The Importance Of Coaching In The NBA

Posted: March 15, 2012 in Sports
Tags: , , , , ,

Mike D'Antoni failed the New York Knicks - which actually shouldn't surprise anyone.

So here we are – in the aftermath of the resignation of Mike D’Antoni, the now former coach of the New York Knicks. I’ve pretty much railed against the man and his “coaching” for years, especially after the Knicks hired him. I have a great many Knicks fans that I know, so it’s been interesting to watch most of them go from excited when he was first hired to fed up leading up to him quitting this week (while I shouldn’t say I told you so, every thing I said would happen when this guy took over DID happen…so to some of my friends reading this, I TOLD YOU SO).

But the D’Antoni fiasco highlights exactly how important having a good coach is in the NBA. Because, as much as some people may think teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards and New Orleans Hornets stink – it really comes down to coaching moreso than personnel. Because – and I think people in all sports forget this – these people are pros. They are, for the most part, the best of the best at what they do. Which is why a guy like Shannon Brown can go from not ever playing in Charlotte to being a major contributor to a championship team in L.A. – system and coaching.

Oh, don’t get it twisted. There ARE players who are crappier than others in this league. And it’s true, a coach will have a hard time showing how good he is with crappier players to work with (look at Avery Johnson in New Jersey). But the D’Antoni situation in particular just goes to show how many people really don’t understand the NBA game at all, in my opinion. Because this season, I’ve read everything from the Knicks have too much talent (there’s no such thing, people), to it’s all Carmelo Anthony’s fault (hardly), to Jeremy Lin can’t handle the pressure any more (Oh? But he inexplicably could for a full month and then got scared when Deron Williams came back to town??) to it’s all J.R. Smith/Amar’e Stoudemire’s fault for not playing better defense (um – when did either one of those guys present themselves as lockdown defenders? EVER??).

I’m sorry – all those excuses are just lazy thinking. Especially in terms of blaming the players – that’s the laziest thing I see fans do. Team loses or isn’t doing good, it’s the players’ fault. Especially the star. Look – there are indeed times when it’s a star’s fault (LeChoke’s performance in the 4th quarters of the last 3 games of the NBA Finals last year comes to mind). But I’m sorry – it’s simply NOT on Lamar Odom for why the Dallas Mavericks aren’t playing that well. It’s not on Rajon Rondo or Kevin Garnett for the reasons the Boston Celtics are struggling (it’s not Doc Rivers’ fault either – I’m looking at you, Danny Ainge).

Even the usually affable Derek Fisher had tuned coach Mike Brown out at times this season in L.A.

Coaching plays a major part. For example – I’ve been crying all season about Mike Brown’s “coaching” of the Los Angeles Lakers. The situation in L.A. is just as bad as NY, but one thing masks everything – the Lakers are winning. This is in large part due to a half-mutiny Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher had orchestrated there. Which, if people had been paying attention (which most haven’t), has the support of all the players.

Granted, I probably watch sports and follow the ins and outs better than most people who don’t actually work at ESPN or something similar – but the info is readily available. The players holding meetings to figure out how to deal with the coaching staff. The veterans running the triangle (at different points) for most of the first part of the season, even though the current coach and his staff have no triangle plays in their book. The frequent disinterest of certain players in huddles on nationally televised games. Players going to Kobe Bryant to know what to do on offense. And the kicker – the worst thing I’ve seen in years – the star player (Bryant) brazenly admitting  in an on-court interview after beating the Celtics recently that he literally vetoed the called play by the coach and called his own play for center Andrew Bynum.

And Bynum excitedly talking about it for 2 days after the fact, all in the sports media.

Now, you can blame Kobe and the players for this lack of respect. But just know – in the entire history of the Lakers since I’ve been watching, I’ve never heard of these things. Not from Kobe. Not from Shaq. Not from Kareem. Not from anyone, no matter what shenanigans were going on. No matter WHO the coach was. And, taking a look at Mike Brown’s coaching history…this is actually par for the course. The same type of things went on in Cleveland. It’s just happened quicker than I thought in L.A.

In both cases, Brown won tons of games. Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni are prime examples of bad coaches who have players that mask their inability to be good head coaches. Both are good at what they do – Brown at instilling defensive principles, D’Antoni on the offensive end – but they’re both no better than assistant coaches. Head coaches? Nope.

The opposite of guys like Brown and D’Antoni? Monty Williams and Rick Adelman. Both guys have lesser rosters, and have to squeeze out the absolute best of their players. In Williams’ case, the NBA (in particular David Stern) has completely hamstrung the team in terms of talent and being competitive. Yet, even though they’re the third-worst team in the league, missing their biggest scoring option in Eric Gordon – they play hard, and boast victories over a number of good teams. There is no surprise in watching them beat a team with a winning record.

Adelman has taken a supposedly awful Minnesota Timberwolves team and put them in contention for a playoff spot, with 2 rookies (Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams) being incorporated into the mix. I actually wish my Lakers had hired Adelman. The man can win with almost any roster. He won’t be at the top of the standings, because roster limitations DO have an effect – but he won’t ever be at the very bottom, either.

In fact – let me give you a list of who I think are good coaches: Adelman, Williams, Jerry Sloan (currently not coaching), Rick Carlisle, George Karl, Doc Rivers, Tom Thibodeau, Greg Popovich, Doug Collins, Lionel Hollins, Frank Vogel, Kevin McHale, Scott Brooks, Alvin Gentry and Erik Spoelstra. Yes, THAT Erik Spoelstra. The one people like to throw under the bus any time the Miami Heat lose. I definitely contend he’s a good coach. Not the best – but good? Yes.

That’s a lot of coaches. And not everyone I named are on the same level (no one on that list matches Popovich to me). But what of the coaches I didn’t

Stan Van Gundy is yet another coach with a good record and reputation - but is completely overrated (in my opinion).

name? That means, in my opinion – they’re either average or less than average. That includes a guy like Stan Van Gundy, who always has teams that win, but in terms of coaching? Put it this way – when he has talent, the guy will always get you a good regular season record. In the playoffs? I can almost always predict how he will lose and how he will be out-coached. Seriously. Any time he goes up against a good coach with a healthy team, he’s gonna get knocked out in the playoffs.

Now a coach like that is good if your team simply wants to sell tickets and put out the facade of being a top-notch team. But as Shaquille O’Neal once stated, Van Gundy is “the master of panic”. Put him in a rough spot – the Magic are going down. His adjustments – or lack thereof – are pathetic. I’ll take his brother Jeff Van Gundy any day of the week over him (Jeff is a bit of an imbecile on TV, but he’s a hell of a coach).

What it comes down to – a good coach is not always in control of a winning record. And a bad coach can win with the right talent. Don’t forget – Mike D’Antoni was once Coach of The Year. Yet he was run out of Phoenix, and quit on NY. And even good coaches can be run out of town – look at Phil Jackson in Chicago. I guess what I’m trying to say, one needs to really play attention to a team, it’s issues, it’s players – and how it’s growing or faltering. Because many times in this league, it truly does come down to the coaching.

That’s not to say it’s always the coach’s fault. I don’t put the blame for Cleveland’s struggles on Byron Scott at all. On the other side, I don’t think Vinnie Del Negro is an upper echelon coach simply because the NBA gave him Chris Paul. To be honest, I think both of those men are average coaches of the same level. Management is a big part of the overall picture, and they need to be in sync with any coach. In this regard, you really can’t completely fault D’Antoni in New York – he was never in sync with Knicks management (who essentially forced Carmelo Anthony on the man).

Still – with a roster of Lin, ‘Melo, Amar’e, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and tons of great role players – there’s no excuse for failing this badly. The silly excuse some have used of “too many stars” or the “hard to mesh” excuse fails when you look at the Lakers winning a championship after adding Pau Gasol midseason; the Boston Celtics having FOUR all-star players and winning, the Miami Heat, the Dallas Mavericks, the San Antonio Spurs – all teams with tons of stars that made it work pretty easily. And what do all of those teams have in common?

You guessed it – good coaching.

I actually think the Knicks will make the playoffs with Mike Woodson taking over as interim coach. Is he good coach? Not in my opinion. But he’s average, and I believe the players will respect and respond to him better than they did D’Antoni. And no, I don’t believe the players had anything to do with getting him out of there – please remember, he resigned. The man quit. So that’s on him and his failures, and I’m hearing it was more of an issue with him and management for the decision to come at this point.

All one has to do is look at Portland game the day of the resignation. NY beat the brakes off that team under Woodson. They looked great. The beating was so bad, the next day Portland fired their coach, Nate McMillan. And what’s the first thing Woodson did behind closed doors? Tell the team he was changing the offense to accentuate Stoudemire and ‘Melo. Not implementing an offense they need to adjust to and fit into – but implementing one that plays to their strengths.

Coaching.

As always, most will really notice the difference in coaching when the playoffs come around. With the trade of Derek Fisher to Houston, I suspect we’ll see many of Mike Brown’s flaws blatantly come out in the playoffs when he has to match up with a top coach and their adjustments. He won’t have the on-floor leadership he’s had most of the year to get through adversity, and to be honest – as good of a leader as Kobe is, he loses patience with sub-par play and isn’t one to suffer fools. Brown starts doing his normal lack of adjusting and countering, Kobe’s liable to go rogue and tear the team in half – or take them with him (more likely). And before anyone puts that on Kobe, let me point out you’re missing the point – I wouldn’t even be talking about that if Kobe had a good coach who wouldn’t tolerate that.

D’Antoni is said to have quit because he was unwilling to reign in the half of the team who had turned against him. Brown is unwilling to reign in Kobe. And, as is the case yearly, the teams that will succeed when it matters will do so not just because of their stars and talent – they’ll win (or lose) based on coaching to a large degree.

Not every game is won or lost due to coaching, this is true. But I can’t remember a single NBA title that was won by a bad coach – or even an average one. That accentuates the point I’m trying to make.

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Comments
  1. Great piece.

    The thing is I understand people’s frustrations with coaches as well as their frustrations with players but honestly it’s a joint effort. It’s called team work for a reason.

    I mean even the game the other night. A lot of people think the Knicks smashed the Trail blazers because D’Antoni left but maybe it was because Portland players were on the fence about possible trades? Or the Knicks just got a major adrenaline rush? Or maybe it proves your point since they fired the head coach for the trail blazers? But they haven’t been doing as bad as the Knicks…that’s for sure.

    And I think the Lakers prove that it’s a combined effort. I’ve been a Laker fan for life and when we got Mike Brown to coach I just about lost it. He made me miserable when he coached for the Cavs and he makes me miserable now but in the long run the NBA shouldn’t have to be a blame game for anyone. People just need to pick themselves up and give 110% of their energy into the team, whether it’s by coaching, playing or even just supporting.

    But keep up the awesome writing!

    • illabstract says:

      Thank you for checking out the article and reading the blog!

      In direct response to your theory about the Knicks-Trailblazers game…sorry, but that doesn’t measure up. The fact is, there were only 2 Trailblazers who were even mention ed in possible trade talks, and those 2 players (Gerald Wallace, Jamal Crawford) weren’t considered strong possibilities to be traded. Additionally, they knew of this possibility for quite some time before that game – and it had no effect on their production. Finally, both Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire’s names had come up in trade talk THAT WEEK – which means, if anyone should have been possibly effected, it would be them, not Portland.

      Plenty of players’ names get mentioned and brought up in trade talks. It’s rare that the talk effects their game, which is why when it does (Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom) it becomes very big news. Portland literally blew up their entire team after that game – something that, if you check in newspapers, sports sources, etc. – comes as a bit of a shock, becuase it was thought the team they had could contend for a playoff spot. By dismantling the team they way they did, it’s a blatant message that ownership is starting from scratch and will start with a fresh new plan to move forward in the off-season.

      As far as blame – I hear you, but unfortunately, that’ the nature of the business. We can’t talk about how it *should* be, we have to deal with the reality of how it is. And coaches are there to direct teams to wins. They get the credit win teams do well, and they take the credit when teams do bad.

      Thank you for your post! Feel free to comment in the future, and I hope you continue reading future articles and giving responses! If you haven’t already done so, please “Like” the Facebook page – where many sports topics are posted daily.

      Thanks again for your reply. =)

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