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+
Carlisle's only serious competition for Coach of the Year should be Dallas' Don Nelson, and the Pistons have gone nearly as far as the Mavs with about one-third the overall talent. The Pistons understand and accept their roles, and even though they're offensively challenged (their 91.4 ppg is the lowest among all the playoff teams in both conferences), Carlisle's half-court patterns maximize the abilities of his primary scorers. At the uphill end of the court, the Pistons' league-leading defense is all about, guts, smarts and hustle.

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-
Don't believe all the hype surrounding Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn -- these guys are a pair of seriously flawed players. The former is careless and erratic with the ball, while the latter is mistake-prone. The reality is that the Hornets are among the NBA's most overachieving squads.

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-
Just consider the list of uncoachables on the Sixers' roster: Allen Iverson, Derrick Coleman, Keith Van Horn and Brian Skinner. Instead of a bench, the Sixers should be forced to recline on psychiatrist's couches. (And there are unsubstantiated rumors that Brown conducts team practices wearing a tweed jacket, a monocle and a goatee, while smoking a pipe and speaking with a German accent.) Brown also had the chutzpah to trade away one of the most uncoachable players of all -- Dikembe Mutombo.

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.

Bill Cartwright
Bill has done better than most could with the Baby Bulls.
Bill Cartwright, Chicago -- Grade: B+
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
The Nets will fall a couple of games short of last season's 52 wins, but that's understandable, since even run-of-the-mill teams can easily get their chops up when they play the East's reigning champs. However, the Nets have been remarkably inconsistent and ineffectual on the road this year, and also lack a certain pizzazz. Motivating the troops is a large part of the coach's job and this is where Scott hasn't been up to par.

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
Who would've guessed that the Nix would (at least mathematically) have been in the playoff hunt so late in the season? Give Chaney all the credit for keeping this too-short, under-talented, overpaid, poorly balanced, profoundly erratic and less-than-personable squad so competitive for so long.

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
Don't look now, but the Wizards have virtually the same record with Michael Jordan this season as they did sans MJ last season. In addition, Jerry Stackhouse has finally been revealed as a reluctant passer, an ineffectual scorer when the air is taken out of the ball, and only a part-time superstar. The big men are extremely limited and the point guards are mostly pointless. Yet Washington is still theoretically alive in the hunt for the eighth seed.

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.

Doc Rivers
Credit T-Mac for the Magic before you praise Doc.
Doc Rivers, Orlando -- Grade: C+
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
This team couldn't score with a bagful of pardons in a women's prison. And don't be fooled by the fact that their defense only permits 90.5 ppg -- by stretching the shot clock with their sputtering offense, Miami limits the number of their opponents' possessions.

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 is just good enough to break the hearts of its fans. Are Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce blackmailing their coach with secret photographs of him in some compromising postures? Their offensive philosophy seems to be "Throw enough mud at the wall and some of it's bound to stick." (Between them, Walker and Pierce take 51 percent of the Celtics' total shots and score about the same percentage of the team's total points.) Or, in the absence of a legit point guard, has O'Brien mandated that the Celtics' Double-Dips shoot first and never ask questions?

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-
For sure, Thomas can't be blamed for the rampant immaturity of too many of his players. For sure, Jermaine O'Neal hasn't a clue in the clutch, Ron Artest has too much street in his game, and Thomas might still be the best point guard in the organization. And certainly the Pacers are approximately 10 games better than last year. But why has the rotation become so capricious, and the team's performance more dismal, as the season progressed?

If the coach isn't responsible for the flatness of the Pacers' growth curve, then who is?

George Karl, Milwaukee -- Grade: C-
Poor Georgie, his players won't listen to him anymore, and he won't listen to them. Even so, the Bucks will squeeze into the playoffs and have the privilege of being de-horned by Detroit.

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.

Lenny Wilkens
Congratulations, Lenny. You passed Bill Fitch.
Lenny Wilkens, Toronto -- Grade: D+
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
So Pete Babcock bet $500,000 of Ted Turner's money that the Hawks would make the playoffs. It was a sucker's bet to begin with, because the foundation of the Hawks' season was built on a pair of marshmallows -- Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Glenn "There's Plenty of Dog In" Robinson. If Babcock didn't have the ghost of a chance, neither did Lon Kruger.

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
The Cadavers are the third franchise that John Lucas has left for dead. His modus operandi depends on funny, hip, street-talking jive (the locker room dialogue between Lucas and his players can sound like a street-corner session of "The Dozens"). Blame lack of talent on Lucas' repeated lack of success, but also the fact that his white players can't relate to him and his African-American players take advantage of him. Lucas was much better suited to run the NBA's drug rehab program than to run a team.

Keith Smart, Cleveland -- Grade: C
Smart has been savvy enough to solidify the Cavs' starting lineup and rotation -- and has actually won two consecutive games! Even so, only an alchemist could ever hope to make chicken salad out of chicken do-do.

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."



Charley Rosen Archive

Rosen: Coaching report cards

Rosen: Ossie's world

Rosen: Beware the darkhorses

Rosen: Q & A with Ed T. Rush

Rosen: Who's afraid of the big, bad champs?

Rosen: Beasts of the East looking tame

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