Candace Buckner: NBA coaches are always in the firing line

Commentary: Candace Buckner



There’s no doubt who owns the worst seat in the NBA.

No, it’s not the genius who sacrifices an arm, leg and firstborn for the courtside view directly behind some 7-foot tall cushion warmer. That fan has it good compared to the hot seat occupied by an NBA head coach.

On Thursday, the Denver Nuggets fired coach George Karl. Since the start of this 2012-2013 season, 13 NBA coaches have been let go.

Naturally, some teams will attempt to soften the act with expressions like his contract was not renewed or we’ve mutually agreed to part ways.

But, c’mon, don’t wave a lollipop when cramming penicillin down my throat. These coaches were fired, sacked, dismissed, Jay Leno’d, voted off the show, sent to the farm with Lennie to tend the rabbits.

Even the men who coached their teams to playoff positions were not immune. The Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets, both fourth seeds in their respective conferences, concluded the season by canning the coach. Still, how do you justify this shocker with Karl?

Less than a month after he lifted the Red Auerbach trophy given to the NBA Coach of the Year, as well as guiding the Nuggets to their best NBA regular-season finish in franchise history, and Denver throws Karl the deuces.

This inglorious development for the reigning Coach of the Year proves one thing — in this players’ league, the guy in the necktie seated in the lead chair can be easily evicted.

While NFL coaches are appreciated for their minds and the best MLB managers are lauded for their strategies, a head coach in the NBA is viewed simply as a babysitter for millionaires. And, of course, when the playpen grows restless or they cry to mama (aka management), guess who gets the blame?

So, what exactly did the Phoenix Suns think Alvin Gentry could do with that poorly put-together roster after its biggest offseason acquisition was getting Steve Nash’s old locker back?

Who cares that Byron Scott had just one Michael surrounded by four La Toyas — apparently, the Cleveland Cavaliers expected him to turn that starting five into a star-studded family act.

And, please, let’s pour some out for any poor soul who takes the job in Charlotte. The NBA bible clearly states: Blessed are the coaches of the Bobcats, for they shall inherit a pink slip.

Now in the case of Karl, dollar signs reportedly played a part in his departure. As a successful and longtime coach, Karl knows his worth, but the Nuggets did not want to foolishly give him half the state of Colorado the next time his contract came up.

Still, Karl was not only a good fit for Denver — he was the perfect one. His system meshed with the players and his personality was steady enough to embrace the blooper reel-in-waiting JaVale McGee. With a little patience, the Nuggets certainly had dibs on the Western Conference elite for the next several seasons.

Hmmm, patience and personality. Interesting concepts for a prospective coaching candidate.

Gregg Popovich, then the Spurs general manager and vice president of basketball operations, hired himself to take over a sinking ship in San Antonio in 1996. Popovich finished his first season with a 17-47 record. Two years later, the Spurs were NBA champions.

Popovich may dress like a seventh-grade science teacher, but he coaches like the second coming of Wooden. Good on San Antonio for waiting around to realize that.

In Miami, Erik Spoelstra — the fresh face who could be cast as the hip-but-clueless older brother on a Nickelodeon sitcom — may be viewed as the towel boy for the Big Three but he does much more. Spoelstra can take a callous shoulder bump from LeBron James with the best of them, and absorb the full brunt of a verbal smackdown from Dwyane Wade with grace — two actual incidents that Spoelstra has experienced. Miami needs Spoelstra’s temperament. Someone has to stroke the egos.

In defense of why coaching truly matters, just look to Popovich and Spoelstra. One will soon lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy as a multiple-championship winning head coach.

… And hopefully, not get fired the next week.

Candace Buckner covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. She can be reached at 360-735-4528 or email at Her Twitter handle is @blazerbanter