Posted Feb 25 2010 10:19AM
Times are tough for everyone. Even NBA coaches. Not only is job security always an issue, now there's pay security. In the immortal words of Latrell Sprewell, how's a coach gonna feed his family?
After a considerable amount of quiet negotiation, George Karl was graciously awarded a one-year extension from the Nuggets. Think about that. Karl is a respected coach, the Nuggets are having a solid season and could put a scare into the Lakers this spring, and Karl got a guarantee all the way through next season.
Also: Mike Woodson is without a contract beyond this season in Atlanta. The big surprise is nobody is surprised about that.
We've had three coaching changes already and, depending on how the chips fall, there could be six vacancies or more this summer. And with money getting tight, coaches shouldn't expect big raises or long deals, either.
Welcome to the real world, in other words.
Here's a look at the more interesting situations, which could provide some drama between now and the offseason.
They did Lawrence Frank a huge favor by booting him before he could set the NBA record for consecutive losses to start the season. That's a bad stain on anyone's resume. And then Kiki Vandeweghe didn't take over until after the record was set (Tom Barrise says thanks a lot). The Nets even lost their lead assistant midway through the season when Del Harris said "enough," and how often does that happen in the NBA? What a comical year for coaches in the Meadowlands. Nobody wanted the job and the stigma that came with it. That said, this vacancy will be in demand this summer, because of a new, deep-pockets owner and the possibility of landing a good free agent or two.
Barring a change in plans, Jeff Bower is merely keeping the seat warm before he goes back upstairs. The Hornets hope to strike it rich the same way the Saints did when they last looked for a coach. This may or may not be a good gig; it depends on what Bower does in the coming year to make Chris Paul happy. Paul doesn't want to waste another year passing to teammates who can't win 50-plus games and go deep into the playoffs.
If the Clippers believed they were headed for hard times, then they'd simply take the interim tag from Kim Hughes and hire him cheap. But with Blake Griffin coming back next year and with money to spend on free agents, this could be a job for a marquee coach. It still remains to be seen whether Donald Sterling is willing to pay for that type of coach, however. Maybe Hughes has a shot, after all.
Jim O'Brien is finishing up his third season, and this one looks like the other two. Very few coaches survive three losing seasons with any team. His status will largely depend on whether Larry Bird returns as general manager, and that's no guarantee. A new boss will almost certainly clean house, to start fresh if nothing else.
Gone? After a year? Don't be surprised if it happens. Eddie Jordan has received no public guarantees from management in Philly. That's how disappointing the year has been. The Sixers were thinking playoffs last November and now are struggling to reach that goal, even in the watered-down Eastern Conference. Jordan has had philosophical clashes with Elton Brand and it hasn't been easy connecting with, or getting the best from, the team's most expensive player. If Ed Stefanski, the GM, is feeling any heat to do something bold in order to change the culture in Philly, then watch out.
Anyone who had Vinny Del Negro in the midseason dismissal pool lost big. And there were plenty who did. Del Negro took heat when the Bulls looked lethargic in December. But give him credit, he never panicked or shoveled blame. And Bulls' management demonstrated amazing patience. Still, that doesn't mean Del Negro is safe, especially if the Bulls get Dwyane Wade this summer. They may conclude Del Negro isn't the right coach for the next level.
Wasn't it just yesterday when Flip Saunders was a preseason choice for Coach of the Year? How times have changed. It wasn't his fault Gilbert Arenas brought guns into the locker room. But the Wizards are in full housecleaning mode, with a new owner and possibly new GM coming in. Saunders is known to work best with veterans, not young players; therefore he could be an odd fit if the Wizards suddenly devote themselves to a youth movement.
He needs seven wins to pass Lenny Wilkens on the all-time list. Wouldn't it be interesting if Don Nelson ended the season tied with Wilkens? It's widely assumed Nellie is done if and when he gets that record. The Warriors wouldn't bring him back just to win a game next November ... would they? Well, say this much for Nelson: His survival skills are legendary. But coming back for one last victory would be off the charts legendary.
Woodson might win the most games of his career in Atlanta and still be shown the door. It all depends on the playoffs. A first-round elimination may not cut it. Getting swept in the second round probably won't merit an extension, either. Woodson can make a stronger case by reaching the conference finals. His players seem to like him personally, and his relationship with Josh Smith appears workable. But usually when coaches are fired, there's a collective shrug in NBA locker rooms. The Hawks would be no different than any other team.
Phil Jackson is year-to-year, but wouldn't you love a scenario where he returns to coach next season in Los Angeles ... with the Clippers?
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.
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