The 2008 NBA season hasn’t even reached the quarter mark yet and there are already three major coaching changes.
On 21 November, shortly after a disappointing 105-80 loss to the New Orleans, the Oklahoma City Thunder fired Coach P.J. Carlesimo.
At that time the team was 1-12 and had lost 10 straight games. He had a record of 21-74 during his tenure with the team.
Three days later, the Washington Wizards made a change of their own. The team fired Coach Eddie Jordan, who led the squad to the playoffs the past four years.
When Jordan was fired the team was 1-10 and had just come off an embarrassing 122-117 loss to the pathetic New York Knicks.
Last Wednesday, 3 December, the latest redundancy came to light. The Toronto Raptors fired Coach Sam Mitchell, a former coach of the year while he was with Toronto.
The Raptors have a record of 8-9 and came off a 132-93 defeat to the Denver Nuggets. Mitchell has led the Raptors to the playoffs for the last two seasons.
At first glance the trades are shocking. It’s almost too early to pass judgement on any team and cast blame on the coaches. Moreover all of the coaches have the talent and experience to orchestrate a turnaround later on.
To be fair all the teams had losing records and were worse off than expected. The Thunder may be an expansion team but Durant and Mason alone should have been enough to string together more wins. The Wizards and Raptors meanwhile are playoff-calibre sides that should at least be treading water.
But the teams need extra time to gel due to injuries and new acquisitions over the off-season.
More than anything I feel in each case the coaches were the scapegoats when the team had issues beyond their control.
With Oklahoma City their lack of height and muscle on the inside is an issue beyond Carlesimo. Mind you Smith is a solid reserve and Green is young but Collison and Swift are going to be abused down low on a nightly basis.
They also lack a lights-out shooter and committed distributor to compliment Durant. Wilkins and Watson are not the answer for either problem.
The Wizards have never been a healthy club as they have been battling injuries the last five years. Yet Jordan has found a way for them to succeed.
The place where they’re getting hurt most is with their big men. Haywood is not 100 per cent, Jamison has never been a physical forward and there’s no bruiser in sight to discourage drives down the lane.
The Raptors have had questions in their frontcourt for years, before and during Mitchell’s tenure. Even with O’Neal they’re not physical or imposing.
Their jump-shooting is good and they can be ok in transition but defense is a constant bugaboo. It doesn’t help that the defense goes only as far as the scoring-minded Bosh.
Furthermore the firings I feel won’t do much for the teams’ fortunes this year.
The Thunder are in an extremely competitive Western Conference where a winning record is no guarantee for the playoffs.
Moreover the Northwest division is ridiculously deep with Portland, Denver and Utah perennial frontrunners. The frustrating part is they’re not even on the same level as Minnesota who boasts Jefferson, Foye and Miller.
The reality for Washington is they’re no longer the crème of the Southeast division they once were. The Magic have long caught up and passed them while the Hawks and Heat have steadily built up better team chemistry.
With or without Jordan they can and will be in the playoff picture this year but they don’t have a squad that can be anything more than a first round dropout.
The Raptors are in a similar position in that in spite of their inconsistency the playoffs are not far from reach. In terms of teams with records substantially over .500 the East is weak and the Atlantic division can easily have three teams in the playoffs again.
Furthermore the Raptors can consistently put points on the board. As the Suns have proved, offense goes a long way towards making the playoffs [though defense gets wins when you get there].
In the end, the NBA witnessed three substantial firings early in the season. With plenty of games left to go there’s probably more such moves on the way.