The NBA coaching profession is a tough field. Win a championship or get axed seems to be the general rule of thumb. This standard set by disconnected owners and management is unrealistic, unfair and, for the most part, just dumb.
The Golden State Warriors' decision to fire head coach Mark Jackson, making him the most recent victim of the cold coaching world, left the league befuddled.
During Jackson's three years as HC, the Dubs improved their record each year, making back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 1994. Under Jackson, Stephen Curry emerged as a star during the 2013 playoffs, in which the Warriors reached the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2007.
The past three seasons have seen the emergence of the Splash Brothers and the resurgence of Oracle Arena for Golden State. The Warriors' 51 wins this season in a very tough Western Conference was the most wins for the team since the 1991-92 season.
So, what was the problem?
Well, admittedly, even with the 51 wins, this season was a little disappointing.
After last season's success, expectations were extremely high. Klay Thompson and Steph Curry were coming off a red-hot Splash Brothers' 2013 playoff performance, Curry was on the cusp of superstardom and with the addition of Andre Iguodala, the Dubs boasted arguably the best starting five in the league. Golden State would be Finals-bound for the first time since 1975.
As we all know that didn't happen. The Warriors' season was up and down, plagued with injuries and coaching conflicts.
But, despite the ups and downs of the season, the Warrior players wanted their coach.
As reported by Zach Harper of CBSSports.com, the Warriors' star point guard, Stephen Curry, voiced his support for his HC before the official decision was made:
I love Coach more than anybody, and I think for him to be in a situation where his job is under scrutiny and under question is totally unfair. And it would definitely be a shock to me if anything like that were to happen.
Even after the official decision to fire Jackson, it was clear how the players felt about their coach.
The players loved Jackson, but it's not about the players. It's about management, and apparently management didn't share the same admiration as the players did for Jackson.
In an interview with three Bay Area media outlets, Warriors owner Joe Lacob attempted to explain Jackson's firing, as reported by Rusty Simmons of SFGate.com:
In Mark’s next job, he probably needs to do a better job of managing up and sideways. Managing down, managing to his players, he obviously did a pretty good job. Most of his players seem to really like playing for him and played hard for him. That’s really important in the NBA. I would assume if you asked him, he would realize – maybe give him some time to answer this – he could probably do a little better job of managing up and sideways, is the way to put it. I’m not here to bash him or be critical of him. We could do some things better, too. … But this idea of me, I not getting along with him in any way, it’s not that.
Within the interview Lacob also said, there would always be room for improvement in the organization until a championship is won.
In today's sports world, the word 'championship' is always thrown around. Everyone wants that elusive championship. Everyone thinks this is their year for a championship. Everyone is working to build their program and their team for a championship.
But the reality is, not everyone can win a championship.
In the last 20 years, only eight coaches have won an NBA title: Erik Spoelstra, Rick Carlisle, Doc Rivers, Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown, Pat Riley, Rudy Tomjanovich and some guy named Phil Jackson.
And in the past 30 years, only 10 coaches have won a championship.
Those aren't great odds.
And by hiring a new coach, you basically assure your team won't be winning one next year. It took Doc Rivers four years as head coach of the Boston Celtics to win a championship. It took Gregg Popovich three years with the San Antonio Spurs. Even Phil Jackson, who has an amazing 11 championship titles, needed a year under his belt before he won his first championship with the Chicago Bulls.
Larry Brown won his one and only championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004, his first season as head coach of the Pistons. But that was after 30 years of coaching.
You could possibly count Pat Riley's 2006 championship with the Heat as a "first season" championship because it was after his three years removed from coaching, but that gets a little sticky since he had been the head coach for the Miami Heat from 1995 to 2003.
The point is, it's not easy to win a championship, especially as a first-year coach.
Here are a few names being thrown around for the GSW head coaching position: Steve Kerr, Lionel Hollins and Mike D'Antoni.
Steve Kerr, although a great basketball mind and a killer three-point shooter back in the day, has never been a head coach. Lionel Hollins, much like Mark Jackson, was inexplicably fired after leading the Memphis Grizzlies to the best season in franchise history. He is a slow-paced coach, not fit for the fast-paced Warriors.
And Mike D'Antoni was fired from the New York Knicks, then the Los Angeles Lakers, for a number of disappointing seasons. If the Warriors go with D'Antoni, they will be replacing a coach who improved every year, went to the playoffs and won 50-plus games last season with a coach who got fired for an actual reason, like losing.
Are these really better options than Mark Jackson?
Not to me.
Philosophical differences, bad "up and sideways" management, personality differences, whatever reasons management and owners give to why they inexplicably fire successful coaches, only really boil down to one thing: not winning games, but winning championships.
Not everyone can win a championship. It's unfair, and it's just plain dumb. You're not going to win a championship with a brand new coach. Your players will be confused and frustrated. And like the Memphis Grizzlies this year, you'll probably just end up being the same team, just a little bit worse.
Maybe I'm terrible at looking long-term, maybe I'm not seeing what NBA management is seeing, which could very well be true. But to me, the standards are unfair, ridiculous and at the end of the day, a little self-destructive.
Regardless of what I think, being an NBA coach is definitely lucrative, but it's not exactly safe.
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