Stroll through the paint: First coaching firings loom
How long do we go before a head coach loses his job?
Clearly, there are special circumstances this season. Training camps went by in a blink, preseason games offered no variety and virtually all coaches entered the season scrambling to figure out rotations and learn tendencies of their new personnel.
Still, it must be noted that in the strike-shortened ’99 campaign, Del Harris lasted less than three weeks before being fired by the Lakers. Dave Cowens hung around barely a month before resigning from his Hornets gig and John Calipari’s controversial exit from the Nets organization followed the very next week.
Full disclosure, I bothered to do this research after watching the Knicks and Kings on Wednesday night, which I was only able to do after skipping the Wizards visit to Orlando because of how unwatchable they’ve been.
Flip Saunders’ team got into a 9-0 hole and was barely on the court, making me relish my decision to avoid Central Florida’s unseasonably frigid temperatures and hole up with my League Pass.
The clock is ticking. Saunders, Mike D’Antoni and Paul Westphal can start thinking about what type of vino they would like with their last meals.
Washington has yet to win in six tries and starts a three-game homestand against the Knicks, Timberwolves and Raptors that may be Saunders’ last stand if it’s unsuccessful.
“It’s kind of dead around here as you can see,” Jordan Crawford told the Washington Post’s Michael Lee in the visiting locker room at Amway Center following Wednesday’s blowout loss, “feels like we been playing for two or three months already.”
It sure doesn’t look like it, which is essentially the problem.
New York’s only win since rescuing a blown second-half lead against the Celtics on Christmas night came in Sacramento on a night where the Kings played selfishly and DeMarcus Cousins issued his since-denied trade demand.
The Kings bounced back to defeat New Orleans on New Year’s day, but followed a 17-point loss in Memphis with a 27-point loss in Denver. Neither game was as close as it sounds. The word eyesore applies when describing Sacramento’s style of play. The word cohesive does not. Sacramento continues a stretch of three games in as many nights at home against banged-up Milwaukee, which probably represents its best chance to win for the remainder of the month. Seriously, they play 10 of the next 13 games on the road after Thursday night.
So yeah, if misery loves company, D’Antoni can at least thank his lucky stars that he’s not Westphal or Saunders, coaches dealing with painfully young, selfish talent that may simply be unable to come together under the accelerated schedule’s harsh rigors. He genuinely has pieces to work with. Carmelo Anthony is going to challenge Kevin Durant for the scoring title. Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert returned to the lineup on Wednesday. Baron Davis awaits as a potential savior, not quite unassuming in all those played-out bow-ties.
That said, the fact the Knicks actually have aspirations is precisely why D’Antoni may be in the hottest seat. Knicks fans were promised a winner. They didn’t envision packing the Garden to welcome the team back from their West coast wing only to see them fall flat against the Raptors. Surrendering 62 first-half points in an eventual 118-110 loss the Bobcats is the stuff of nightmares circa 2007-08. You know, when Isiah lurked and clearing cap space became the primary objective.
Teams that fortify their interior defense by throwing $60 million at Tyson Chandler shouldn’t allow as many second chances and layups as the Knicks did against Charlotte. It’s only a matter of time before the natives get restless and start with the chants. At this point, three home games in, New York basketball fans are just happy the games are back and thankful they’re not the Nets. That’s not going to be good enough sooner than later. In fact, boos began in the fourth quarter when rookie Kemba Walker put his Bobcats up 95-80 and were audible throughout the rest of the disappointing finish.
Sadly, the UConn star has had far more success at the Garden over the last few years than the team whose logo graces center court.
To answer my rhetorical question there at the top, someone faces the proverbial guillotine by month’s end. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone fails to make it to the 20-day mark Harris reached back in ’99. Way things are going for the gentlemen mentioned above, it would shock me more if all of them do.
The Spurs and Grizzlies answered the bell in statement games after each team was robbed of arguably their best player for six-to-eight weeks.
UNC product Danny Green was the key in crunch time, playing the Manu Ginobili role aggressively as San Antonio rallied past Golden State. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker led the way, but it was a lineup featuring T.J. Ford, Richard Jefferson and Green that helped the Spurs overcome the Warriors. Stephen Curry going out with another ankle issue didn’t hurt either, but at this point, every win San Antonio can stash is invaluable, especially when it comes against a team gunning to edge it out for a playoff spot.
Memphis did its thing down the stretch in Minnesota without Zach Randolph despite more heroics from Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, leaning on its defense and clutch free-throw shooting to turn away a rally. It’s amazing how Lionel Hollins and his staff helped turn the Grizzlies into a grizzled, veteran squad in such a short time, but they deserve the bulk of the credit. Consider the maturation of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay re-emerging early and Tony Allen contributing after being disgruntled with his role early.
Suddenly, holding it down doesn’t seem as difficult as it did yesterday. Memphis is in better shape from a depth standpoint and has help on its way in the form of Marreese Speights, but San Antonio won’t back down either. All you had to see was Gregg Popovich nearly tackling Tony Parker at halfcort heading into a timeout to know he’s ratcheted up the sense of urgency to where it needs to be. Pop was even calling for intentional fouls of Kwame Brown prior to the 2:00 mark of the fourth, scratching for every available inch.
The Spurs are going to be alright.
Miami showed no signs of looking ahead to Thursday’s rematch with Atlanta despite resting Dwyane Wade and his ailing foot against Indiana. LeBron James and Chris Bosh held the fort down, with separation gained by James Jones’ continued scorching perimeter shooting.
More interesting, the Miami Herald’s Joe Goodman noticed that James had penned the acronym ‘TACKMA’ on the shoes he wore post-game and asked his Twitter followers for their opinions on what message he was trying to send. The “can Kiss my ass” part was easy.
“The Association” is debatable, which is why David Stern won’t be able to fine him for expressing his displeasure at no longer being able to create the basketball empire he wanted to with his emerging sports agency, which was attracting the best and the brightest from all the camps he’s hosted over the years. After all, he could’ve been referring to West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, who owned the Orange Bowl.
Maybe he really wanted Clemson to win. If, more likely, it was a shot at David Stern, he should escape penalty.
After all, James will continue to influence his buddy’s agency indirectly and take veiled shots he can’t be punished for. I think. You never know what the darling commissioner is capable of.
Tony Mejia is the senior writer of Pro Basketball News. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Tony MejiaNBA