Biggest Coaching Fails of 2012-13 NBA Season

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 25, 2013

Biggest Coaching Fails of 2012-13 NBA Season

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    Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel knows NBA sidelines have no room for thin skin.

    His decision to bench Roy Hibbert on both of the Miami Heat's final two offensive possessions in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals has been examined from every angle imaginable since Tuesday night.

    Those in agreement with his idea to replace the lumbering seven-footer in favor of smaller, quicker defenders (first Tyler Hansbrough, then Sam Young) say that's simply how you have to defend Miami's versatile offensive weapons.

    The Heat flanked MVP LeBron James with four shooters, and Hibbert didn't have the quickness to check any of them. With only 2.2 seconds left on the clock for Miami's final trip, denying initial penetration and contesting a jumper (neither of which are Hibbert's strengths) trumped protecting the rim.

    As for those who said he got it wrong, the majority in this debate, they said there's no excuse for removing an intimidating rim protector when the league's best slasher was clearly going to be the focal point of the offense. James exploded for a driving layup on the first chance with 10 seconds left on the clock, then did the very same thing to beat the buzzer and seal Miami's 103-102 overtime victory.

    Vogel himself appeared to be a part of the latter, saying after the game that if presented with the same situation again he "would probably have (Hibbert) in the game," according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.

    Just how bad was Vogel's decision in Game 2? Bad enough to crack this list, but far from the worst coaching fail of the 2012-13 NBA season.

Tom Thibodeau vs. Richard Hamilton

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    Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was the reason his team was able to weather Derrick Rose's return that wasn't. 

    His team was undermanned and overmatched throughout the season. Yet somehow, he helped them carve out a path to 45 regular-season wins built with an unwavering heart and the uncanny ability to just want it more than the opposition on a nightly basis.

    He identified his players early in the year, the guys who could channel their game on both ends of the floor for a full 48 minutes. Either you were 100 percent committed to the game plan, or you had nothing more than a free ticket and a great seat to take in the action.

    Richard Hamilton, a 14-year veteran, was jettisoned to the latter group. After sniffing out nearly 22 minutes a night over 50 games in the regular season (45 of them starts), he was reduced to a pair of garbage-time appearances over Chicago's first 10 playoff games.

    Even with Kirk Hinrich (calf) and Luol Deng (illness) trimmed from his already thin rotation, Thibodeau refused to look in Hamilton's direction over the first three games of Chicago's second-round series with the Miami Heat.

    Thibodeau tried to kick-start his offense with a rookie, Marquis Teague, and a castaway, Daequan Cook, and the results were exactly what you would expect.

    By the time Thibodeau finally returned to Hamilton in Game 4, the damage had already been done. Chicago's spirit had been crushed by Miami's relentless attacks, so Hamilton's strong offensive showing (13.0 points in 28.5 minutes per game) brought nothing more than questions of what could have been.

Frank Vogel Removes His Centerpiece

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    Fool an NBA coach once, it's shame on them. Fool them twice and they're often scouring through the classifieds the next morning.

    Frank Vogel's not browsing through Craigslist yet, but his stock took a massive dive for those fateful 10 seconds of overtime in Game 1.

    He's a numbers guy who massively miscalculated his rotations, and it cost his team a chance to steal home-court advantage. Again, there was a clear logical path to follow behind his decision, but sometimes, coaches get in trouble for overthinking the game.

    He has to remember what brought his team to this stage. Paul George's breakout campaign has been the talk to the hoops world, but Indiana's strength still resides on the low block.

    Vogel's a card-carrying member of the analytics crowd, so what data told him that contesting a clutch-time jumper was a better percentage play than exposing the heart of his defense? How did he miss the fact that 2.2 seconds was more than enough time for James to drive all the way to the basket?

George Karl Can't Stop the Splash Brothers' Water Works

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    The Denver Nuggets lost their identity in the first round.

    What's worse, they weren't even the best team playing Nuggets' basketball.

    The Golden State Warriors were quicker to loose balls, more determined on the offensive glass and more active on the interior.

    Rather than regrouping, Karl seemed to scrap his whole system.

    Kosta Koufos, who started 81 games in the regular season, was plucked out of the starting five. Rookie Evan Fournier, who averaged 11.3 minutes in 38 regular-season games, was thrown out with the starters then tossed to the end of the bench.

    Andre Miller's game-saving effort in the fourth quarter of the series opener bought him minutes for the rest of the series, despite getting continually exposed on the defensive end.

    Denver stopped attacking the basket and started settling for jumpers. The defense couldn't keep track of the Warriors' sharpshooters, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, even when the entire arena knew where the ball was headed.

    From coach of the year to coaching failure? That's what a first-round exit, Denver's ninth in the last 10 years, does.

Mike Woodson Trades Team Play for Hero Ball

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    Mike Woodson was brought in to give the New York Knicks a renewed (O.K. just new) focus on the defensive end.

    Somehow, he wound up creating an offensive juggernaut that helped lead the franchise to its first 50-win season, 54 to be exact, in over a decade.

    With two key contributors (Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire) starting the season on the shelf with knee injuries, Woodson took a less traditional approach to his starting lineup. He moved Carmelo Anthony to power forward and ran out a two-point lineup (Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd).

    Defenses weren't quick enough to react to Woodson's tinkering, and it was bombs away for New York's perimeter attack. Even more impressive, though, was the coach's ability to draw out stifling defensive efforts from his formerly offense-only stars (Anthony, J.R. Smith).

    But it wouldn't last. Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby pushed Anthony back out to the perimeter. Stoudemire and Shumpert got healthy and found their way into Woodson's rotation. Kenyon Martin was added to the roster. 

    Size trumped speed, and the Knicks started showing their age. When the Indiana Pacers showed up on the postseason schedule, Woodson tried to make his team as big as it could get.

    The problem was that those bigger players brought little to nothing offensively. The ball movement that had keyed the Knicks' return to relevance was removed from the equation, replaced by endless isolation plays for Felton, Smith and Anthony.

    New York couldn't match Indiana's defensive effort or fight through it on the offensive end. The Pacers dispatched the Knicks in six games in their second-round series.

P.J. Carlesimo Buys His Ticket out of Brooklyn

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    P.J. Carlesimo's probably right.

    Nothing less than an NBA title was going to save his prime perch at the Barclays Center, and those expectations didn't mesh with the roster he had available to him (via the Associated Press).

    Still that doesn't free him from criticism; he surely had enough talent to outlast the short-staffed Bulls in the first round.

    He sent Gerald Wallace, a blue-collar banger, to an area on the floor where he's rarely found success (31.3 career three-point percentage), then benched the one-time All-Star for not finding it now in his 12th season in the league.

    He refused to roll the dice on any number of young players (Tyshawn Taylor, Tornike Shengelia, Mirza Teletovic and MarShon Brooks). He never decided if he preferred defensive- (Reggie Evans, Keith Bogans) or offensive-minded players (Brooks, Andray Blatche).

    His talent wasn't title-worthy, but certainly built for a better showing than this.

Vinny Del Negro Loses His Locker Room, Then His Job

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    Is there anything worse than being a lame-duck coach in the NBA?

    There is actually, like being a lame-duck coach in charge of a team with championship aspirations.

    It never appeared to be a question of if Vinny Del Negro would be handed his walking papers, but when that day would come. Then his team unleashed a 17-game winning streak, including an unblemished month of December, and we started to wonder if maybe we had sold his stock prematurely.

    We hadn't.

    After his team's strong 25-6 start, it went just 31-20 the rest of the way. Every bit of its season-ending, seven-game winning streak was needed to salvage the fourth seed out West.

    Despite the Clippers' franchise-best 56-26 record, there were severe cracks in the foundation of the roster. The relationship between their two biggest stars, the hyper-competitive Chris Paul and the laid-back Blake Griffin, strained to the point that a sit-down meeting between the pair was needed (via Vincent Bonsignore of the L.A. Daily News).

    Paul's frustrations with the franchise reportedly extending to the man in charge, VDN, according to It wasn't a personal dislike of the man, but rather a resounding distrust that he'd be the one responsible for the Clippers raising their own banner into the crowded Staples Center rafters.

    That lack of faith wasn't misguided, either. Del Negro had no offensive system, other than an aerial assault in the open floor and relying on Paul and Jamal Crawford to create their own chances in the half-court set. L.A.'s miracle season fizzled out with an unsightly six-game exit in the first round.

    There's a reason that Del Negro's former gig is widely considered the best available job on the market; the talent is in place to succeed.

    And there's a reason why the position's open in the first place.

Mike D'Antoni Gets Too...Well...Mike D'Antoni

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    Mike D'Antoni walked into a nearly impossible situation when he joined forces with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    He missed out on all of training camp, all of the preseason and the first 10 games of the regular season. He had to implement his frenetic offensive system on the fly, to convince a number of All-Stars and former All-Stars to adapt to his ways and forget about what had brought them their past successes.

    Pau Gasol left the paint he'd helped control in a pair of championship seasons for a miscast life as a stretch forward, then the Spaniard left the starting 5 when that didn't work. Dwight Howard had to fight to find any offensive touches near the basket, while being tasked with controlling his man and the penetrators motoring past his aging perimeter teammates.

    Steve Nash wasn't healthy enough to orchestrate the offense he was supposed to help convince his teammates was the true path to success. Kobe Bryant tried implementing his own system, one that saw him transition between scoring and distributing roles on a whim.

    D'Antoni didn't have the perimeter shooters he'd built his coaching resume around. His most likely candidates to fill that role either couldn't stay on the floor (Nash) or were shuffled in and out of his rotation (Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison).

    But it wasn't an entirely impossible position.

    In fact, it was a ready-made championship contender if D'Antoni had only taken full advantage of the numerous weapons at his disposal. And not run Bryant (torn Achilles) ragged in the process.

    This was one case where the inmates needed to run the asylum. The Lakers knew how much talent they had and later were forced to acknowledge what a dramatically wasted opportunity they'd just suffered through.

    Oh, and there's one more thing: Howard's decision in free agency.

    At the start of the season, a one-year rental seemed well beyond the realm of possibilities for the star center. But after a disastrous debut season that saw him incredibly overlooked and underused, Howard is reportedly considering taking his talents to four different franchises, according to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News.