Who is the next coaching casualty?
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
Does this happen in other sports? It’s a month into the season, and the Nets’ Lawrence Franks Sunday made it a second coach after the Hornets' Byron Scott to be fired. Of course, the question always is, who’s next?
It was thought for some time—and always could be given the franchise—to be the Clippers’ Mike Dunleavy. Though at 8-10 and without rookie Blake Griffin, that hardly seems to qualify as a reason to be fired. Of course, we always qualify it for that being the Clippers.
The usual suspects, as Capt. Renault might suggest, would figure to include Indiana’s Jim O’Brien and maybe even Cleveland’s Mike Brown, though their teams are doing about as well as expected. There’s always Don Nelson with the dysfunctional Warriors, though most expect Nelson to bail out on his own sometime after he passes Lenny Wilkens’ wins record, which is 19 to go. If Nelson, who is away from the team now ill, stays away longer that total might come more quickly with Monta Ellis doing a pretty fair rub-it-in last week averaging 32.3 points and six assists once Nelson left the team.
"We're having fun again," said Ellis, fighting with Nelson and management for a year. "Having fun, playing together as a team. There's a whole different vibe we have right now."
So you look, instead, at the biggest disappointments this season, and the underachievers have to be the Wizards, the 76ers and the Raptors.
Yes, the Knicks and Nets are a combined 3-30—is that sweet, or what?—but who expected that much better?
The 76ers, 5-12, have had brutal injuries and have a new coach and system going into place. Same with the Wizards, though at 5-10 they are a big disappointment with Flip Saunders seemingly overwhelmed trying to get a handle on the oversized ego of Gilbert Arenas and already issues between Arenas and Caron Butler and also injuries at times to Antawn Jamison and now Mike Miller.
And then there’s the Raptors, who basically have had the same starting lineup all season without any injuries and are starting to get blown out on a regular basis.
They’ve lost seven of nine and the last three by an average of more than 22 per game. They give up more than 109 points per game, second most in the league to Golden State and have yielded at least 100 the last nine games. Their defense is atrocious, 24th in opponents’ shooting, last in steals.
It’s also a franchise that, historically, has had little patience with coaches as Sam Mitchell last season went 17 games into the season, three of the franchise’s six coaches didn’t last two seasons and a fourth, Butch Carter, got just over two seasons and was fired after the team’s first ever playoff appearance and then best record ever. Of course, those were previous administrations.
Though there was some “ah ha” when former Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni, a defensive specialist, was hired by his former boss in Phoenix, Bryan Colangelo, to be a Raptors assistant for coach Jay Triano. But this is Triano’s first full season, so you figure they’d give him a chance.
The larger question for the Raptors is Chris Bosh, and whether it’s time to try to make a major deal. The Raptors’ comment always has been if Bosh, one of the major free agents this summer, chooses to leave, he’s best off with a Raptors sign and trade to make a probable maximum contract. That’s likely true, though you also wonder if Toronto would look into a deal at some point to remake their team.
It’s been a disastrous stretch for the Raptors with Antoine Wright telling Toronto reporters, “You've got guys in here eating popcorn, joking around before the game. And we go out there and lose by 40. It's a direct result of what's going on before the game. Guys not coming in with the right mind frame.” That was after a 35-point loss to Charlotte, after which the Celtics beat up the Raptors and Paul Pierce was called for a technical for standing over and taunting a fallen Bosh with no teammates reacting.
"We do fool around a lot. And it tends to carry over into the game, and that's something that needs to change,” said someone named Sonny Weems, who rarely even plays.
“We just got punked,” Wright said after the Boston debacle. “We’ve got guys standing over our best player, flexing, and it’s not something we can stand for. I was pretty frustrated sitting on the bench watching their whole team run out there on the floor and we only had our coaches up shouting and screaming at their players.”
“Yeah, I’d like to see the team more passionate,” said the usually laconic Bosh. “I’m tired of talking about toughness. We talk about it too much. We talk about everything too much. We’ve got to stop talking about it and just do it.”
Bosh is getting his numbers, averaging 25.1 points and 11.9 rebounds, but you wonder at times if it’s with an eye toward where he’ll be and just going for the numbers. I’ve thought with the addition of Hedo Turkoglu that Bosh might end up staying. It’s difficult to see that the way things are going. Of the so-called Big Three of 2010 free agents with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, he certainly seems to have the most questionable situation. Though, also, after the team was 33-49 last season and now 7-11, how much can you invest in a player who doesn’t seem to impact winning very much?
There’s been speculation the Suns, unsure about resigning Amar’e Stoudemire, might try to trade him. That seems unlikely given the Suns terrific 14-3 start as they cruised by Toronto and its booing home crowd Sunday. The Suns lead the early surprises, probably with the Thunder, Kings, Hawks and Bucks. If you are interested in Bosh, it probably would be worth a call if things don’t change soon.
Pistons guard returns to Chicago
-- We’ve all been looking toward Wednesday and the Detroit Pistons and the return of the little guard from Chicago who has lit it up pretty good for the Pistons this season.
That’s right. Will Bynum is back.
No, we don’t know yet about Ben Gordon, the former Bulls’ top scorer who missed his second consecutive game Sunday with a sprained ankle, though I’d expect him to play Wednesday as the sprain was not said to be too severe.
The Pistons have been devastated with injuries this season with Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince out just about all season and now Charlie Villanueva having surgery on a broken nose Monday.
The Pistons are hanging in there, and one reason is Bynum, the former Crane High School star who has made it in the NBA the long way, undrafted, cut by two NBA teams, playing a year in the D-League and two in Israel to now averaging 13.6 points and 4.4 assists as one of the Pistons’ main guards in their three-guard attack and one of the best slashing guards off the pick and roll in the NBA now.
To me, Bynum is the best definition of a Most Improved Player given his expectations were so low and he had to fight his way through the minors and Europe and as last man on the bench for the Pistons last season, beating out Lindsey Hunter for the last roster spot a year ago.
“I was disappointed I wasn’t drafted,” Bynum recalls. “But it never stopped my belief I could play in the NBA. I just felt I had to work on things to improve and get better.”
First, Boston released him and then he played well in 15 games with the Warriors, but they made a trade and the roster swelled and he wasn’t guaranteed, and we know what happens then. Bynum needed a paying job and took off for Maccabi Tel Aviv and wasn’t fully sure it was the right thing to do.
“At first I thought it was crazy and there’d be bombs and all that,” Bynum recalled in a phone conversation last week. “It turned out to be a great situation. It’s beautiful. There’s hardly any crime. The weather is nice. It looks like Miami. The people were great and the team was high level, like the Lakers of Europe.
“It helped me grow as a person and player,” says Bynum. “There’s so much pressure to win every game. It’s everything to them. If you don’t play or don’t play up to the effort they expect, they dog you. I’d have big scoring games, we’d be winning and they’d be killing me in the papers. They’d say I didn’t know how to manage a game.
“I learned how to control the tempo of the game there, when to rush, push, time and score, in whose hands the ball should be,” said Bynum. “Early on I was just playing hard and there’s a difference. Europe was everything to me. My career is one that can be inspiring to young people who have to go different routes. Never be discouraged and never give up.”
By the way, Pistons insiders are saying the team MVP this season is…yes, Ben Wallace. He is averaging 9.4 rebounds with 21 offensive rebounds the last two games. To me, Wallace is the poster man for not taking the last dollar. He did with the Bulls, taking $60 million over about $48 million the Pistons offered, and he clearly wasn’t into it in Chicago, as we witnessed. Supposedly his family and representatives urged him to jump, and I guess that’s their job and responsibility. But can you live differently on $15 million a year compared with $12 million? I know. Just about everyone takes the money. But Ben loved Detroit and they loved him. He’s back and playing basically better than anytime with the Bulls after being dumped by the Cavs and buying himself out in Phoenix. Can money buy happiness? Of course, Ben did get the money and is back in Detroit. So maybe he did have it figured out.
Don’t count Iverson out yet
-- Allen Iverson isn’t retired. It’s pretty clear Iverson is angry with the basketball world, and his initial statement suggests that with prepared remarks to writer Stephen A. Smith: “I still have tremendous love for the game, the desire to play, and a whole lot left in my tank. I feel strongly that I can still compete at the highest level.” The Knicks said no and then the 76ers apparently have as well, though their trial balloon apparently still is floating out there with point guard Lou Williams out two months. The 76ers badly need a point guard after letting Andre Miller go in free agency to Portland. It may be why they seem to have backed off Iverson publicly for now, though after several years of frustration with Gilbert Arenas, who openly questioned him, I’d strongly doubt new coach Eddie Jordan wants any part of Iverson.
What Iverson is going through publicly millions of businessmen and women and journalists and leaders in all industries have gone through privately the last few years: Every day you’re needed and you’re busy and people are relying on you constantly and then they dump you and no one else is hiring. And everything goes on without you and how can that be?
It’s time for Iverson to scale back and accept he’s not the ceo anymore or lead columnist or chief foreman. It takes a while, but at some point you just want to go back to work, and you realize that’s enough. You can imagine with Iverson. He likely was the best player every day from the time he started playing as a tyke. And then he’s not chosen and some fat kid is playing and he just can’t believe it because he knows he’s still better. Look, Michael Jordan couldn’t deal with it, either. You never know with someone as prideful as Iverson whose stubbornness to accept he was too small and light to ever be any good helped make him one of the best ever. Now he wants to be the star still. He’s sentimental and would return to Philadelphia, supposedly to finish. Maybe it will happen as they qualify as desperate.
Though apparently passing on Iverson now may mean they have something going. Mike Conley keeps losing time to now Jamaal Tinsley in Memphis and the 76ers have had interest for some time in the Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich, whose sprained thumb is not serious and he’ll play sometime this week. Though the 76ers have little to deal and would seemingly have to work some sort of three-way deal and get someone to take Samuel Dalembert, a long shot.
Iverson will be back in the NBA this season. Some very good team will come calling and he’ll just want to still be involved. Plus, staying home isn’t all what’s it’s held out to be. Someone as motivated as Iverson needs to be involved for as long as he can. And he still can be. He’ll be back.
On Rasheed and the Celtics…
-- You know you’re good when you’re at near the top spot in the conference all season, as the Celtics have been, and people keep asking what’s wrong. The overall defense is pretty much middle of the pack, though scoring defense and their shooting is good. Rajon Rondo isn’t working quite as hard defensively unless he’s on the ball, some wondering if having been paid has taken some edge off. Kevin Garnett hasn’t recovered explosiveness from his knee surgery, and now after more than 40,000 minutes played maybe you don’t. Maybe it levels the playing field a bit, but the window hasn’t closed yet. … The NBA fined Rasheed Wallace $30,000 for his intemperate remarks about officiating when Wallace got tired of Hedo Turkoglu’s flopping in a win over Toronto last week. The league did say they’d police it better last season, but they never did. Said Wallace: “Everyone knows (officials) try to keep games close and that they keep scouting reports on guys, ‘Let the Golden Child or the NBA Without Borders Guys do it,’ and it’s fine and dandy.” The Golden Child, of course, is LeBron James, and the Without Borders guy is the foreign guys who often participate in the NBA’s international programs. I don’t believe either of it, but I’ve heard it often from players, that they believe James is protected as well as the international players because they don’t criticize the league and willingly do more “globalization” work. It’s often whispered in baseball (sometimes loudly like when Gary Sheffield claimed it) that baseball recruits more players from Latin America and it reduces the number of American blacks. You hear this quietly among a lot of players in the NBA, that the NBA tries to expand the number of international players because so many are white. I haven’t seen it and from every owner and GM I’ve known they’d take just about anyone if they could win with him. But players often believe it, something of sports urban legends. Though who really knows for sure. But few dare to express it. Then there’s Rasheed. You also had to love his former coach Flip Saunders last week calling out “Ball don’t lie,” a classic Sheedism, when free throws were missed after a foul Saunders thought questionable. Now that may be a bigger issue: Coaches quoting Rasheed.
Jackson gives Charlotte a boost
-- You never know how long it will last with Stephen Jackson, but the Bobcats are getting a good boost from the Golden State escapee. The Bobcats have won the last four over Indiana, Toronto, the Cavs and Wizards by an average of 18 per game as Jackson has provided cover with defensive attention and the floor has opened for Charlotte’s shooters. It’s what the Bulls have been suffering from, in part, with the loss of Ben Gordon. The Bobcats shot 48 percent in Jackson first six games compared with 39 percent before he arrived. "Whatever team Jack is on is going to be a better team. No matter where he's at because he's an unselfish player and he's a player that knows how to win,” LeBron James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer as James had lobbied hard for Jackson. “He knows how to play. He's going to be productive for every team." Though the Cavs try to accommodate James any way they can, they have failed repeatedly to being in players he wanted. … By the way, the Cavs played their best ball this season of late with Shaq out. It was a surprising decision by the player friendly Mike Brown Saturday to sit Zydrunas Ilgauskas when he had his family in to see him set the all-time Cavs record for games played. Brown said it was matchups. Isn’t everything?
NBA news and notes
-- Vince Carter still gets booed in Toronto (so did the team Sunday), but GM Bryan Colangelo in a bygones be bygones nice move sent word to Carter the Raptors would like to honor him for contributions to the franchise. Carter declined, noting he still is booed there so what was the point. … The Orlando Sentinel came up with an interesting stat that the team last season was 45-19 with Jameer Nelson and into this season 44-21 when one of his substitutes played with Nelson hurt again. Oh, so it is Dwight Howard. … I liked the suggestion of Charlotte Observer columnist Tom Sorensen that if LeBron James really wanted to pay tribute to Michael Jordan he’d come play for Jordan’s Bobcats.
-- I watched the Rockets beat the improved Thunder Sunday and saw Aaron Brooks, who was not the No. 1 pick in the draft but a speedy guard, just blowing by defenders as the Rockets and coach Rick Adelman cleverly opened the floor for Brooks and he attacked the Thunder. Heck, the Rockets barely have anyone over 6-5 and no post game as Luis Scola was out and they dominated the Thunder on the boards. It can be done with effort and appropriate use of your talent. This slow start, though Derrick Rose is averaging more than 15 per game, isn’t exactly Rose’s fault. It’s time for the team to open the floor and let him work, run the ball as many have long said and get in transition. Rose should be great at drive and kick, and that should make for some more open looks. I don’t see where he needs a screen every time bringing a big man up. Let him isolate on top more like the Celtics do with Paul Pierce and many teams do with quick guards and let the defense bring a double. I think Rose can make plays off that and also get to the basket and get some fouls. The Bulls have played the fewest games in the league so far, so they’ll be getting a lot of games coming up. They’re going to have to open up the game to compete effectively. … The Rockets, by the way, play Brooks with Kyle Lowery a lot as several teams with the floor more opened have opted for a small guard backcourt. The Bucks now do it often with Brandon Jennings and Luke Ridnour. Until Tyrus Thomas returns, it might make sense to play John Salmons back at small forward, where he’s more comfortable, and Luol Deng at power forward where he can postup some. Noted Houston coach Rick Adelman: “More teams are trying to push the ball. There are different philosophies in what they're doing when they're pushing it and how they're doing it. I think it depends on the players you have and your personnel. But I think more teams are in that mode of trying to get it up the court faster.” Added Dallas coach Rick Carlisle to Dallas reporters after the teams played last week: “Playmaking has become a primary skill in the league right now. That's one reason you see multiple playmakers in the game. In our case, we are down on healthy bodies, so that's why (Rodrique) Beaubois has been starting some of these games. Last year we had (J.J.) Barea start a lot of games based on matchups and the abilities of the team when he's on the floor. Size is a huge factor. Quickness is becoming more of a factor in the league.” Run, baby run.
-- You had to wonder about the image of all these kids in Tanzania wearing Allen Iverson shirts. The Grizzlies planned to give away 3,000 promotional Iverson jerseys on Dec. 4. Instead, the team will give fans Marc Gasol jersey t-shirts after Iverson was released. The NBA's charity program, Basketball Without Borders, will facilitate the shipment. It reminds me some of the South Park Starvin’ Marvin episode where the kids in the impoverished areas don’t get it as we send them goods and they want food. It’s a nice gesture, really, and the NBA does more than most sports leagues for people around the world. You just keep having this image of some poor kid looking at a t-shirt that says “Iverson.” And then probably saying, “The Knicks should have signed him.”… Another guard to watch who could be available is Denver’s Anthony Carter, who has fallen out of the rotation with J.R. Smith back and rookie Ty Lawson playing regularly. … The Thunder has defeated Orlando, San Antonio, Miami and Utah with former Bull Thabo Sefolosha getting major kudos for defense on the likes of Deron Williams and Dwyane Wade, Said Williams after being limited by Sefolosha: “He is a bigger guard, took a lot of things away from me. It was his size and length. I just have to be more aggressive next time.”… With some teams not traveling much yet or playing stronger teams, it’s tough to still judge where things are at. For example, the 12-5 Mavs have wins over teams with a combined record of 84-100. … Watch out for those Timbwerwolves, who won their second game Sunday. And in Denver. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good. GM David Kahn told local reporters he’ll wait until the trading deadline in February to consider moves because they want to see Kevin Love return and wait until Al Jefferson fully recovers from knee surgery. "It's still really early," Kahn said. "But I suspect there will be opportunities, especially as we come closer and closer to trade deadline, whether it's for financial reasons or playoff positioning."… Inside Amar’e Stoudemire’s locker is the famous Michael Jordan quote hung up: "I've failed over and over again and that's why I succeed." … The Trail Blazers, suddenly being blown out twice after dominating the Bulls, saw Andre Miller benched again in a loss to the Jazz and not playing after halftime. The key players, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, seem not so thrilled about the offense going more through Greg Oden, and it seems possible Miller will be dealt once the moratorium on free agent signees to be traded expires in December. The Trailblazers needed to use their free agent money or lose it, and at least Miller gives them an asset of value, especially with so many teams always looking for high level point guards. If the Trail Blazers with so much talent and position duplication don’t recover quickly, you can see them being big in the trading market this winter. … You figure Steve Nash playing again for the league’s winningest team gave thanks last week for Shaq being gone. Nash is again back in MVP form averaging 16.2 points, 11.8 assists and shooting 53.1 percent. Nash also is playing his fewest minutes in 10 years. "I think he's playing better right now, or at least as well, as he did when he won his two MVPs," Suns coach Alvin Gentry told the Arizona Republic. "I don't think anybody gave our team a chance to be where it is. Obviously we couldn't be close to where we are without him. I'm sure he probably has lost a half-step but it's hard to tell when you're always on the move and always playing angles. He always sees the next play."