Coach firings and hirings have driven the NBA news cycle for the past few days. We dig in…
QUESTION 1: What separates a good (or even really good) coach from a "championship-caliber" coach?
MAURICE BOBB: For me, it’s all about the hardware. You’re not a championship-caliber coach without a championship under your belt. Until you win it all, you’re just a good or really good coach. Case in point: Don Nelson. Really-really good coach…that’s it. Nellie Ball has netted him a mention as one of the Top 10 Coaches in NBA History and the most wins in NBA history. No titles.
MICHAEL TILLERY: Champs understand they're not the smartest basketball minds in the room and also thestrength in a bond. When it's time to tell everyone to shut the hell up and listen, it's done. It's not all about basketball, but a search for that vibe to smile under June confetti rain.
J.R. GAMBLE: Timing, the best players and a shrewd front office is the difference between a good coach and a “championship-caliber” coach. I’m not sure ifErik Spoelstra is even a good coach, but, fortunately, Pat Riley chose him to baby sit LBJ and D-Wade. Doug Collins is considered one of the game’s best technicians, but he left Chi-Town a year too early.
VINNIE GOODWILL : A lot of it is about who's in your arsenal. Did Larry Brown all of a sudden become a championship-caliber coach in 2003-04? Naw, he finally had the horses to do so. Good of Gamble to bring up Doug, though. Perfect example. Really good coaches ride their players hard all the time. Title coaches know when to back off ever-so-slowly to let the players make their own decisions.
SANDY DOVER: I agree with Michael, but I also would say that championship-caliber coaches are coaches that aren't bound to stagnation. They will change or modify their systems to make the best use of their talent. That's the difference betweenNate McMillan losing his job and Doc Rivers keeping his.
QUESTION 2: With that in mind, is Mike D'Antoni a "championship-caliber" coach?
TILLERY: Too soft. The move to D'Antoni from Brown is a lateral move at best. I honestly believe Phoenix, D'Antoni and, especially, point guard Steve Nash is one of the most overrated outfits in sports history. All that hardware but no rings. Webber said it real, right and exact.
VINNIE : D'Antoni? No. Whenever people point to the Horry hip-check being the difference in perception, I remember Flip Saunders in Detroit (who C-Webb played for in 07, an unspoken reason for his rant), a man who was thought of as a really good offensive coach and then he all of a sudden had the horses on defense. If you don't value defense, you're not a title coach. Plain and simple.
SANDY: No, Mike D’Antoni isn’t a championship-caliber coach. His pedigree, while innovative to a certain extent and affecting, isn’t up to the standard of title-winning coaches. D’Antoni doesn’t necessarily make players better, but he does exploit the skills of certain players that have a desire to display the same skills that he values.
MAURICE: Mike D’Antoni is the offensive genius behind the “7 seconds or less” Phoenix teams and, as Kobe Bryant reminded us, is responsible for implementing the offense that helped the Olympic Basketball Team win back-to-back gold medals, but Pringles is not a championship-caliber coach.
GAMBLE: The verdict’s still out on the Italian Architect. Coaching in the NBA is a catch-22. If you don’t have the right mix of great players, you can’t be a great coach. D’Antoni’s had some explosive talent, but those teams had more gaps than an Amsterdam brothel. He’s never had the best team – until now.
QUESTION 3: Was Mike Brown's dismissal a "black thang" or Brown thing?
GAMBLE: Brown’s firing was a purple and yellow thang . Three HOFs doesn’t equate to a 1-4 record in Hollywood’s Laker script. Brown’s parched bottom lip and perplexed grimace is tolerable when buckets are falling. But he had more talent than the Jackson Five and Maroon 5 and his squad played like Five Guys, so five games is enough for Brown.
MAURICE: It wasn’t a black or Brown thing. It was a power thing. Jerry Buss decided to flex his muscle and scrap son Jim’s failed experiment with Brown and the Princeton offense—word to Charles Barkley. Mike’s a classy guy, though, so he’ll get another shot somewhere a lot less Hollywood.
TILLERY: Upon Brown's LA hiring, many said he wasn't right for LA. Huh? I've spoken to Coach Brown many times . He's cerebral and in charge, but the bs perception of him smacks of something. We'll see if Brown lands somewhere, but cats like D'Antoni always will have a place to sit.
SANDY: I strongly disagree with the idea that Mike Brown’s dismissal from the L.A. Lakers was based on his ethnicity, but I do believe that Jim Buss is an ignoramus and a cretin. He was the one that signed off on Brown’s use of the Princeton offense, and he was the one that signed off on Brown’s hiring. If Buss had any sense at all, Brown wouldn’t have been hired in the first place – Brown was a bad fit, but not a bad coach.
VINNIE : Not black, not even Brown. B-U-S-S – as in Jimmy. Where do you think Mike Brown got the pressure from to change the offense? From Mr. "I overplayed my hand" Jimmy.
QUESTION 4: Will Phil Jackson ever coach again?
SANDY: I doubt that Phil Jackson will coach again. I think he’s able to see that his best fit asa coach is in Los Angeles, becauseNew York and Chicago just don’t have the kind of set-ups that will allow him to be what he wants to be. The Lakers are the only ones that are willing to accommodate his personnel desires and enable him to assert himself as he might like to.
MAURICE: I don’t think Phil Jackson ever coaches again. He has too many restrictions to his movement and most teams won’t consider him cherry-picking the games he’ll coach. I mean, if the Lakers wouldn’t rock with his demands after all he’s done for their franchise, there is little to no hope that any other franchise will roll the dice on Jax.
VINNIE : Phil has an incredible since of timing, if nothing else, which means he ain't coming during this Heat (possibly Lakers) window. And hell, he was old in 2011, what is he two years later? Still old. Now, if the Knicks make a couple personnel moves in the next two years? Well, ya can't smoke peyote forever, right?
GAMBLE: That train has left the station, along withZenergy and the vaunted Triangle Offense. If Jackson was ever going to coach again, it was going to be this season and this star-studded Lakers team. Seventy-year-olds with bum knees, a janky back and travel limitations aren’t built for the 82-game NBA hustle. FaceTime is not an approved form of NBA bench communication yet.
TILLERY: Unless a LeBron/Wilt/Kobe hybrid is a freshman in high school, I don't see it. Phil needs greatness. It's how he defines himself and coaching cats in it for personal glory is something he won't tolerate. He's the best to ever do it. Ride off to Montana and chill Phil.
QUESTION 5: Eff what you heard. Even if Phil came back, and with Pop on the bench in Texas, is Doc Rivers still the best coach in the NBA? If not Doc, then whom?
GAMBLE: I recall a game between the Celtics and Knicks, in which Boston’s defensive effort was lacking. Rivers called a time out and implored his squad to step it up. The response was immediate, like he flipped a switch and Big Baby became Bill Russell. Most coaches talk, but it doesn’t penetrate the soul. Doc’s the perfect mind, manner and motivator for today’s NBA. He stands alone right now.
SANDY: I don’t know that Doc Rivers is THE best coach in the NBA, but he’s at least in the top-three. Gregg Popovich is stupefyingly good and tactical in a way that I’m not sure the NBA has bore witness to before. Pop is a master of the time game, building players up, and exalting the least of his players through his method of letting guys play through their mistakes. He’s the best, from what I can see.
TILLERY: My favorite coach in sports . Definitely best. Told me this in '09: "Look, the reason last year was special was because we won. If we would have gotten to the Finals and not won, it wouldn’t have been special." Straight to the point with media and with his team. No coaching idiosyncrasies.
VINNIE : Doc’s one of the few former players who can reach his players on an emotional level (respect) and an Xs and Os level (tactical). And look at the transformation of his team's hierarchy from 2008 to now, making the former BIG 3 recognize Rondo as the best player and follow him. Doc nurtured that change on both ends. Who else could've done that?
MAURICE: Phil and Pop are legendary, but it’s laughable to think that anyone is outcoaching Doc Rivers in the NBA right now. He’s a master tactician and he knows how to get the best out of his players; and, when it’s winning time, he’s like Bobby Fischer using the “ Four Knights Game” to checkmate opponents. That said, it’s becoming evident that Mike Woodson is knocking on the door. (Editor’s note: Did Mo just say Woody is upper echelon??? After five games????)