Power Rankings For the Week of February 1st

When news came out that Jeff Van Gundy would only consider coming back to coach only if he is given the role of President AND the Head Coach, it got me thinking.  Entering the season, the Clippers (Doc Rivers), Pistons (Stan Van Gundy), Timberwolves (RIP Flip), and Hawks (Mike Budenholzer) had that situation with some like Jason Kidd angling for that role.  It is no coincidence that many of these are recent hires, often as a final bargaining chip to entice a coach to take the opportunity.

It begs the question – why do these guys even want both roles? Why does Stan Van Gundy feel the need to run the front office and the bench – feeling so strongly about it that he turned down the Warriors job for it? I think there are many contributing factors to this, but the primary one simply can’t be that they want to work more hours and want more responsibility.

To me, I think coaches, especially older coaches, feel that they are unfairly targeted from fan bases impatient to win and by front offices that are too quick to label a coach as a scape goat.  Because of that, the more grizzly veterans want complete insulation from this “unfair” target by assuming the role of General Manager as well.  There’s plenty of examples that can support either side of that argument.  Did Mark Jackson deserve to get fired? Yes! Everybody could see that he had created a toxic front office/coaching dynamic and his offense was too simplistic for the caliber of talent the Warriors had assembled.  Here’s the counter: his team played their asses off for him, and he instilled a deep level of confidence in the team (on both ends) that helped them develop their edge needed to win the title and become the behemoths that they are.

It’s not always going to be obvious cases (like Mark Jackson, in my opinion).  Scott Brooks should’ve been fired a couple of years ago, not last summer – now that they’ve replaced him at an awkward time, it might prove to be a mistake.  What about Monty Williams? Hiring Alvin Gentry seems to have made them worse, something that very few predicted.

So to coaches like Jeff Van Gundy, I ask, what should be the criteria to hire and fire coaches? Wins and losses? Development? For example, firing David Blatt seems insane! Until you realize that nobody really wanted to play for the guy. So should he be judged only on wins and losses, or should he be judged on his willingness to create a positive environment where the talent is maximized?

While there are some cases like Houston firing Kevin McHale that simply are unfair and due to circumstances beyond control, the coaching community, while an admirable fraternity, are too sensitive and slow to adapt to the current climate.  Fans and front offices are taking a bigger interest in not only the result of the game, but *how* the team is playing.  Due to the increase in both quantity and quality of analytical data available, coaches are judged on a much deeper level than ever before.  Fan bases and front offices are demanding shifts in pace (usually faster), an increase in three point shots, looking at situational on-off stats to determine which 5 man units are optimal and asking that they play them more often.  If coaches view this as obstructive – they should not be surprised that they feel under attack.  If coaches hold a Byron-esque mentality of “this is the way things should be done, no matter what” mentality*, they should know that their leashes will be much smaller, and deservedly so.

*As a Laker fan, I am required to complain about him whenever I can.

Ultimately, coaches have a point too – they shouldn’t feel constantly threatened.  But as the league heads towards a more parity-driven product (with exceptions) front offices and coaching staffs need to work together to achieve maximum efficiencies that perhaps were not as necessary when a lot of these coaches started their careers.  I believe we are in a transition in which front offices are continuing to adapt to the shifting nature of the league and are finding coaches that share their vision.  There will continue to be a volatile coaching market but at one point in the near future there will be a stable environment (provided front offices stabilize themselves as well: looking at you, Kings, Nets, and others).

Now, back to the original point.  Both teams and coaches need to step back and understand why it rarely works when a single person takes over both the coaching and general manager jobs.  Independently, both jobs are incredibly difficult and complex to do and at the NBA level only very few people can do one competently.  To ask somebody to do both?  It isn’t just insane, it’s misguided.  Is Doc Rivers the GM to blame for the Clippers not reaching a conference finals yet? Doc the coach? Both? 60/40? 70/30? 30/70?  Solving the problem of coaches feeling threatened by creating a new problem of a dual-role situation is a mistake.  Both Budenholzer and Doc Rivers might be looking at having to face a rebuild (or quasi-rebuild) this summer.  Which role will they prioritize?

In closing, this isn’t a question of capability, this is a clarification of the inherent mismatched incentives for both roles.  A coaches job is to win every single night their team plays a game.  A GM’s job is to put together the best roster not only for tonight’s game, but for the next few years.  When a coaches horizon of thinking is a few games at at time and a GM’s horizon of thinking is a few seasons at a time, combining these roles is a mistake.  Both of these working together? That’s the sweet spot, and that’s the only solution to this issue.  That’s what the Spurs have created with Pop and RC Buford, that’s what the Warriors are beginning to create with Kerr and Bob Myers, and that’s what organizations should be shooting for moving forward.  Does it sound way easier than creating that harmony actually is? Absolutely, but nobody said it was going to be easy.

Power Rankings

  1. Warriors (44-4) [LW:1]
  2. Spurs (39-8) [LW:2]
  3. Cavaliers (34-12) [LW:4]
  4. Raptors (32-15) [LW:5]
  5. Thunder (36-13) [LW:3]
  6. Clippers (32-16) [LW:6]
  7. Celtics (27-22) [LW:11]
  8. Grizzlies (28-20) [LW:9]
  9. Bulls (26-20) [LW:7]
  10. Heat (27-21) [LW:14]
  11. Mavericks (28-22) [LW:13]
  12. Hawks (27-22) [LW:8]
  13. Pacers (25-22) [LW:15]
  14. Pistons (25-23) [LW:10]
  15. Rockets (25-25) [LW:12]
  16. Jazz (21-25) [LW:19]
  17. Trailblazers (23-26) [LW:25]
  18. Hornets (23-25) [LW:21]
  19. Wizards (21-24) [LW:17]
  20. Knicks (23-27) [LW:18]
  21. Kings (20-27) [LW:16]
  22. Bucks (20-29) [LW:20]
  23. Nuggets (18-30) [LW:23]
  24. Magic (21-25) [LW:22]
  25. Pelicans (18-28) [LW:24]
  26. Timberwolves (14-35) [LW:27]
  27. Nets (12-36) [LW:26]
  28. 76ers (7-41) [LW:28]
  29. Suns (14-35) [LW:30]
  30. Lakers (9-41) [LW:29]

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