If you follow the NBA for long enough, you are sure to hear the expression, “It’s a superstar league.” Like many common expressions that are tossed around, this one has quite a bit of truth to it. Unlike college basketball, most coaches take a backseat in fame and media presence to their players and are often seen as expendable pieces in the quest to win a championship.
There have been a few notable exceptions to this, as Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich come to mind, but the recent trend in the NBA has seen coaches go in and out of franchises in just a few years. Currently, there are just three coaches in the NBA who have held their job for more than five years, with the majority of the league having coaches that have been around for less than three.
More than ever in the NBA, simply winning is not enough for coaches. We are beginning to see the unrest of many perennial contending teams who desperately want to take that next step and win a championship. Not only must coaches win championships quickly, but they also are tasked with keeping their coddled superstars happy and engaged.
This trend of winning coaches being fired in the midst of their success began in the summer of 2013, when George Karl and Lionel Hollins were fired. Despite winning 57 and 56 games during the regular season, and Hollins’ team reaching the Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets and Grizzlies moved in a different direction. Since then, Scott Brooks, Kevin McHale, and Monty Williams were all fired after their teams saw playoff appearances.
The insanity of fluid coaching positions came to a peak when David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers was fired last Friday, Feb. 22. Fresh off taking his team to the NBA Finals in his first season at the helm, Blatt was in the midst of a 30-11 season, and the top position in the conference, when he had his duties stripped of him.
David Griffin, Cleveland’s GM, openly questioned whether or not Blatt was helping the Cavs build a championship culture after he fired Blatt, which makes any objective observer wonder what Blatt could have possibly done differently. Although Blatt had won nearly 70% of the games that he coached and reached the Finals without his two superstars, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, he apparently did not do enough.
Hopefully the NBA gains some common sense in the next few years and learns that continuity and loyalty are intangibles that cannot be substituted for.