Ogden’s Opus: NBA Coaches Have No Job Security


David Blatt’s firing has shaken the NBA at its core. Is it a sign that pro-level head coaches lack job security?

On January 22, 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers made the stunning decision to fire head coach David Blatt. The move sent shockwaves throughout the basketball community, causing many to ask a fair and honest question.

Do NBA coaches need more job security?

Cleveland’s firing of Blatt called a number of different principles into question. Some pondered whether or not individual players have too much power within their respective organizations, while others questioned if the results a coach provides even matter.

Fresh off of an NBA Finals appearance, Blatt’s firing provided a resounding, “No.”

Thus, the coaches of the Association are on a search for answers. To fulfill this seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge, many have gone as far as speaking publicly about how blasphemous the firing was.

The question is, do the coaches have a point?

The Backlash

Amongst head coaches, the general consensus appears to be that David Blatt got the short end of the stick. Most feel as though Blatt did well during his Cleveland tenure, and a regular season record of 83-40 supports such a theory.

Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle didn’t mince words when speaking about how terrible the firing was for the NBA, per Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News.

"“He’s done some phenomenal things adjusting to this league. I’m embarrassed for our league that something like this could happen. It’s just bizarre. Now is Tyronn Lue going to coach the All-Star Game? It just leaves you with a bit of an empty feeling. Because Blatt’s a great guy and he did a great job there.”"

It’s a confusing situation, to say the very least.

It’s rare that coaches are fired in the midst of stints as successful as Blatt’s. Beyond the results, however, was an undeniable feeling of uneasiness between he and the organization, including four-time MVP LeBron James.

Orlando Magic head coach Scott Skiles scoffed at the idea that results shouldn’t be enough to help Blatt keep his job.

Sarcastic or otherwise, Skiles makes quite the point.

Blatt led the Cavaliers to their first NBA Finals appearance since 2007 and had them off to a 30-11 start. In other words, Blatt was two wins away from winning a championship in his rookie coaching season in the Association, and was on pace for a 60-win campaign in 2015-16.

Generally speaking, that’s reason for a coach to get an extension.

Many have hypothesized why Blatt was fired, and the general consensus appears to be that he and the personnel didn’t mesh. The results dispute that, but Cleveland appears to believe that it had a ceiling with Blatt at the helm.

Per David Mayo of MLive.com, Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy was dumbfounded by the firing.

"“We have jobs, maybe, because our front offices aren’t quite as crazy as theirs, but that’s about it,” Van Gundy said.“We have no idea why it happened,” Van Gundy said. “But there’s no explanation that can include that he didn’t meet expectations, in terms of winning. There’s absolutely no way to even make a flimsy case, let alone a solid one, for that.”"

The always quotable Gregg Popovich concurred, poking fun at the Cavaliers’ front office after a blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors—the same result that ultimately led to Blatt’s firing.

The question is, does the NBA have a serious issue with the way coaches are being treated?

The Reality

During an era in which players continue to receive bigger and more lucrative contracts, no phrase has become more vital than, “Guaranteed money.” Players, agents, and unions have fought to make contracts as tight and binding as possible.

Coaches lack the same stability.

Per Rusty Simmons of The San Francisco Chronicle, reigning and defending NBA champion head coach Steve Kerr acknowledged that harsh reality when asked about David Blatt’s untimely firing.

"This is a tough business when you go 30-11 and get fired after going to the finals the year before,” Kerr said. “The fact that Kevin McHale and David Blatt – two of the final four participants last year – have both been fired, it’s crazy. Maybe Mike Budenholzer and I should be worried about our jobs, too.“It’s a shame, but it’s a different organization. They have to do what they’re going to do. I feel for David. It just seems crazy that he would be fired after having so much success, but that’s the business we’re in."

That’s a harsh reminder for head coaches who think winning games is enough—a strange sentence to write and read.

While college basketball programs are built around factors such as tradition and stability, NBA organizations win in small spurts. Championship windows close rapidly, and they often require a rebuilding process to re-open—something that generally takes between three and five seasons.

If a team fails to find a transcendent player in free agency or the NBA Draft, coaches often pay the price.

True as that may be, many organizations experience success by sticking with a coach who provides results. Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs and Rick Carlisle with the Dallas Mavericks are prime examples of such a truth.

Yet, only three active coaches have spent at least five seasons with their current teams: Popovich, Carlisle, and Erik Spoelstra.

The theme is similar: Popovich is a five-time NBA champion, while Spoelstra has two rings and Carlisle owns one. Few employed coaches have championships, but that doesn’t make the following piece of information any less shocking.

After that trio, only four coaches have at least three seasons with their current team. In other words, 23 teams changed coaches at some point over the previous two seasons.

On one hand, this could be a shift to a crop of coaches who thrive under the contemporary rules, styles, and standards. On the other, it could be a sign that organizations have placed a greater amount of power in the players’ hands than ever before.

For the time being, NBA coaches haven’t the slightest semblance of job security.

Stat of the Week

Thus far in 2015-16, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been dominant—sort of. Despite what the firing of head coach David Blatt may suggest, the Cavaliers were thoroughly outplaying the opposition.

That is, all teams other than the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.

Plain and simple, the Cavaliers are outclassed by the best and elite against the rest.

Cleveland’s dreadful play against the two teams most heavily favored to reach the NBA Finals out of the Western Conference ultimately led to Blatt’s unexpected firing. Not only has Cleveland lost all three games against the Spurs and Warriors, but it’s been poor in every outing.

Such an erratic period can only be withstood for so long.

Under the Radar: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks

Chances are, you haven’t read or heard a word about Paul Millsap from major media outlets. Due to the fact that he isn’t consistently posterizing defenders or shooting from the half court line, his contributions are written off as irrelevant.

Quietly, Millsap is knocking on the door of the league’s elite.

Millsap is contributing in every phase of the game, and his numbers are showing it with averages of 18.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 offensive boards, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.4 blocks, and 0.8 3-point field goal made per game. He’s shooting 49.5 percent from the field, 30.3 percent from beyond the arc, and 78.3 percent from the free throw line.

Millsap is No. 10 in the NBA in both Win Shares and Player Efficiency Rating. Elite?

NBA Draft Stud: Melo Trimble, Maryland Terrapins

The Maryland Terrapins have a trio of potential first-round draft picks in Jake Layman, Diamond Stone, and Melo Trimble. Stone is the most likely candidate to go in Round 1, but one of his teammates is rapidly rising up draft boards with him.

At this pace, Trimble will be one of the Top 15 selections at the 2016 NBA Draft.

Trimble is a force to be reckoned with, coupling the ability to shoot from anywhere with an NBA build, a quick first step, and improved court vision. He’s the leading scorer and primary facilitator for a 17-3 Maryland squad that’s garnering mainstream attention.

Trimble has the star factor in his favor, but the jury is still out on how good he’ll be at the next level.

Team to Watch: Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors have been progressively building towards a breakout season under head coach Dwane Casey. Point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan have anchored the perimeter, while Jonas Valanciunas has flashed significant potential down low.

Don’t look now, but the Raptors have won nine consecutive games.

Toronto’s nine-game winning streak includes an 18-point blowout of the red-hot Los Angeles Clippers and a 20-point win over the Miami Heat. All nine games were played without starting small forward DeMarre Carroll, which suggests Toronto will only get better as the season progresses.

The question is, can the Raptors finally get out of the first round?