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Hartnett: NBA teams need to branch out (April 25)

Brian Hartnett | Thursday, April 25, 2013


While you were watching Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks dominate the Celtics or Steph Curry and the Warriors run and gun their way to a playoff victory last night, you may have missed some news on the NBA coaching scene.

No, Phil Jackson did not come back – he’s too busy tweeting about his former players.

Rather, the Cleveland Cavaliers made a splash by hiring Mike Brown.

Yes, you read that right. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert evidently felt the best way to return his team to basketball relevancy was to hire the exact same coach he fired less than three years ago.

The rationale behind Gilbert’s decision is puzzling to say the least. Brown’s résumé

since leaving Cleveland consists of a short stint with the Lakers in which he was fired just five games into his second season. 

Sure, Brown did coach the Cavaliers to the playoffs in five consecutive seasons. But he also had the luxury of designing an offense around the otherworldly LeBron James. 

Some might say his hiring is a ploy to lure James back to his home state in the summer of 2014, but James and Brown had a rocky relationship to say the least, and LeBron seems quite comfortable in South Beach, where he can focus on winning the eight championships he promised to deliver.

Nonetheless, Brown looks to be a solid if unspectacular hire. He has some good young talent with which to work and should improve on some of the areas neglected by former Cavaliers coach Byron Scott.

Still, Brown’s re-hiring in Cleveland illustrates an important point: The NBA coaching ranks are more insular than a third-generation family business.

Of the 30 NBA coaches who finished out the current NBA regular season (even those who have since been fired), 17 previously served as head coach of another NBA team. 

At the risk of repeating myself, I would just like to once again point out that there are only 30 head coaching spots in the NBA. Hence, there seems to be a lot of recycling going on amongst NBA teams.

In some cases, it certainly makes sense for NBA teams to hire coaches with prior experience. The Dallas Mavericks made a strong move in picking up Jim Carrey-lookalike Rick Carlisle, who had a very solid track record when they hired him in 2008. The long-struggling Minnesota Timberwolves swung for the fences in 2011 by hiring Rick Adelman, who had taken several Western Conference teams deep into the playoffs.

But other moves just make you scratch your head, such as the Portland Trail Blazers’ hire of Terry Stotts. I don’t know what attracted Portland’s management to Stotts, but I’m hoping it wasn’t his 115-168 record at two prior head coaching gigs. 

The same goes for Toronto’s Dwayne Casey, who sported an illustrious 53-69 record before the Raptors hired him in 2011. I won’t even get into the subject of interim head coaches, many of whom were in the second seat on the bench to begin with because they couldn’t quite run the show.

I’m not pinning this problem just on the NBA. There are head coaches in every sport who cause fans to wonder why pro teams keep giving them a second or third or even fourth chance at success. 

But at the same time, it’s a little disappointing to see NBA teams disappointing fans with low-risk, low-reward hires. Surely, there has to be some new blood teams can infuse in their coaching staffs.

And there is – an answer lies in the college ranks. Pro basketball teams have looked to college coaches before, with mixed results. For every Larry Brown, there has been a Lon Kruger.

But that was a different era, when players actually stayed for four years. Nowadays, the best players are usually one-and-dones, which forces top college coaches to focus more on managing egos. Sound familiar? That’s essentially the toughest task for an NBA coach.

Why then, do NBA teams seem to stray so far from college coaches? Sure, these coaches represent an unknown commodity, but they also display great potential. Mike Krzyzewski or Tom Izzo might need some time to adjust to the pros, but it’s not like the NBA is a foreign league – it’s still basketball, which these guys have been involved with their entire lives.

So, if you’re a Cavaliers fan, Brown probably can’t do much for you. But, there’s probably someone who can, and his résumé might not exactly say “NBA coach.”


Contact Brian Hartnett at [email protected]

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.