- In just two years, Lionel Hollins turned a 24-48, butt-of-every-joke-in-the-NBA team, the Memphis Grizzlies, into a playoff squad, and five years after inheriting the job, his team reached the Western Conference Finals. But last week, Grizzlies’ management announced that Hollins would not remain as head coach of the team he so drastically turned around, notching the Grizzlies’ best-ever record in his final year.
- In his nine seasons as head coach, George Karl led the Denver Nuggets to a playoff appearance in each one, reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2009. A 17-65 team just two years earlier, his teams ran off this unprecedented list of playoff appearances. Last week, Karl, the 2013 NBA Coach of the Year was fired from his position with the Nuggets, a decision he later called “stupid.”
- Inheriting a team that had reached the playoffs just four times in the previous 33 years, ex-Clippers’ chief Vinny Del Negro quickly turned around
not just the franchise but the perception and attitude towards his franchise as a whole. After the team’s best record in franchise history, Del Negro was let go as head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.
There is only one way to put the recent firings (Hollins wasn’t exactly fired, the Grizzlies decided against renewing his expired contract) of these three prestigious NBA head coaches: Disrespectful. Just look at the way that each of these coaches instantly transformed their respective teams from lovable losers to success stories and championship contenders. No one described these puzzling moves better than NBA Analyst Jeff Van Gundy: “Coaches used to get fired for losing, now they get fired for winning.” Van Gundy is exactly right, as no matter how many wins a team racks up, no matter how radically a coach turns around an entire organization, if he doesn’t have the ring, he can count on being fired. It is nothing but disrespect to fire a coach who has made such a large contribution to the team, fans, and city. The culture around the NBA has become terminally obsessed with winning championships, and winning them now, but building a championship squad is a process that can take a decade, no contender is built instantly.
It wasn’t good enough for Grizzlies’ management that just five seasons after rotting at the bottom of the Western Conference, they reached the Conference Final; they crave a championship and they want it now. This impatience led to parting ways with a fantastic basketball mind and an even better leader on and off the court.
“When things don’t happen quickly, I think some owners become frustrated. Some even
take it personally.”-Gregg Popovich
One of the legends of today’s NBA is San Antonio Spurs’ man-in-change, Gregg Popovich. The four-time NBA champion coach blasted the coaching carousel, telling ESPN, “The change, change, change thing doesn’t really work [and] you can see that in a lot of organizations. When things don’t happen quickly, I think some owners become frustrated. Some even take it personally almost like a little bit of an embarrassment because they’ve been so successful in their own way and have a hard
time understanding the business.” Popovich nailed it right on the head: Many owners continue to change the coaching staff because they want “things to happen quickly” (win a title).
Take Popovich as an example: After he was hired as the Spurs’ top dog, San Antonio went three seasons (one without a playoff appearance) before winning a title. Imagine if an impatient Spurs’ front office had fired Popovich: The four titles currently hanging at the AT&T Center would be nonexistent, the landscape of the NBA would be incomparable to what it is now and the NBA Finals currently taking place would feature the Miami Heat facing off against the…Oklahoma City Thunder? Memphis Grizzlies? Golden State Warriors?
But this never happened. The Spurs stuck with their lead-man, and now boast of possibly the greatest coach to roam an NBA sideline. Hollins, Karl, and Del Negro all stake claim to numerous accomplishments. The 20 playoff appearances and 14 playoff series victories between them, plus Karl being named the 2013 NBA Coach of the Year, weren’t enough, simply because they never could bring the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy to Memphis, Denver, or Los Angeles instantly. And for that reason, without instant rings and glory, these three coaches were fired or let go. All three certainly will find work in other organizations, but their dismissals represent a larger flaw in the selfish, impatient culture evident in today’s NBA.
The Sam Brief
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