The Oklahoma City Thunder are riding the struggle bus and for some the first place blame goes to is the head coach. Even Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said at practice on Monday, he’s to blame (along with others). While everyone blames Donovan for the inefficiencies the Thunder have faced this season, how hot is Donovan’s seat?
Before the firing of Earl Watson three games into this season, no NBA head coach had been fired since May 2016, a streak of 533 days. He was the first coach to be fired in season since Derek Fisher was fired from the Knicks job in Feb 2016. There had been his weird continuity with organizational leadership and coaching stability. However, that’s out the window. Since the start of the season, two coaches have been fired (Fizdale Memphis and Watson Phoenix). There might be more on the way (see: Fred Hoiberg Chicago and Budenholzer Atlanta).
The NBA is so much different than the NFL. Most NFL coaches are fired on what they call “Black Monday.” The NBA owners react without care of public perception. They strike without justifying their terminations. The stability in which we’ve seen in the last year or so is really an anomaly of it all. In the last 10 seasons, there have been nine Coach of the Year winners (Poppovich won twice). Five have been fired. Not resigned. Fired. So, this is truly a league of what have you done for me lately.
With David Fizdale gone in Memphis, many in Oklahoma City perked up an eye, maybe calling for him to come to Oklahoma City. That’s not happening. Well, at least in mid-season. We’re at the point in the season, which is any point past training camp through the end of the regular season, to where no organization in their right mind would bring in an outside coach. They would just promote an assistant to an interim position.
So, if the Thunder were going to can Donovan, it would be assumed that Mo Cheeks, the only coach on the staff with prior head coaching experience to step in and take the reigns. Cheeks has won over 600 games and was fired in Detroit for one season after going 21-29. The NBA sometimes doesn’t make any sense.
However, what does make sense is the Thunder front office. They’re known for their patience and their timing. They waited until the end of the season to fire Scott Brooks, despite still winning 45 games. They did dismiss PJ Carlesimo after only 13 games, when the Thunder started 1-12. Presti said at the time of the Carlesimo firing: “There’s accountability for everybody involved — players, coaches, myself and anyone involved with our basketball team. We understand that.”
Firing a coach may not always lead to results. The last five coaches in season (not counting Fizdale) have seen difference of success. Jay Triano, who stepped in for the fire Earl Watson in Phoenix is 7-11 during his tenure this season. Which is nice considering the Suns started out 0-3, losing by massive margins. However, Phoenix is only 3-7 in their last 10 games.
When Derek Fisher was let go by the All-Star break in 2016, Kurt Rambis stepped in and went 5-12 to start his campaign. He finished an abysmal 9-19.
The Rockets let hall of fame player, Kevin McHale, go 11 games into the season that same year. Houston was 4-7 at the time. J.B. Bickerstaff, the same guy who’s been named interim in Memphis, was named interim in Houston. Bickerstaff went 37-34 over his time in Houston that season.
Not everyone is fired for performance issues. Mike Malone was fired 24 games into the 2014-15 season. Sacramento would go on in the middle of the season to lose 12 of 13 games under Tyrone Corbin, former Utah Jazz head coach.
Mike Brown has been fired twice, despite turning out excellent resumes. He won 41 games in the strike shorten season with Los Angeles. However, the Laker’s management cited lack of patience as a reason why they canned the former Cavs coach. Before that, Cleveland let him go as LeBron bolted for Miami despite him winning 66 and 61 games the previous two seasons. Mike D’Antoni replaced Brown, going 40-32 for the rest of the season as that was the last time the Lakers made the playoffs.
So, there are tons of reasons why coaches get fired. Donovan falls under the lack of performance one. However, the chances of Donovan getting canned mid-season are slim. The Thunder with all of the up in the air issues with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, you cannot risk firing a coach and forcing a start over of sorts with players who might not want to play for an uncertain coach.
Then again, they could and I could have typed all of this for nothing.
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