|Grading the East coaches|
By Charley Rosen
Page 2 columnist
With less than one week remaining in the 2002-03 NBA season, it's time to evaluate the jobs turned in by each of the league's coaches. Remember, a team's record isn't the only indicator of how well -- or how poorly -- a coach performed.
Here's my report card for the coaches in the Eastern Conference. I'll grade the West on Friday.
Rick Carlisle, Detroit -- Grade: A+
Kudos also go to Carlisle for plugging Chauncey Billups into the point guard slot. During his five previous NBA seasons, Billups had failed to make the grade with Boston, Toronto, Denver, Orlando and Minnesota. Billups has repaid Carlisle's faith by scoring clutch baskets and making sensible decisions with the ball.
Carlisle also exhibits a wonderful game-time demeanor on the bench -- involved, but still calm and rational. When I grow up, I want to be just like Rick Carlisle.
Paul Silas, New Orleans -- Grade: A-
Credit Silas with convincing his team that defense and rebounding are the keys to success -- two aspects of the game at which Silas excelled during his long (16 seasons) and glorious (three championships) NBA career. Also credit Silas for always retaining his dignity and poise, and for never compromising his integrity -- not even when Pat Riley was spreading the rumor that Silas was a lazy assistant coach and unworthy of being a head coach.
Besides his talent, thoroughness and honesty, Paul Silas is good people in a cut-throat business.
Larry Brown, Philadelphia -- Grade: A-
Not only has Brown cajoled his mavericks into playing team ball, he also has fashioned the Sixers into a quick-handed and pesky defensive team.
Larry Brown makes the honor role because he has transformed his crazies into a functional team while maintaining what's left of his own sanity.
It's primarily because of Cartwright's 16 years as an NBA center and three championship rings that Ty Chandler and Eddy Curry, the Bulls' post-adolescent biggies, have enjoyed so much recent success. A coach can only teach what he knows, and Cartwright knows every aspect of manning the middle.
Cartwright also proved his mettle by benching the Bulls' all-squawk-and-no-walk first-round pick, Jay Williams, in favor of the previously bench-bound Jamal Crawford. And contrary to Jerry Krause's public disclaimers, the self-proclaimed genius opposed and was stung by Cartwright's bold move.
Whatever happens from now until April 19, Chicago will at least finish with a winning home record. After three-plus seasons of Floyd's Folly, the Bulls finally have a viable future.
Byron Scott, New Jersey -- Grade: B
Still, the Nets' defense is second only to Detroit's, and they've been in first place in the Atlantic Division for most of the season. Moreover, the Nets have survived without having a bruiser in the paint. (Or does that heavy breathing of late signal the possible postseason resurrection of Rodney Rogers?)
Unfortunately, Scott has also been embroiled in several public conflicts -- the loudest, and silliest being his pre-trade deadline claim that New Jersey had no interest in the Knicks' Latrell Sprewell because of his chronic and "irresponsible" lateness to practices and games. Coaches who volunteer to pose as experts about other teams' players usually make fools of themselves.
Don Chaney, New York -- Grade: B
He also juggled his inept point guards so that the backcourt was marginally respectable (especially when Howard Eisley and Charlie Ward were bagging 3-pointers), he marginalized Sprewell, and made Allan Houston the go-to guy.
True, Chaney did have occasional difficulties in managing endgame situations, but he did maintain his team's competitive spirit through the Ides of March. In sum, Don Chaney drove his clunker of a car just about as far as it was capable of going.
Doug Collins, Washington -- Grade: B
While it seems that MJ makes all the coach-like pronouncements to the media, and that Collins is the silent partner, the latter must be doing something right to keep such a bogus team in playoff contention for so long.
Who cares if Rivers is reputed around the league to be secretly "two-faced" and "overrated"? His simplistic half-court sets depend almost entirely on the point-making genius of T-Mac. More importantly, he's sufficiently forthright and collegial in public to be generally admired by the media -- to the point where they voted him Coach of the Year in 2000 for leading the Magic to a pedestrian 41-41 record. (This, after Chuck Daley guided Orlando to 33-17 in the previous strike-shortened season.)
The bottom line is that the Magic is on the move, and a lock for the playoffs ever since they traded Mike Miller for Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek.
Pat Riley, Miami -- Grade: C
Still, the Heat play hard every time the lights are turned on. And if Riley is more muted and sour-pussed on the sidelines than is his wont, he can still fire up his players.
Jim O'Brien, Boston -- Grade: C-
Boston's variety of trapping defenses can disrupt poorly prepared opponents and create turnovers. Otherwise, the Celts are routinely outshot, outrebounded, outassisted, out-free-throwed, and outscored. A poorly balanced team in a poorly balanced conference.
Isiah Thomas, Indiana -- Grade: C-
If the coach isn't responsible for the flatness of the Pacers' growth curve, then who is?
George Karl, Milwaukee -- Grade: C-
How come all of Karl's teams in Milwaukee have the same makeup? Top-heavy with shooters and scooters, they all lived or (mostly) died by the jump shot. And how come so many media muppets are perennially overly impressed by the Bucks' prospects?
In truth, Milwaukee is an average NBA team, and one of 17 clubs who allow more points than they score. And pity poor Georgie, because he's likewise become just an average NBA coach.
Even back in his heyday with Seattle, Wilkens was never at ease coaching young players. Veterans knew what was what and could respond to his soft-spoken methodologies. What then could Wilkens be expected to do with the Raptors, a team of young -- and young-minded -- players who only know where the basket is, and where the cameras are?
Basically, Wilkens had a nowhere team and took it nowhere. After 43 seasons in The League, it's time for Wilkens to discover what the rest of the world looks like.
Terry Stotts, Atlanta -- Grade: D
Terry Stotts, on the other hand, had at least half a chance to at least make the Hawks respectable. Yet his results (18-29) were worse than Kruger's (11-16) -- in winning percentages, that comes to 38 percent for the former as against 41 percent for the latter. Does Stotts deserve another chance? Probably. Will he ever get one? Probably not.
For assembling such a poor facsimile of an NBA playoff team, Babcock should be barred from ever voicing an opinion about anything to do with the NBA.
John Lucas, Cleveland -- Grade: F
Keith Smart, Cleveland -- Grade: C
But since Smart is always a gentleman, he merits a Gentleman's C.
Charley Rosen, a former coach in the Continental Basketball Association, has been intimately involved with basketball for the better part of five decades -- as a writer, a player, a coach and a passionate fan. Rosen's books include "More Than a Game," "The Cockroach Basketball League," "The Wizard of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed the Game of Basketball," "Scandals of '51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball" and "The House of Moses All-Stars: A Novel."