Saturday, January 23, 2016

The new NBA

The firing of David Blatt (at least as told by Adrian Wojnarowski) seems to usher in a new era in how sports teams (or at least the NBA) are managed. 

It is unprecedented for a coach who took a non-playoff team to the Finals in Year 1 and is leading the conference in Year 2 to be dismissed. Of course, that improvement and success has a lot more to do with the Cavs' acquisition of LeBron James than any coaching prowess on Blatt's part.

So, from a social justice perspective, this is probably a good thing. The Cavs are a factor both competitively and culturally because of LeBron James, not David Blatt or any part of the Cavs' management? Why shouldn't he wield power over how the organization is run. One need only to glance at the NFL to see that the billionaires running the teams aren't exactly serving the public interest. Would the choices LeBron makes (or Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant...) be that much worse that the choices the likes of Stan Kroenke are making? Seems doubtful. So while LeBron's maneuvers may bug the rumpled traditionalist in me, it's hard for me to see it as a foreboding development.

But there is also the manner of winning. Wojnarowski reports that one of the prime goals was to get Mark Jackson installed as the head coach of the Cavs. Now, Mark Jackson coached the Warriors to the middle of the playoff picture in the stacked NBA West. He was replaced by Steve Kerr, who coached the Warriors to the NBA Championship. This year, Kerr missed the beginning of the season, and the team went on a historic run under interim coach Luke Walton, in his first coaching stint.

Does this prove that Jackson is a bad coach? Not really. But it doesn't strike me as prudent to order an organization toward landing him as coach.

Speaking of the Warriors, it does not seem that they are organized this way. The players seem to trust the system put in place by management. Steph Curry is a star, but does not seem (at least not yet) to be calling the organizational shots. When the coaches decide Draymond Green needs to sit for a game, he sits for a game. The Spurs seems to be run similarly.

On the other hand, under this system, the Cavs came within 2 games of winning the championship with their 2nd and 3rd best players out or severely diminished, and James's preferred coach not yet in place. So, it's not clear that the player-driven system won't work. But I wouldn't bet on it. It seemed to me that James the GM's success was mainly due to James the Best Player in the League.

It's of course possible that someone could be both talented as a player and superb in organizing a team. Jerry West, Larry Bird, and others have had success as coaches and general managers. But I don't see any reason why these skills would necessarily correlate, and it seems that carrying both jobs would be to heavy a load for anybody.

And this leads me to seriously doubt the strategy of my home towns 76ers for the past several years of losing and hoping to fall into position to draft a transcendent talent. The next transcendent talent will probably want to have a similar level of influence to what Lebron James enjoys. And it's not clear to me that's a better path to winning than installing a superior system that players want to buy into and be a part of.
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