SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Front offices across the NBA seem to be panicking a bit these days. Job security has long been an oxymoron for coaches in this league, but even by that what-have-you-done-for-me-lately standard, this offseason has been a particularly volatile one.
Twelve coaches have been fired since the season ended, including the coach of the year and five others who led teams to the playoffs.
Setting franchise records for victories in a season gets you fired these days. Leading your team to the Western Conference finals gets you fired these days. One tough season coaching a roster full of dead-legged journeymen and still-learning rookies gets you fired these days.
“Coaching has never been valued less and blamed more,” said ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, former coach of the Knicks and Rockets. “Failure gets you fired and success gets you fired.”
While the ground all around them has never been more unstable, the last two coaches standing this season have found the kind of level footing that has become increasingly rare. The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, tied 2-2 in the NBA Finals heading into Sunday night’s Game 5, have become the models for stability and managed to rise above the chaotic fray engulfing much of the rest of the league.
“I think it’s a terrible state for the profession right now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We see it differently, the San Antonio organization and the Miami Heat organization. (To have) true success in the NBA you must have consistency of culture. When you see that type of turnover over and over and over, it’s impossible to create any kind of sustainable consistent culture.”
The Nuggets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Nets and Hawks all fired their coaches after playoff runs this season. The Bobcats fired Mike Dunlap after one season on the job, while Mike Brown made it all of five games into his second season with the Lakers before he was run out of town.
Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov fired two coaches this season _ Avery Johnson less than a month after he was the Eastern Conference coach of the month and P.J. Carlesimo after the Nets lost to the Bulls in the playoffs.
“It’s disappointing that Lionel Hollins takes his team to the Western Conference finals and they are going to go in another direction,” Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Magic Johnson said last week about the situation in Memphis. “You can’t get better than Lionel Hollins, and you can’t get better with what you have; just a tremendous season.
“Do I like what’s going on today? No.”
Warren LeGarie represents some of the biggest names in the coaching business, including Hollins. He said he doesn’t see a crisis brewing, but he does believe periods of upheaval like this “are going to become more common than not.”
“No matter what, you’ve got to keep your seat belts fastened because there’s a lot of turbulence out there,” LeGarie said. “I tell my guys to try to improve their relationship with the front office as much as possible and keep the lines of communication open. No one likes surprises.”
George Karl led the Nuggets to the playoffs in all eight of his seasons and earned coach of the year honors this year after helping a starless team set a franchise record with 57 victories. He told The Denver Post that he thought the decision to fire him was “very stupid,” and Gregg Popovich won’t argue with him.
In his 17th season as coach of the Spurs, Popovich is the longest tenured coach in the league. The manic approach that many NBA owners take to changing coaches, in his eyes, runs counter to the philosophies that made many of them successful in other pursuits.
“As you think about it, it seems like it would apply no matter what your business is,” Popovich said. “If you can have continuity, a good group, a team, so to speak, and all that that entails and keep it in a continuous manner so that it grows more or less upon itself, within itself and the knowledge and understanding continues to grow you have a pretty good understanding. You can deal with adversity and you cannot get too pumped up about success but just enjoy it and realize how fleeting it might be.