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Living the Fantasy: Coaching cuts play out like horror movie

By Rick Kamla, NBA.com
Posted Dec 17 2008 8:49AM

All of the sudden, coaching in the NBA is as dangerous as timber-cutting, crab fishing or chilling at a wand-free nightclub. Unless your last name is Jackson, Popovich, or Sloan, it's probably best that you not read the papers.

Freaks, the NBA has never seen more coaches dismissed before the New Year ... ever!

It reminds me of a scary movie where you speculate about who's going to get the axe and who's going to survive the suspenseful showdown with the boogeyman.

Six coaches were fired in a 23-day span, and that unprecedented carnage played out like an all-too-predictable horror movie ...

The Thunder's P.J. Carlesimo was the curmudgeon cop who harassed the young couple having fun in the back of the van. He gets ruthlessly rubbed out early in act one to establish that this boogeyman means business.

Washington's Eddie Jordan was the affable head camp counselor who gets it next to show how fatally close the boogeyman is to the rest of the group.

Sam Mitchell was the sarcastic jock who bullies the nerdy character in a lame attempt to impress "the ladies." When the boogeyman finishes off the Toronto coach, Alfred Hitchcock blushes from his grave.

Randy Wittman was the poor dude who wanders away from the group into the woods on a stormy night. He didn't stand a chance with the boogeyman, or my beloved-yet-dysfunctional Timberwolves.

Philly's Maurice Cheeks was the straight man who you think is going to last until the closing credits, but he gets whacked when you least expect it.

Finally, Sacramento's Reggie Theus was the other potential hero who is erased by the boogeyman in an excruciatingly slow, gory sequence that proves the gratuitous nature of this made-for-DVD horror flick.

Lamely, the trend in pro sports -- and now the NBA -- is to change for the sake of change, push the panic button WAY too early, and incorrectly think you can circle the wagons on the fly.

With very few exceptions, in-season coaching changes are a death knell to a team's playoff aspirations. Usually, the team flounders around for a few months before making yet another coaching change in the offseason. It's an annoying cycle that I thought the NBA was above, but I have been proven wrong.

So riddle me this, boogeyman...

How is the Thunder doing with Scott Brooks?

After starting 1-12 under PJ, they are 1-12 under Brooks. I did not disagree with Carlesimo's firing, and while the effort has improved under Brooks, OKC remains last in the league in wins.

How are the Wizards doing with Ed Tapscott?

After starting 1-10 under Eddie, the team is 3-8 with Ed. The point is moot, however, because there isn't a coach on God's green Earth who could win consistently without its starting PG and C.

How are the Raptors doing with Jay Triano?

Mitchell was fired after an 8-9 start, which reminds me of Minnesota's clueless firing of Dwane Casey in 2006-07. Since taking over, Triano is 2-5 as Toronto's interim coach and they still don't play any defense.

How are the Timberwolves doing with Kevin McHale?

Stop laughing...

How are the 76ers doing with Tony DiLeo?

Cheeks was 9-14, which is a disappointing record in light of Elton Brand coming to Philly in the offseason. That said, the expectations were set unrealistically high in Philadelphia, especially by those who thought the Sixers could continue running with a half-court big man like Brand.

The Sixers won their first game with DiLeo, but it was against the Wizards at home. They could have won that game without a coach.

How are the Kings doing with Kenny Natt?

After starting 6-18 with Theus (and without Kevin Martin for most of those games), the Kings are 1-1 with Natt. However, that record needs an asterisk next to it. After all, the win came against my Timberwolves.

Of the six coaching changes, I agree with two: Oklahoma City and Minnesota. Neither of those teams were going anywhere under Carlesimo and Wittman (not that they're going anywhere with Brooks and McHale).

I strongly disagree with the firings of Jordan, Mitchell, Cheeks and Theus; they're all good basketball men, good people and good for the game. The good news is that at least two of them will resurface in the NBA no later than this summer.

Jordan has ties to the 76ers (he worked under Philadelphia GM Ed Stefanski in New Jersey) and Kings (he was the head coach in Sacramento from 1996-98). I'll be shocked if he isn't coaching one of those two teams next season.

Mitchell started and ended his playing career in Minnesota, and my Wolves would be crazy not to do everything in their power to bring him back.

After getting the boot by the Trail Blazers and 76ers, Cheeks might get a third chance, but it probably won't be with a contender.

As for Theus, it sounds like he will go back to the college ranks, but I don't think he's coached his last game in the NBA.

Unfortunately, PJ and Wittman probably won't get another crack at a head coaching position in the NBA. But don't shed a tear because they should land softly as assistants.

By the way, none of these six interim coaches will be manning the sideline for their respective teams next season, so what was the point of these moves?

I leave you with the playoff chances of the six teams who have changed coaches.

76ers -- Many had Philly pegged as the fifth or sixth seed entering the season. Their talent is too good not to be 6-8 in the East, but they won't get out of the first round.

Raptors -- Every game from here is a playoff game as the Raps are tied for 11th in the East. Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon will lead this team to a seventh or eighth seed, but it'll be one-and-done again this year.

Wizards -- The Wizards will make the playoffs if Gilbert Arenas comes back this weekend and averages 50 points the rest of the season.

Kings -- The Kings are playing like they are more concerned with winning an Emmy for their reality show than winning basketball games.

Thunder -- I love the Little Three of Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook, but this team is years away from the playoffs.

Timberwolves -- With Corey Brewer out for the season and Mike Miller refusing to shoot contested jumpers, the Wolves are the worst team in the NBA. I know they have twice as many wins as the Thunder, but the Wolves have the longest current losing streak at 10 in a row.

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