Brent Brown and Franchise Patience

Brent Brown’s recent success in Philadelphia is, in some ways, a vindication of “The Process.”  The more unique aspect of Philly’s rebuilding plan is the patience it had with Brown, who was able to survive four straight seasons of under-.500 non-playoff seasons.  The 76ers were rational enough to figure that Brown’s coaching ability could not realistically be assessed with the bad teams he was coaching.  That got me wondering whether another coach has been able to last as long as Brown.   We went through each franchise to see whether they had any coaches who had a run of more than three seasons without making the playoffs:

-Boston Celtics, Rick Pitino 1997-98 to 2000-01:  Pitino lasted 3.5 seasons of futility before quitting halfway through the 2000-01 season.  Pitino’s failures in Boston are well-chronicled.   Ironically, Boston instantly turned into a playoff team the year after Pitino quit.

-Chicago Bulls, Tim Floyd 1998-99 to 2001-02:  This was the first real “Process.”  Brown didn’t have it this bad.  The post-Michael Jordan Bulls were just awful.  Floyd didn’t break 17 wins his first three seasons before getting canned after starting out 4-21 in 2001-02.   Like Philly, the Bulls had a plan that wasn’t crazy but the execution was bad.  But Chicago whiffed on a few picks (Marcus Fizer, Eddy Curry, Jay Williams) and traded the one great pick they did have (Elton Brand).  On top of that, they blew the coveted cap room on Ron Mercer and Eddie Robinson.

-Cleveland Cavaliers, Bill Fitch 1970-71 to 1974-75:  Fitch was an expansion coach starting from the beginning.  The Cavs slowly improved each season before going 49-33 in 1975-76 and making the Eastern Conference Finals.

-Denver Nuggets, Michael Malone 2014-15 to present:  Malone has been over 40 wins the last two seasons but just missed the playoffs.  It is not likely he can survive a fourth season without a playoff appearance.

-Golden State Warriors, Al Attles 1977-78 to 1982-83:  Attles is a GS legend and had some great runs with Rick Barry in the early 1970s.  The Warriors let him thrash about his final six seasons without a playoff appearance.  Not all these teams were terrible (he was over .500 twice during that time) but six years is a long time to miss the playoffs.

-Houston Rockets, Rudy Tomjanovich 1999-00 to 2002-03:  Similar to Attles, Rudy T limped through his final years in Houston.  Also like Attles, he was actually over .500 half the time but just couldn’t get over the hump despite having Steve Francis and Yao Ming.

-Indiana Pacers, Slick Leonard 1976-77 to 1979-80:  Slick was a successful coach in the ABA and remained the coach when the Pacers came to the NBA.   The Pacers had already lost some of the stars of their peak ABA days before the merger.  Leonard had four 30-something win seasons before being let go.

-Los Angeles Clippers, Mike Dunleavy 2006-07 to 2009-10:  From 1997-98 to 2010-11, the Clipps made the playoffs only one time, in 2005-06 with Dunleavy.  That one season of success bought Dunleavy 3+ more seasons in L.A. before he was fired in mid-2009-10.

-Milwaukee Bucks, Mike Dunleavy 1992-93 to 1995-96:  A second Dunleavy sighting!  Milwaukee hoped to rebuild after the Don Nelson Era with Dunleavy, who had done pretty well with the Lakers.  The Bucks showed little improvement over Dunleavy’s four years, despite hitting on Glenn Robinson and Vin Baker in the draft.

-New York Knicks, Eddie Donovan 1961-62 to 1964-65:  Donovan had a bad ran as coach of the Knicks in the early 1960s.  He is better remembered for becoming the Knicks GM who built the Walt Frazier/Willis Reed title team a few years later.

-Cincinnati Royals/Kansas City Kings, Bob Cousy 1969-70 to 1973-74:  Cousy’s acumen as a player did not translate into coaching.  Cousy had Tiny Archibald and not much else.  According to ESPN, Cousy didn’t want to coach but said he received a “Godfather offer….I did it for the money.  I was made the offer I couldn’t refuse.”

-Washington Bullets, Wes Unseld 1988-89 to 1993-94:  Unseld is the most famous Bullet ever and has remained involved with the franchise to this day.  His run as a coach, however, was truly gross.  The late 1980s/early 1990s Bullets were terrible and boring.  The teams were built around players like Darrell Walker, an older Bernard King, and non-offensive players Charles Jones.  There was no attempt at tanking, just a team with no chance of being good and vets with little upside.  After six years, the Bullets pulled the plug on Unseld.  The damage continued when, despite his coaching record, he was named GM and traded Chris Webber for Mitch Richmond in 1998.

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