|Written by Mark Grey|
by MARK GREY
February 26th, 2009
Webster’s dictionary defines the word scapegoat as "one who bears the blame for others" or "one who is the object of irrational hostility." After the first half of this NBA season, its beginning to look like a synonym for "scapegoat" could be "NBA head coach." When the Suns fired Terry Porter last week it marked the 8th head coaching change in the NBA just this season, meaning that with more than a month left, more than a quarter of the teams have fired their coach. All across the NBA General Mangers are looking for someone to blame for their teams' poor performances, but it’s about time more of them took a look in the mirror instead of just passing the blame off on the coaches they choose.
Terry Porter's firing last week after less than a season's worth of work, and despite having a winning record, is just the latest example of a GM passing blame. When Steve Kerr inherited the Suns after the 2006-2007 season, he walked into a great situation. He took over a team that had just won 61 games and was the only team to win two playoff games against the Spurs. The team had two first-team all-NBA players, a first team all-defensive NBA player, the sixth man of the year, and one of the most respected coaches in the NBA running the show. What more could you ask for? The Suns were set to be contenders for years and there wasn’t a better nucleus in basketball than Amare, Marion, and Nash. In less than three seasons under Kerr, the Suns are now on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Since taking over the reign, Kerr’s list of accomplishments includes trading a 29-year-old Shawn Marion (who many believe to be one of the most versatile players in the NBA) for a 35-year-old center at the end of his career. The list also includes Kerr's attempt, but failure to, trade away a 26-year-old who may be the game's best offensive low post player. That first team all defensive player? Got rid of him. That former coach of the year? Ran him out too. What about that two-time NBA MVP who led the team to four straight 50- win seasons? Kerr thought the offense would run better without him calling the plays. Add up all those moves and you get the great disappointment known as the 2009 Phoenix Suns. Who does Steve Kerr feel is to blame for the mess he created? That’s right -- the head coach that he hand-picked just last June. There is no question someone is to blame for the Suns' drastic fall off, but it isn’t Porter.
While Kerr is just the latest GM to prematurely fire a coach, the trend has been going on all year. In Washington DC, the Wizards fired Eddie Jordan after just 11 games. After GM Ernie Grunfeld decided to give 125 million to an injured Gilbert Arenas and not to bring back free agent Roger Mason, the deck was already stacked against Jordan. Add the team's starting center and back up centers getting hurt before the season even started, and is it really a surprise the team got off to a slow start? Instead of taking the blame for a list of poor off-season moves, Grunfeld fired Jordan and thought that would fix the team's problems. Since firing Jordan, the Wizards are 12-33 and can be seen down by 20 points before halftime almost 3 nights a week. Sorry Ernie, but this time Jordan isn’t to blame -- you are.
In Sacramento, Reggie Theus might have gotten the worst deal of all. After the Kings had spent the last two seasons getting rid of just about any player with talent and getting nothing in return, GM Geoff Petrie had put together a team that had lottery written all over it. As if the Kings weren’t bad enough already, they had to start the season without their leading scorer, Kevin Martin, due to an injury. To no one's surprise, the Kings started the season off poorly and after going 6-18, Theus was the one taking the blame as Petrie fired him. The Kings' record since firing Theus is 6-28...hard to say he was really the problem there, Geoff.
In Toronto, Sam Mitchell was fired just two years after being Coach of the Year. After the Raptors got off to a slower-than- expected start, Mitchell was fired with a record of 8-9 on the year. Since firing Mitchell, the Raptors are 14-27 ( far from an improvement ) and have all but fallen out of the playoff picture. In Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Memphis, the coaches were all fired because their teams were playing well. I don’t want to be the one to break it to the General Mangers of those teams but: this just in … the Timberwolves, Thunder, and Grizzles aren’t good teams, and it’s not because of the coaching. Those teams are young and just don’t have the talent to win right now; blaming the coaches is just a way to take the focus off of the people who put together these bad teams. For these GMs to make poor choices in the draft year after year, over pay for free agents, and make bad trades, only to then fire the coach for the team's poor performance is not dealing with the real problem. As the Pistons continue to fall apart after Joe Dumar’s Allen Iverson experiment, it looks like we might soon be seeing one more coach walk the plank for a gamble that his boss made. For many of these General Mangers searching for the reason for their teams' poor performance, the answer is in their own offices...not on the bench.