Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Coaching Carousel

Here is a list of the NBA coaches that have won championships in the past 30 years
  • K.C. Jones
  • Pat Riley
  • Chuck Daly
  • Phil Jackson
  • Rudy Tomjanovich
  • Gregg Poppovich
  • Larry Brown
  • Doc Rivers
  • Rick Carlisle
  • Eric Spoelstra
You'll notice that the length of this list is much lower than 30.  And it is guaranteed not to grow this year.  This suggests that at any given time, there are only a handful of coaches that give you a real chance at winning a championship.

Or maybe not.  Here is a list of the players who have been the best players on a championship team in the past 30 years:

  • Larry Bird
  • Magic Johnson
  • Isiah Thomas
  • Michael Jordan
  • Hakeem Olajuwan
  • Tim Duncan
  • Shaquille O'Neal
  • Chauncey Billups
  • Dwyane Wade
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Paul Pierce
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • LeBron James
Still a short list, but longer than the list of coaches.  And can be partially explained by the fact that players occasionally get hurt and open the door for other players, whereas coaches don't.

Obviously, Step 0 of contending for a championship is assembling talent.  Preferably one of the best five players in the league, another one in the top 20, and another one in the top 50.  The '04 Pistons are the only championship team without a first team all-NBA caliber player .

But what matters from there?  I don't think it's clear.  Is it building a supporting cast of role players -- your Shane Battiers, Derek Fishers, Robert Horrys, etc.?  Or is it to have a championship-caliber coach.

It seems plausible that the next step is to ensure you have a championship caliber coach.  And if you have the talent, but you have an inkling that your guys isn't one of those guys, the prudent thing is to cut him loose and take a chance on someone else.

Now, we are talking about human beings.  It does seem cruel to "fire" someone like George Karl or Lionel Hollins who seems to have done a good job.  But if the only thing between a group of talented hard-working players and a championship is the lack of an elite coach, it would not be fair to them to decline to pursue one.

It makes it hard to be an NBA Head coach.  They can console themselves with the knowledge that they are orders of magnitude better compensated than lots of other jobs that are no more stable.  And that they can likely move into another job in coaching or broadcasting.
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