5 Signs That an NBA Team Has Quit on Its Head Coach

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2014

5 Signs That an NBA Team Has Quit on Its Head Coach

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    NBA coaches wouldn't hold their positions without a deep understanding of the sport and all of its intricacies.

    Somewhere along the line, they convinced a general manager with a job opening that they could craft the optimal game plan to put players in the best chance to compete for a championship.

    Game management is a must for getting one foot in the door. Balancing personalities, though, is what keeps coaches on the payroll.

    By nature, this is an ego-driven league. With millions of people competing for some 450 jobs, confidence isn't an advantageit's a necessity. There are too many potential pitfalls on the way to an NBA career for players to entertain even the slightest of doubts in their abilities.

    For coaches, this paints them into an almost impossible corner. There are so many egos to stroke and only so many minutes to go around.

    Complete happiness is unattainable, but contentment is enough. If a coach has a vision worth selling and the means to deliver it to his roster, that's when greatness can happen. The coach has complete control to institute that system he once sold to an executive, and the players can fully commit to the game's ultimate goals.

    Not every coach has that luxury.

    Whether inept or simply unfortunate, some have to desperately cling to a fractured locker room. Once their words stop reaching their players, their next move often takes them to the unemployment line.

    How do coaches know when they're playing with fire? Well, if any of these things start happening, it's probably time to dust off their resumes and brush up their interviewing skills.

When a Team Squanders a 5-on-4 Advantage

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Technically, the Cleveland Cavaliers didn't have a five-on-four advantage.

    But the Los Angeles Lakers entered Quicken Loans Arena Wednesday night with eight healthy bodies, then lost two of them to injury and had another two foul out.

    Lakers center Robert Sacre would've been the last to go, but the NBA doesn't actually force teams to play a lopsided numbers game. Sacre got to stay, but he was assessed a technical foul along with his sixth personal and would be hit with additional techs for every foul he committed over the final 3:32 of the game.

    Despite this obvious green light hovering over their goal, the Cavs opted not to attack the basket. Rather, they pounded the ball, turned it over or forced contested jumpers.

    L.A.'s junior varsity squad, which entered the contest of a seven-game losing streak, hung an embarrassing 119-108 loss on the playoff-hopeful Cavs. Cleveland general manager Chris Grant was removed from his post less than 24 hours later, as first reported by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Grant's dismissal wasn't a direct result of that game, just as its outcome wasn't the only indicator Mike Brown had lost his team. This was simply the loudest and most identifiable explosion inside the tire fire.

    Brown's best player, Kyrie Irving, had reportedly checked out on him long ago. "He’s acting like he doesn’t care," a Cavs player said of the All-Star, via Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.

    Luol Deng, essentially a Band-Aid brought in to cover Cleveland's gushing wounds, reportedly encountered a grisly scene upon his arrival. "The stuff going on in practice would never be tolerated by the coaching staff or the front office back in Chicago," he reportedly told a close friend, via Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News. "It’s a mess."

    If Brown couldn't sense the filth building inside his home on his own, at least there's enough evidence coming in to help him reach that conclusion.

When Starters and Reserves Start Clashing with the Coach

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The pieces Detroit Pistons mad scientist general manager Joe Dumars has assembled fit together about as well as hand-licking Hedo Turkoglu would with a germaphobe.

    As ill-fitting as these players may be, they all seem to have one thing in common—a rocky relationship with head coach Maurice Cheeks.

    Those keeping track of his clashes have likely filled a few notebooks at this point.

    He said starting point guard Brandon Jennings, a five-year veteran, still doesn't know how to play the position, per Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press (via PistonPowered.com). He had a "nose-to-nose confrontation" with Jennings' backup, Will Bynum, and snapped rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's string of 40 consecutive starts during Detroit's 112-98 loss to the lowly Orlando Magic Wednesday, via David Mayo of MLive.com.

    He's benched prized offseason signing Josh Smith for the entire second half on two occasions. Cheeks even removed him from the starting lineup on Nov. 22 after the Atlanta native stayed an extra night in his hometown and wound up missing a practice he didn't realize was going to take place.

    He gave Andre Drummond, Detroit's 6'10", 270-pound, 20-year-old package of limitless potential, two lightning quick benchings (one just 11 seconds into his run) during Detroit's 10-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 26. He's given Greg Monroe more crunch-time rest than the big man would like and shuffled his reserves in and out of his rotation.

    The Pistons have too much talent to be sitting nine games below .500 (20-29). If they don't seem to have much fight, maybe that's because they're not crazy about the guy leading them into battle.

When an Owner Debates His Coach's Future Inside of the Locker Room

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Hot seats are part of the position for New York City coaches. It's the perk everyone receives, but no one ever requests.

    After guiding the New York Knicks to 54 wins last season, Mike Woodson has his team on pace for only 32 of them this time around. Throw in the uncertainty surrounding Carmelo Anthony's future, and Woodson's spent most of this season atop a raging inferno.

    But again, it's the Big Apple. That's simply par for the course.

    What turned this slippery slope into an all-out free-fall, though, was a recent report that Woodson's coaching future with the Knicks was openly discussed inside the team's locker room.

    According to Frank Isola of the New York Daily NewsKnicks owner James Dolan met with Anthony and at least one another player in the locker room Wednesday to discuss the direction this team is going and whether Woodson needs to be removed from the picture.

    League sources told ESPN New York's Ian Begley that some players have become frustrated with Woodson's criticisms of the team's effort and relayed those concerns to the front office.

    The drastic drop in performance from last season came without a dramatic overhaul of the roster. New York made some moves over the summer, but eight of Woodson's 10 most used players this season were part of his top 10 in 2012-13.

    The names are the same, but the results couldn't be any different. That's never a good sign for a coach's job security.

When Players Bring Stat Sheets to Their Postgame Interviews

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    USA TODAY Sports

    On paper, the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers boasted one of the finest collections of talent the NBA has ever seen.

    With potentially four future Hall of Famers (Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard) in the same starting lineup, L.A. had the type of team that shouldn't have been tested before the second round of the playoffs, at the earliest.

    Of course, the Lakers never made it that far. They finished the season with 45 wins, 37 losses, three different coaches and zero playoff victories.

    Injuries played a role in their demise, although L.A. did get 253 combined regular-season appearances out of its fantastic four. What really undid this on-paper championship shoe-in were multiple breakdowns in the personnel department.

    Howard never committed to Mike D'Antoni's system, asking for post touches when the coach—and the stat sheet—said he should be crushing pick-and-rolls. When Howard wasn't getting the touches he wanted, he reportedly brought around a stat sheet to show his teammates and reporters, via Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding, then with the Orange County Register.

    Bryant wanted Howard to fall in line, while the big man itched for the Mamba's No. 1 spot. Gasol was miscast as a stretch 4, then later banished to the second team. Nash drifted in and out of the offense, serving largely as a floor spacer when his body allowed him to play.

    Bryant and Howard were reportedly at each other's throats. While the two tried to downplay the tension, a teammate later confirmed it was every bit as bad as it sounded.

    "Whatever you say happened between the coaching staff, Kobe and Dwight – it was a combination of everything," Antawn Jamison said, via Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com. "Not understanding roles. Not being up front with roles. Our two superstars didn’t get along. Inside the organization as far as which coach to bring in. With that talent, that’s tough to deal with."

    What could have been a historically special team unraveled into a group of individuals with different motives and separate goals. That's basically the definition of a lost locker room.

When Coach of the Month Honors Are Followed by Walking Papers

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Under the best circumstances, the NBA season is a grind. With 82 games to find one's identity, it's a series of minor peaks and valleys that ideally sees a team hitting its stride just in time for the postseason.

    Avery Johnson's 2012-13 campaign was nothing like that at all.

    Roller coaster isn't the right way to describe it. Not unless you know of one that starts with a euphoric ascent and ends with a terrifying plummet into nothingness.

    His Brooklyn Nets strapped on their sprinting shoes right out of the gate. Just 15 games into the season, Brooklyn had already tallied two five-game winning streaks. The second carried the Nets through the end of November, making Johnson as easy choice for the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month award.

    Less than 15 games later, Johnson was out of work.

    That second five-game spurt was immediately followed by a five-game skid. After putting back-to-back tallies in the win column, Brooklyn dropped three more games. Another victory brought brief reprieve, but two more losses sealed his fate.

    A 3-10 stretch seemed troubling, but his dismissal still seemed like an awfully quick trigger. Something had to be going on behind the scenes.

    Not surprisingly, it was. 

    Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports said the consensus was Johnson "had lost too much of this locker room." Deron Williams, who had criticized Johnson's offense earlier in the season, was reportedly a piece of that fraction. The biggest one, in fact. A friend of Johnson said his star point guard "totally quit on Avery," via Bleacher Report's Howard Beck, then with The New York Times.

    Brooklyn's rapid rise never could have happened if Johnson didn't have talent on the roster. Once that talent tuned him out, though, his demise was inevitable.