- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

NBA coaches have become glorified temps.

They are hired today, only to be fired tomorrow.

The quality of their work is increasingly incidental.

Byron Scott was fired midway through the season after leading the previously dysfunctional Nets to two consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals.

Scott was not fired because of any notable deficiency with the X’s and O’s. He was fired because of his fractious relationship with Jason Kidd.

Take the firing of Eric Musselman last week.

Lost in the rush to psychoanalyze Mike Montgomery’s decision to leave Stanford was Musselman’s productiveness with the Warriors.

He posted a 75-89 record in two seasons, removing the hopelessness that had come to be attached to the Warriors.

Before Musselman showed up to work, the Warriors were arguably the worst franchise in the NBA, in the clutches of a five-season no-show.

They were 21-61 in 2002, 17-65 in 2001, 19-63 in 2000, 21-29 in 1999 and 19-63 in 1998. It is awfully hard to sustain that level of incompetence, if only because bad teams pick higher in the draft than good teams each year.

As bad as the Wizards were this season — and they were bad — they won 25 games.

In the pre-Musselman days of the Warriors, a 25-win season would have been cause to hold a celebration in downtown Oakland.

Musselman changed the culture of losing with the Warriors, as the team posted a 38-44 record in his first season, the franchise’s best mark since 1994.

Even in this injury-marred season — there were times the Warriors lacked enough healthy bodies to hold a practice — Musselman managed a respectable 37-45 mark.

No matter. It was not good enough. He had to go.

They always have to go in the end. That is just the way it is, which is fine to a point.

As it has been said since perhaps the days of the peach basket, it is easier to fire the coach than the players.

But these days, the NBA’s practice of firing the coach has become absurd, if not counterproductive.

It is this ludicrous: Bernie Bickerstaff became the general manager and coach of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats last October. Bickerstaff, of course, has a 0-0 record, which undoubtedly is a good thing for him.

Here is the funny part: In terms of longevity, Bickerstaff ranks fourth among the coaches in the Eastern Conference.

He has been on the job only seven months, will not coach the Bobcats in a game until next season, and yet he is already among the leaders in seniority.

With teams changing coaches like socks, the lack of continuity becomes pronounced.

Every coach has his system. Every coach has his way of relating to the players. Every coach has his idiosyncrasies. There is always an adjustment period, which almost has become a luxury in this climate.

Not too long ago, a coach might be given a couple of seasons to show his best stuff. Someone like Musselman, given his encouraging circumstances, would have been given another season or two to see if he could lead the Warriors into the playoffs.

Instead, he is unemployed, back in the pool of ex-coaches looking to land somewhere.

The players are smart enough to recognize the trend and inclined to use it to their advantage. It is no secret the Nets stopped playing with conviction under Scott. As soon as he was let go — surprise — the Nets went on a 14-game winning streak under Lawrence Frank.

Loyalty is no small element in the game. Players and coaches have to trust one another to maximize their abilities.

But if senior management treats most of the coaching fraternity like a month-old carton of milk, the message is hard to ignore. There is no genuine sense of loyalty in the business.

Can a 57-year-old college coach succeed with Golden State?

That is hardly the point nowadays.

Successful or not, Montgomery will be fired soon enough.

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