach Bob Hopkins who had started off 5-17.  Wilkens led the team to a 42-18 torrid finish and made it to the NBA Finals (losing to the Bullets).  Wilkens’ Sonics won the NBA title the next season and he remained coach through 1984-85.

Orlando, Brian Hill: Hill’s first run in Orlando coincided with the Shaq-Penny glory years.  Hill led the team to the 1994-95 Finals and they looked up and coming.  Hill, however, was knocked by Shaq behind the scenes, including a game when Shaq refused to tell Hill whether he would be available to play in a nationally televised game.  O’Neal showed up late in front of all the cameras and made Hill look like he had no control over the franchise.  When Shaq left after the 1995-96 season management made a point of sticking with Hill.  Alas, Penny Hardaway was no easier to deal with.  Hardaway led a coup that got Hill fired after a 24-25 start in 1996-97.   Hill was brought back in 2005-06 to coach an Orlando team led by Steve Francis and a rookie named Dwight Howard.  After two .500ish seasons, Hill was let go again.

Philadelphia, Alex Hannum: The legendary coach spent 1960-61 to 1962-63 coaching the Syracuse Nats but left the team to coach the San Francisco Warriors with Wilt Chamberlain.  When Dolph Schayes couldn’t get a title out of the Wilt 76ers teams, Hannum was brought to Philly in 1966-67.  It was the greatest seaon the Sixers have ever had.  The Sixers had a legendary 68-13 season and won the title (Wilt averaged about a triple-double).  Hannum followed this up with a 62-20 season but was upset by the Celtics in the playoffs.  After the season, the Sixers traded Wilt and Hannum jumped to the ABA’s Oakland Oaks (who went 60-18 and won the ABA title behind Rick Barry).

Phoenix, Cotton Fitzsimmons: Fitzimmons won at least 53 games for the Suns from 1988-89 to 1991-92 before retiring to become a consultant.  He returned halfway through the 1995-96 seasons because he had a good relationship with star Charles Barkley and the team was floundering at 14-19.  Fitzsimmons led the team to a 27-22 finish and the playoffs.  Barkley was traded after the season but Fitzsimmons returned as coach only to start off 0-8 and quit again (he was replaced by Danny Ainge, who led the team to a 40-34 finish and the playoffs again).

Washington, Gene Shue: Shue had a nice run with the Bullets from 1966-67 to 1972-73.  The teams were usually in the playoffs and made one NBA Finals (where they were swept by the Kareem/Oscar Bucks in 1970-71).   After the 1972-73, Shue resigned “to look into other things.”   Those things were the Philly 76ers job, which he held until 1977-78, when he was replaced by Billy Cunningham.  Shue returned to the Bullets in 1980-81, just in time to catch the end of the Bullets 1970s dynasty.   Shue spent the next six years dancing around .500 with the Bullets.  His most telling quote about that time (courtesy of Sport Illustrated): “Without [Jeff Ruland] we’re an average team.  In fact, with him we’re an average team.”

Denver Nuggets

6/6         Fired head coach George Karl

6/25       Named Brian Shaw

Granted, it’s nice to see Shaw get a shot at coaching but the abrupt severing of ties with George Karl is probably not a good indicator.   Karl’s unique system of defensive swarming and depth is not easily replicated (the Sonics fell apart shortly after he left in 1998-99).  We’ll give Shaw the benefit of the doubt that he can keep this team effective but regression seems likely.

Detroit Pistons

4/18       Fired head coach Lawrence Frank

It’s hard to say Frank did a great job in Detroit as the team struggled on both ends of the floor.  Still, he wasn’t exactly working with great building blocks and his work with the young talent Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond was the highlight for Detroit.  I would’ve given Frank the shot to at least see this through one more season.  Frank has landed on his feet as Jason Kidd’s number one assistant.

Los Angeles Clippers

6/25       Named Doc Rivers head coach

In a vacuum, the Clipps overpaid in terms of compensation and draft picks for a good coach.  Doc has been very nice the last few years but it’s an open question that he can parlay the success of the KG/Pierce teams to a totally new scenario (remember, Rivers was only decent in Orlando and not so great before KG came to Boston).  The recent success, though, does indicate that he has improved as a coach.  More importantly, bringing in Rivers was the price to keep Chris Paul.  Viewed in that context, the move was a no-brainer and the Clipps would’ve paid more if they had to just to keep the CP3 happy.

Los Angeles Lakers

6/29       Waived Chris Duhon

The trend line is looking very bad for Duhon.  He is now 31 and hasn’t had a double digit PER since 2009-10.  He may land somewhere as a hustling guard but he’ll be lucky to get major minutes anywhere in the NBA next year.

Memphis Grizzlies

6/27       Named Dave Joerger head coach

Joerger is a longtime Grizz assistant and the hope is that he can keep the team on the same roll as Lionel Hollins.  The hiring does seem to be an indicator that they believe there won’t be any drop off.   It’s tough to let a successful coach go but there is a decent track record for assistants stepping in fairly smoothly (notably Jeff Van Gundy for Pat Riley in New York).

Milwaukee Bucks

5/1         Fired head coach Jim Boylan

5/31       Named Larry Drew head coach

The Bucks are apparently not gutting the team and, instead, want to try to push for the playoffs next year.   The wisdom of this plan can (and should) be questioned but Drew has hit that goal regularly in Atlanta.   Of course, Drew had much more talent than the Bucks have right now but if they bring in talent, he can coach it well enough to keep them in the mix for a 7 or 8 seed.  In terms of actual coaching style, Drew emphasized a slow paced defensive grind it out system Atlanta, which is precisely what the Bucks just had with Scott Skiles.  Yes, you can feel the joy being sucked out of Bucks fans with that last sentence.

Minnesota Timberwolves

5/7         Named Flip Saunders president of basketball operations

5/10       Waived Brandon Roy

7/6         Waived Mickael Gelabale and Greg Stiemsma

Prodigal son Flip has returned to the fold.  I’m not quite sure that in Saunders resume as a mostly solid coach proves that he can run a basketball team but we do know that he isn’t David Kahn, which is a start.   Saunders has some serious work to do here (pirmarkily, figuring out whether to pay Nikola Pekovic this summer and getting the team to improve before Kevin Love’s opt out hits in 2015).

Philadelphia 76ers

4/18       Relieved Doug Collins of head coach position and made him consultant

5/14       Named Sam Hinkie general manager

That is a very nice turn of events.  The Collins-Rod Thorn group wasn’t bad but no long term plan really existed.  Now, Hinkie has come in and pulled off the coup of the draft in getting Nerlens Noel (and a draft pick) for a pretty good point guard.   The Sixers are set up to have two shots at Andrew Wiggins and another high draft pick to go with Noel.   Given that Philly will surely stink next season, expect Hinkie to get something for Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young in the next few months.

Phoenix Suns

5/7         Named Ryan McDonough general manager

5/28       Named Jeff Hornacek head coach

6/29       Waived Hamed Haddadi

Once again, we have a young stats-inclined GM and another unproven assistant made a head coach.  The duo seems sharp to start but no matter who is running the team, none of this will matter unless Robert Sarver opens up the purse strings.

Sacramento Kings

5/31       Fired head coach Keith Smart

6/16       Named Pete D’Alessandro general manager and Mike Malone head coach

D’Alessandro has been in front offices for a while (with the Warriors from 2004-08 and more recently with Denver).   The reports indicate that he is considered intelligent and hardworking but, like many of the new hires noted above, is really a blank slate.   Malone is also a newbie but was credited for building the Warriors defense the last few years.

Toronto Raptors

5/31       Named Masai Ujiri general Manager

Raptor fans, your long national nightmare is over.  Bryan Colangelo will remain with the Raptors as a consultant but Ujiri has the personnel power.  Ujiri was successful on all of his major transactions in Denver and there is every reason to believe he will continue to do so in Canada.   Ujiri now must deconstruct the rot of some bad ideas that are left over.   The core of athletic non-shooting guards Rudy Gay and DeMar Derozan ain’t a pretty sight.  Unfortunately, Gay, Derozan, Kyle Lowry, and Amir Johnson isn’t quite bad enough to compete for a top lottery pick.  Presumably, Ujiri will try to move Gay and Lowry for draft picks/expiring contracts and try to see if Jonas Valnciunas can develop.

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