Avery Johnson was the next victim to get the axe because he could not extract the most out of his talented lineup. Following relocation to the state of the art Barclays Center in Brooklyn while also securing Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, expectations were sky high from both Nets fans and the organization. After a nice start to the season of 11 wins and 4 losses the team lost 10 of their following 13 games, which caused discontent to brew among the roster, management and fans. Deron publicly voiced his inability to adjust to Johnson’s offensive style of play. William’s offensive struggles under Johnson’s system effectively made the head coach’s days remaining at the helm numbered. As seen in Utah with legendary coach Jerry Sloan, when there is a dispute between the franchise player and the head coach, the player will almost always win out. The squad’s record under Avery Johnson was 14 wins and 14 losses. Following the promotion of P.J. Carlesimo the team has responded by winning 9 of 10 games.
Scott Skiles’ and the Buck’s mutual agreement to part ways arose out of the blue to outside observers and is different than the scenarios above. The team was not underperforming judging by their .500 winning percentage at the time the decision was made. However Skiles had only this season remaining under his contract and was apparently searching for other head coaching opportunities. The Bucks management may have felt because Skiles was not open to signing an extension that the time was right, despite their solid record to promote Jim Boylan to head coach. At the time Skiles parted ways with the team, their record was 16 wins and 16 losses. Under Jim Boylan the Bucks’ record is 3 wins 2 loss.
In light of these events I though it would be appropriate to investigate possible reasons management would decide to get rid of an NBA head coach during the season as opposed to in the offseason as seen on “Black Monday” in the NFL.
There are several advantages to replacing a head coach in season as opposed to the offseason. There is an expected morale boost and easing of tension when a dysfunctional team replaces their head coach during the season that can spark a turnaround from the roster if done earlier enough. Additionally a replacement head coach can implement a new system on either end and will often employ different rotations then their predecessor, which can lead to better results. Changing the approach to accountability and advice are other important factors a replacement head coach can apply to encourage winning ways. The Brooklyn Nets, who as of the time of this writing have had the greatest improvement (as seen above) admit that accountability and guidance under replacement P.J. Carlesimo are some of the keys to their rebound. “He gets on everybody from top to bottom when they’re not playing well and they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. He’s not shy about that. At the same time he’ll talk to you. He’ll tell you what you’re doing wrong nicely and after the game or before practice he’ll talk to you” said Williams. (Quote via Michael Scotto RealGM article)
There are of course also downsides to firing a coach during a season rather than waiting for the offseason to make the change. It is often a difficult task for both the coaching staff and players to adjust to the new playing style, lineups and culture that a replacement head coach can insert without the benefit of training camp. There is also the problem of a given team not having an ideal assistant coach candidate ready for a promotion to handle the duties of an interim head coach. Many assistant coaches operate most effectively in their specialized roles out of the spotlight and without the increased responsibilities that go along with a head coaching position.
As explored there is no definitive, correct option when it comes to deciding whether to replace a coach in the midst of a season or at the completion of the season. Teams would be best off evaluating the benefits and drawbacks with respect to their own situation and not looking solely at the results of other team’s decisions.
Hasta la vista my fellow NBA aficionados.