Friday , May , 05 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Regular Season coaching grades (part 2)

Rick Carlisle-Pacers
Two years ago: 61-21
Last year: 44-38
This year: 41-41
If you look only at win totals, it would be easy to downgrade coach Carlisle, but I am not convinced his coaching skills are regressing. The big brawl ruined last year. The Artest debacle took 24 points/game from the roster this year, and injuries to O’Neal, Tinsley and others made this season difficult. Rumor has it that the players tuned out coach Carlisle this year; still I think he did a fair job posting a .500 record and making the playoffs with so much on his plate.
Grade: C
 


Regular Season coaching grades (part 2)

Mike Dunleavy-Clippers
Last year: 37-45
This year: 47-35
The big difference for the Clippers this year over last is the personnel moves that were made. Out went Marko Jaric and Bobby Simmons, and in came Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley. More minutes and more production from Chris Kaman helped as well. Dunleavy did a good job playing to the strength of his roster (Putting the ball in Cassell’s hands for 34 mpg, and giving Brand more touches and minutes), and coaching the team to improved offense and defense over that of last year. I have to admit, I really thought this team was overachieving most of the season, and at some point would come back to reality. To their credit, they made a believer out of me.
Grade: B+
 
Phil Jackson-Lakers
Last year: Body surfing with Luc Longley down under.
This year: 45-37
At 45-37, this is statistically Coach Jackson’s worst season ever as an NBA Head Coach, yet he is still in the post season…again! In fact he has never failed to guide any of his teams to the playoffs. He is truly one of the greatest coaches of all time. Jackson has won over 70% of all of the games he has ever coached at this level including playoff games! True, he has always been in a position where he is coaching some of the greatest players ever to play the game, but it is no small feat to massage those giant egos into a winning machine. If you don’t think Phil did a good job this year, look at what the team did with Frank Hamblen last year. This Laker team is not all that talented apart from Kobe and Lamar Odom, yet they are a well coached team that can really turn it on. 
Grade: A-
 
Mike Fratello-Grizzlies
Last year: 40-30 (after taking over from Hubie Brown
This year: 49-33
It took Coach Fratello less than 2 full seasons to implement his style of play. Memphis ranked dead last in the NBA in “pace”. Pace is loosely the number of possessions per 48 minutes by a team. Being last means they play the slowest of any NBA team; they control the tempo, and win with defense and just enough offense. This is a hallmark of Fratello coached teams. Basically it is the exact opposite philosophy used by running teams like Phoenix, which want to score early and score often. Having a slow pace is not bad, it is just a bit boring if you like running and gunning, and athleticism on display. It is comparable to watching a “pitcher’s duel” in baseball. Fratello did a nice job of coaching this year by getting his players to buy into the philosophy and making defense a priority. The roster has one All-Star and a bunch of nice players playing team ball.
Grade: B+
 
Pat Riley-Heat
Last year: N/A –team coached by Stan Van Gundy (59-23)
This year: 41-20 (52-30 overall)
Let me first say that Pat Riley has had a very impressive coaching career, and there is little argument that he is one of the greatest coaches of all time (he was voted one of the 10 greatest coaches of all time in 1997). That being said, the team’s record this year really didn’t impress me in any way. Prior to this season, the team added Gary Payton, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and James Posey. You could say they added Alonzo Mourning as well since he only played 19 games for them last year. The only players of note to leave were Eddie Jones and Rasual Butler. That is a lot of firepower added to the Shaquille O’Neal and Dwayne Wade show, yet the team as a whole regressed by 7 games in the win column. Statistically the team offense and defense are slightly worse this year than last under Stan Van Gundy, yet personnel has something to do with it. As an outsider looking in, it seems like the team did more with less talent last year. I know that Shaq missed some time, and others did as well, yet none of the key players missed more than about 20% of the season. When all is said and done, with a roster this loaded with talent, I was expecting more. Perhaps this team is built more for the playoffs than regular season.
Grade: B-
 
Terry Stotts-Milwaukee
Last year: n/a (the Bucks were 30-52 with Terry Porter as Coach)
This year: 40-42
Terry Stotts took over the Bucks this year and the team as a whole increased its win total by 10. How much of that is Stott’s coaching and how much is the upgraded roster is a matter for debate. Adding Andrew Bogut, Jamaal Magliore and T.J. Ford had to account for something. Stotts is a longtime assistant coach, with one unremarkable stint as head coach in Atlanta. He coached the Bucks into the playoffs this year and are not going away quietly. The talent level on the Bucks is average and young, yet the future looks bright for them. Stotts earned his pay.
Grade: C+
 
Dwayne Casey-Minnesota
Last year: n/a (the Wolves were 44-38 under Flip Saunders and Kevin McHale
This year: 33-49
In 2004, the Timberwolves reached the Western Conference Finals with Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell playing alongside Kevin Garnett. The 2005 Team underperformed given the previous year’s success, and Flip Saunders was fired 51 games into the season. Kevin McHale coached the final 31 games, and the team played fairly well, but it left them on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Sprewell was not resigned, Cassell was traded for Marco Jaric (what were they thinking?), and Dwayne Casey was given his first head coaching job. Casey had been a longtime assistant with Seattle, and perpetually one of the most interviewed assistant coaches. Try as you might, Casey’s first season can’t be spun into a success. They again missed the playoffs by posting their worst record in 10 seasons. This year’s team was in the hunt, hovering around .500 in late January when Szczerbiak and Olowakandi were traded to Boston for Mark Blount, Ricky Davis, Marcus Banks and a few others. The shake-up didn’t go as planned, the team began to rapidly sink, and went 11-26 the rest of the way. Obviously you have to lay some of the blame at McHale and the front office, but Casey surely didn’t work any miracles.
Grade: D+
 
Lawrence Frank-Nets
Last year: 42-40
This year: 49-33
After taking over the Nets on an interim basis in the middle of the 2004 season, as a young, sparsely experienced assistant, Frank quickly showed his value. The team went on a tear, made the playoffs, and has been there ever since, playing great team ball and defense. Frank reminds me so much of the young Jeff VanGundy that took over the Knicks mid season in ’96. Young, wildly successful and, um…folicly challenged. Frank turned in another great season, winning 49 games and winning 14 in a row during March and April. Frank’s success surprises me each year to the point that I should stop being surprised.
Grade: B+
 
Byron Scott-Hornets
Last year: 18-64
This year: 38-44
A 20 win improvement from last year to this is nothing to sneeze at. For most of the season, this team was in the hunt. In fact, they sat at 31-26 at the end of February, and there was talk of playoff positioning. Byron Scott gets high marks for that; unfortunately the regular season didn’t end there. The Hornets lost 13 of their final 17 games to close out. Based on the talent that Scott has to work with, I really don’t think he did a bad job. David West and Chris Paul are the only players that would start on most other teams, and they are both very young players.
Grade: C
 
Larry Brown-Knicks
Last year: n/a- Knicks went 33-49 with Herb Williams and Lenny Wilkins; Larry Brown went 54-28 with Detroit.
This year: 23-59
It’s a good thing that the Trailblazers were so lousy, or else Larry Brown’s Knicks would have had the worst record in the NBA. When Larry was hired, he called the position his “dream job”. Now it may be his worst nightmare. It must first be said that Larry Brown can certainly coach successfully at this level; he is one of the greats (see my ). But the coach doesn’t assemble the talent; that’s the G.M.’s job, and it’s been done as poorly as I’ve ever seen. Isaiah Thomas has made an absolute mess of the roster. Someone needs to tell him that when you are in a hole, stop digging! In a nutshell, I think the problem with the season was that Larry Brown has a coaching style that has been successful everywhere he has been. That same coaching style didn’t seem to work with a team built up of max contract, offensive minded players. It didn’t help when Larry took his gripes to the media. The players are proud, and did the same right back. Larry just wasn’t able to get anything out of this mix matched roster, and I am not sure anyone could have.
Grade: D-