Praise, and pause, for coaches

March, 21, 2008

While most of the focus this season has been -- as it should be -- on players' performances, several coaches have turned in noteworthy performances as well.

Some notably good, some notably bad. Here's my take:

Jobs Well Done
Byron Scott -- The runaway coach of the year until Rick Adelman led the Rockets on a 22-game win streak sans Yao Ming. And don't give me that, "He's got Chris Paul" talk. What great, successful coach doesn't have a top player? Scott has proven -- and not just this year -- to be a great coach.

Rick Adelman -- All he does is win. The biggest surprise this season has been how stellar the Rockets' defense has been. And with all due respect to Jeff Van Gundy, Adelman and this year's staff deserve the credit, not the previous regime. In case you haven't noticed, players, especially young ones like those on the Rockets, don't automatically play tenacious defense just because a former coach taught them to. All that said, Adelman will finish this season as he's finished all his other great runs -- on the sorry side of a playoff series.

Doc Rivers -- During the preseason, folks forgot Doc was coach of the year back in 2000. I kept hearing that he might be a weak link after the Celtics brought together the Big Three. Turns out the only thing "weak'' were those predictions about him holding the revamped Celtics back. Not only has he managed the egos tremendously and all but assured the Celtics of having homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, but he's taken a group of previously nondescript defenders (besides KG) and turned them into the best defensive unit in the league.

Phil Jackson -- He did a great job last year and had the Lakers on track to do some damage until injuries ripped through his roster. But this season, he's truly silenced any critics who sing the "He had Michael and Scottie, then Shaq and Kobe" chorus. Before the Lakers got Pau Gasol, Phil had them looking like contenders. Give him some credit for Andrew Bynum's development and major kudos for his handling of the Kobe-wants-out situation early in the year.

Stan Van Gundy -- Great to see him back on top (somewhat) after his unjust demotion in Miami. He's gotten things out of Hedo Turkoglu that no one -- not even Hedo -- thought possible, and he's turned the Magic into a regular-season force while working with one of the worst backcourts in the league.

Nate McMillan -- Sure, the Blazers have returned to earth, but they're still playing plus-.500 basketball in the Western Conference. If they were in the East, they'd be fighting for homecourt in the first round. Next year, it's on.

Mo Cheeks -- Give Cheeks huge credit for playing to his team's strengths: They're young and athletic so he has them running and pressing. Mo has Philly ahead of several teams with more highly-touted, highly-compensated players. If the Sixers can pass Washington to gain the sixth seed, an upset of Orlando is not out of the question.

Eddie Jordan -- This poor guy hardly ever has his full complement of stars. The last time he did have his version of the Big Three (Arenas, Jamison, Butler), he took them to the best record in the East. But he's done an admirable job of holding them together and keeping them in the playoffs despite all the injuries.

Reggie Theus -- He stepped into a tough situation and did about as well as could be expected. His Kings would be a playoff team in the LEast. If Geoff Petrie and the Maloofs give him a real roster sometime soon, he could put the buzz back in Kings basketball.

Mike Woodson -- Whether the underachieving Hawks make the playoffs or not, he should be gone. And he should take Billy "Who Needs Point Guards" Knight with him. Word is both are gone if the Hawks fail to reach the postseason.

Lawrence Frank -- The Nets have struggled to find an identity under Frank, and the players have lost faith in him. For a club this talented (Vince, RJ, J-Kidd/Devin Harris ,etc …) to be struggling to make the playoffs in the atrocious East is a travesty. Word is he's in trouble if Nets don't secure at least the eighth seed. He should be in trouble regardless.

Isiah Thomas -- The players don't like him or trust him, and they'll never reach their potential under him. Knicks' fans better hope recent talk of him remaining as coach (while being stripped of his front office duties) is hogwash.

Larry Krystkowiak -- The firing of GM Larry Harris was not a good sign for Krystkowiak, who clearly hasn't gotten the Bucks to play to their potential.

Jim Boylan -- Who knows if the Bulls' continued struggles are a reflection of Boylan's overall coaching ability, but he's got to go nonetheless. Bulls need a fresh start.

Pat Riley -- He should stop coaching for good and stay in the front office, where he's done a fine job. Except for that charmed month in 2006, when the Heat defied all logic and won the title, it's been ages since Riley had a great season as coach. Plus, his ridiculous "here one day, gone the next" routine on the sidelines doesn't jibe with the "Never Quit" rhetoric he spews to the players. And don't think they don't notice.

George Karl -- Dude's got the longest contract known to man, but should he survive a lottery finish for the talented Nuggets? He probably will, but this is a disaster. And with Karl at the helm, there's no reason to think next year will be any different.

Marc Iavaroni -- I was surprised to hear from a few executives this week that Iavaroni may be in trouble. He was the Boy Wonder last summer, when he topped everyone's list of available coaches. But I'm hearing his star has dimmed in Memphis. I can't believe he'd be released after one year, but folks say he's got an elitist attitude that's rubbed his players the wrong way.

Sam Vincent -- As with Iavaroni, I'd be shocked if he were released after just one season. I think both of them deserve another shot, but it sure seems that Charlotte has underachieved.

Those coaches not mentioned, I thought, performed as expected. Some were great, some were solid, some were so-so.



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