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The Pottery Barn Rule Applied to the NBA

By Kevin Arnovitz

Over the season's opening five weeks, two NBA coaches have been fired. On both occasions, the teams' general managers have been called upon to fill the vacancies. First, Hornets GM Jeff Bower took the reins in New Orleans after Byron Scott was let go, and now Nets GM Kiki Vandeweghe will patrol the sidelines for New Jersey beginning with Friday night's game in East Rutherford against Charlotte.

According to Dave D'Alessandro, assuming coaching duties wasn't Vandeweghe's idea:

The 51-year-old Vandeweghe has never been a coach, and team officials who are not authorized to speak for the Nets say he was initially reluctant to take the job. But Thorn mandated that Vandeweghe occupy that role, if only because his imprint on the roster is indelible, as he is especially close to Devin Harris, Yi Jianlian and Courtney Lee – the three young players acquired for Kidd, Jefferson and Carter.

Back when policy-makers were behind closed door debating the implications of the war in Iraq, Colin Powell reportedly referenced a Tom Friedman column, citing the "Pottery Barn rule" as a basis for some of his private skepticism about the war:

"You break it, you own it."

Down in New Orleans, Hornets president Hugh Weber implicitly evoked the Pottery Barn Rule at his press conference introducing Bower a few weeks ago:

Through the summer we programmed what that change needed to be to execute at an elite level. We went out and found the players we felt would help us compete an elite level. And yet the team is broken...

Stepping into [the role of head coach] is Jeff Bower. And why Jeff is the right person, right now are twofold: One, not only is he a talented developer of talent, a coach, a tactician, but he's also the one who's the architect for this team. If you want to talk about accountability, and you want to talk about being held accountable to get results that this team was built to get, nobody wants it more than Jeff. He has built this team in a manner of assembling players, not only for their style of play, but for their principles and character. And for us, to have an immediate impact this season, we felt a change of someone who's been involved with the process the entire time, who's worked arm in arm with the coaching staff, who understands these players and their needs was the right choice...

I told Jeff the genie is out of the bottle. Nobody can say he didn't have the right players. Jeff has hand-selected this team and we like the idea that now Jeff will be held accountable for the results.

The Hornets stated that Bower doesn't wear the interim label, which made him the second head coaches in the league to have official dual GM/head coach roles (Mike Dunleavy of the Clippers is the other). Vandeweghe is currently being regarded as an interim coach, but in the meantime, he'll become the third official hybrid, and fourth if you count Gregg Popovich, who has decision-making authority in San Antonio.

At a time when NBA teams are stressed financially, it's cheaper to shop in-house for a replacement. But a tough economic climate also prompts corporations to squeeze higher productivity and accountability from their workers. When you listen to Weber and the reports out of New Jersey, it's clear that team executives are demanding that those who've been toting around the shopping baskets take direct ownership of what's inside.