At a time when basketball fans the world over are anticipating word on big player movements as we approach the NBA trade deadline, the situation in 2016 is a bit different in that the world’s premiere basketball league saw 5 head coaching changes prior to the All-Star weekend – the most since the 2008-’09 season’s record of 8.
Whether it is a bad record, chemistry issues, or merely a mismatch in philosophies, it is usually the coaches who get the blame when their teams experience the occasional speedbumps. What many tend to forget or ignore, however, is that these are everyday challenges that all coaches must face in order to get their players into winning form. Unfortunately, since they are coaching in perhaps the most prestigious basketball league in the world, the pressure and expectations are always high. With the NBA also being a business, coaching in the league is one of the hardest jobs to have.
However, one should note that it is not always the head coach that can make or break a team. Prior to handling the team, these coaches have knowledge of what the team is capable of through long hours of research and watching films. They come into training camp prepared – preaching offense and defense, working around everyone’s skill sets to maximize their potential, and most of all, instilling philiosophies and values that he thinks will help the team achieve their goals. For a coach, there is no such thing as not having the right players to be successful. It is, in the first place, their responsibility to figure out how to make things work and bring out the best in them. However, the success of the organization also depends on whether or not the entire organization performs as a group.
However, having the right coach for a team does not guarantee that they will instantly go on to win the title. When the Celtics’ big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, went their separate ways to pave the way for a major rebuild after winning the 2008 title, head coach Doc Rivers followed suit to coach the Los Angeles Clippers. Replacing him was a young strategist who specialized in using modern stats and analysis to influence his coaching – former Butler coach Brad Stevens. His first season had a forgettable 25 – 57 record. The next season, they made the playoffs as the 8th seed. Today, in Stevens’ third season, the Celtics have worked their way to the Eastern Conferences’ 3rd.. Now, those who scoffed at Celtics President Danny Ainge signing a young coach with no NBA experience 6 years ago sing the praises of the man who steered the starless Celtics back to prominence.
Mark Jackson, the former head coach of the Golden State Warriors, had a story similar to Stevens. Helming the young Warriors squad, Jackson was in charge of a team seen by many to be lost and lacking in identity. Jackson’s first season in 2011 yielded a somewhat rough 23 – 43 record. Working on their game plan, the coach steered the team towards a 47 – 35 in his sophomore year. While Jackson was removed after his third season, the Warriors were well on their way to becoming one of the West’s most dominant teams with a 51-31 record, before going on to in the title the following year.
In every year, every season, and every game, coaches are in the hot seat. It bears remembering that a franchise’s successes and failures are the results of every member on the team buying in (or not) in order to succeed. Most of all, it takes trust – trust that is built on continuity forged through highs and lows.
After all, great teams take time.