Most Bitter NBA Player-Coach Feuds in Recent History

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 29, 2013

Most Bitter NBA Player-Coach Feuds in Recent History

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    The Milwaukee Bucks look lost right now.

    Their playoff lives are probably safe, thanks to a dramatic talent gap between the Eastern Conference haves and have-nots.

    But it's looking like any looming sleeper status the Bucks may have once had may already be in hibernation mode. The Bucks have lost seven of their last nine games and are now just 8-9 since landing J.J. Redick at the trade deadline.

    But Milwaukee's problems on the court have now taken a backseat to a potential disaster off it.

    In the Bucks' latest showing—an unnerving 100-92 loss to the 28-43 Andrew Bynum-less Philadelphia 76ers—Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan benched a scoreless Brandon Jennings for nearly the entire second half (via Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).

    Not surprisingly, Jennings was livid. "There's no maxed-out (contract) players in this locker room; there's no all-stars," he said. "So don't try to put me on a pedestal and just give everybody else the freedom to do whatever they want."

    Jennings openly questioned his boss' decision in the way that would get most people fired. Then again, most of us aren't making more in a month than our boss will for the year.

    But in the grand scheme of player-coach feuds, there have been some far more spirited and lengthy beefs.

6. Van Gundy Disses the Diesel

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    Remember the days when teams only needed two superstar players to win a title? Well Miami Heat fans—the ones who supported South Beach long before LeBron James arrived—should.

    When the team paired up-and-comer Dwyane Wade with a close-to-his-prime Shaquille O'Neal in the summer of 2004, the investment returns were both instant and magnificent. An Eastern Conference Finals appearance greeted the tandem, who brought Miami its first NBA title just a season later.

    Yet, even during the franchise's successes, a feud loomed between then-coach Stan Van Gundy and his man in the middle, O'Neal.

    O'Neal questioned his coach's decision to ride a hobbled Dwyane Wade down the stretch of Miami's Game 7 loss to Detroit in the 2004 conference finals (via Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post).

    In his book "Shaq Uncut: My Story" the Diesel took no responsibility for Van Gundy's ousting in the early goings of the 2005-06 season, but claimed that he and his teammates knew the coach was "a dead man walking" that year (via Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel).

    Van Gundy later fueled the fire by saying that O'Neal flopped against Dwight Howard when the big man was playing for the Phoenix Suns, and O'Neal was suiting up for the Phoenix Suns in the 2008-09 season.

    O'Neal fired back, calling Van Gundy a "front-runner" and a "master of panic," then quipped that he "(saw) why everybody who plays for him doesn't like him," (via Chris Sheridan of ESPN).

    It was quite the rage-filled response, considering O'Neal also admitted that the play in question "probably was a flop."

5. Detroit Pistons vs. John Kuester

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    Richard Hamilton was one of the integral pieces that sent Shaquille O'Neal, Stan Van Gundy and the rest of the Heat home in the Pistons' seven-game series win in 2004. John Kuester was also a part of that Pistons team serving as an assistant to then-coach Larry Brown, the man responsible for orchestrating the team's title run.

    When Kuester was named the team's head coach in 2009, he and Hamilton were among the few holdovers from that championship team.

    But any hope of rediscovering any lingering magical remnants was quickly lost as the team stumbled to a 27-55 record in Kuester's rookie campaign. Detroit's paltry .329 winning percentage was its lowest mark since the 1994-95 season.

    Hamilton wasn't horrendous in Kuester's first season (18.1 points per game), but he was a volume scorer in the worst sense of the phrase. His 40.9 field-goal percentage still stands as the worst shooting performance of his 14-year career.

    Hamilton's production dipped further in the 2010-11 season (14.1 points per game). And the situation grew uglier by the day.

    In a January practice that season, Hamilton verbally assaulted his coach in front of his teammates, saying Kuester had blown his opportunity in Detroit and called him nothing more than a career assistant coach (via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports).

    Shortly thereafter, Hamilton's box scores were freed of all volume efforts, replaced by a string of DNPs. 

    The decision certainly didn't resonate well with Hamilton's teammates. The soft-spoken Tayshaun Prince called the move "buffoonery" (via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated).

    Former backcourt mate Chauncey Billups couldn't believe what he saw, saying in his mind Hamilton was "Pistons royalty." Hamilton, Prince, Tracy McGrady and Chris Wilcox skipped a morning shootaround in protest (via Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press).

    Clearly, the coach needed a chat with his star player. But when he asked Pistons head of security Jerry Hendon to summon his star, Hamilton felt disrespected that his coach didn't come directly to him.

    Hamilton was waived by the Pistons on Dec. 12, 2011, lasting six months longer than Kuester who was fired in July that year.

4. Sloan Calls It Quits

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    Bring up the name Jerry Sloan to any Utah Jazz fan and the words "legend' and "genius" may shortly follow.

    Ask them about Deron Williams, though, and the words they'd spew are things that I can't write here.

    In the 2010-11 season, Sloan was the longest-tenured coach in the league. He had designed the prolific pick-and-roll attack of John Stockton and Karl Malone. He pushed the Jazz back onto the NBA landscape with another dynamic inside-outside tandem of Williams and Carlos Boozer.

    When Boozer bolted for the Chicago Bulls over the summer of 2010 and the front office replaced him with the stationary Al Jefferson, Sloan lost the mobile big who made his system go. Boozer's loss had little effect on Williams, though, as he continued his elite-level play (21.3 points and 9.7 assists per game for the 2010-11 season).

    But Williams was no star pupil. He repeatedly clashed with his coach throughout the season, with Sloan feeling nothing remotely supportive coming from the front office.

    The pair's souring relationship came to the forefront during a halftime altercation during a February game with the Chicago Bulls. The confrontation was so fiery that some Jazz players reportedly feared that the two would come to blows (via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports).

    That spat never reached a physical level, but its effect packed a mighty punch. Sloan vacated his position after nearly 23 years of service.

    As for Williams, his Jazz tenure came to a close shortly after. He was shipped to the New Jersey Nets at the 2011 trade deadline.

3. Stan Van Gundy's Dwightmare

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    A lot of these feuds have taken place behind close doors, with fans forced to piece together reports and exaggerate any apparent signs of disagreement.

    But Dwight Howard's lengthy departure from the Orlando Magic played out in plain sight, joining O.J. Simpson's low-speed chase as one of the rare moments of painfully boring, yet intoxicating must-see television.

    And once again, Stan Van Gundy found himself on the wrong end of a dispute with a dominant big man.

    Howard's impending free agency had Orlando scrambling to cater to his desires in a desperate attempt to replace his major market hopes with on-court success. But with his teammates constantly peppered with "Will he stay or will he go" questions, the Magic struggled to retain any Eastern Conference relevance.

    The Magic won 52 games in 2010-11, but the team looked spent by the time the playoffs rolled around. The Atlanta Hawks bounced Orlando in six games in the opening round.

    When Howard opted-in to the final year of his contract, you could hear the collective groan from the Orlando locker room everywhere. But if Magic players were expecting just another season of the incessant media attention, they had to be blind-sided by what actually took place.

    The questions didn't stop. They spiraled out of control over an apparent disconnect between Howard and Van Gundy. That word "apparent" was removed from the equation when Van Gundy told reporters that he'd been told by Orlando management that Howard wanted him fired (via Ian O'Connor of ESPN NewYork).

    When Howard sauntered into the same impromptu unaware of Van Gundy's revelation, you could feel the awkwardness creep into your living room. Howard denied making any claims along those lines, but an Orlando TV station reported that he made that request directly to Orlando owner Rich DeVos (via ESPN).

    No matter how rocky Howard's first season with the Los Angeles Lakers has been, he'd take those struggles in waves over what transpired last season.

    Howard, Van Gundy and Magic general manager Otis Smith were all gone from Orlando over that summer.

2. Thomas and Marbury Get Physical

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    Sports feuds are often linked with soap operas by an overzealous media member looking for a story to tell.

    But the rift between Stephon Marbury and coach Isiah Thomas during the pair's days in the New York Knicks reached some levels that daytime television would never go.

    What should have been a homecoming for the New York native, Marbury was anything but. He repeatedly butted heads with then-coach Larry Brown, who was fired after an abysmal 23-59 2005-06 campaign.

    When NBA legend Isiah Thomas grabbed the reins, it appeared as if the supremely talented—but underperforming player—would finally have the leadership voice he needed to maximize his natural abilities. And Thomas was a major Marbury supporter, trading for the troubled star in his first major move as Knicks team president.

    But the team only won 33 games in Thomas' first season, with Marbury connecting on just 41.5 percent of his field goals.

    When Marbury learned that he had played his way out of Thomas' starting lineup early the next season, he was heated. He ranted to any teammates willing to give him an ear on-board the team plane, saying that the coach "has to start me" since he had "so much (stuff) on Isiah and he knows it," (via Frank Isola of New York Daily News).

    There were even reports that the player and coach had exchanged punches during that flight (via Dan Bollerman and Larry DiTore of Bloomberg).

    Thomas' run of control was so dysfunctional that the franchise eventually had to pay more than $11 million in damages in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought about by former employee Anucha Browne Sanders (via ESPN).

    Marbury has since picked up the remaining pieces of his basketball career in China. Thomas was last seen on the basketball circuit coaching the men's team at Florida International University, where he was fired after three seasons.

1. Sprewell Chokes Carlesimo

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    Golden State Warriors may had a legitimate reason to feel slighted when Stephen Curry was left off the Western Conference All-Star team this season. But that still didn't silence the jubilant eruption heard rumbling throughout Northern California when David Lee ended the team's 16-year All-Star drought.

    The level of celebration wasn't only increased by the fact that Curry was far from the first Warriors' snub during that time (cough, Baron Davis, cough). Rather it represented a big step away from the team's last All-Star—a player at the center of the worst player-coach feud in recent history.

    Latrell Sprewell was immensely talented. He averaged better than 15 points as a rookie in 1992-93, then became a 20-plus-point scorer by his sophomore season. And he matched his offensive prowess with a tenacious effort level on the defensive end where he earned All-Defensive Second-Team honors in his second season in the league.

    Despite building an impressive resume over his 13-year career, though, he's remembered as being anything but a legend. He had a series of mental lapses during his playing days, but his rift with former coach P.J. Carlesimo has moved to the forefront of his lasting legacy.

    Carlesimo landed in Oakland prior to the 1997-98 season after spending the previous three seasons as the Portland Trail Blazers coach. He inherited a Warriors team that had won just 30 games the season before and faced a future without Warriors great Chris Mullin, whom the team had traded that summer.

    Carlesimo knew that he'd need to rely on Sprewell to lead the youthful Warriors. But it wasn't going to be easy to reach his troubled star.

    Three days after missing a team flight for a game against the Utah Jazz, Carlesimo didn't like Sprewell's energy level in practice. The coach challenged Sprewell to improve his effort, specifically to throw crisper passes; Sprewell responded that he didn't "want to hear it today," (via ESPN).

    When Carlesimo approached him, Sprewell warned him to stay away. After Carlesimo kept advancing, Sprewell grabbed his coach and choked him for 15-20 seconds before teammates could pull him away. He left the practice floor only to return 20 minutes later for a second attack, landing a glancing blow.

    Sprewell's days as a Warrior ended almost immediately. He was suspended by commissioner David Stern for 82 games, but an arbitrator reduced that number to 68—the amount of games remaining that season (via ESPN).

    On Jan. 21, 1999, he was traded to the New York Knicks, where he played for the next five seasons.

    Carlesimo was fired in December of that year after the Warriors began its third straight losing season under his direction.