NBA AM: Gentry, Hoiberg Fall Flat In Year One


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Did Chicago and New Orleans make the right hires last summer?

Sometimes change is needed in order to improve. Sometimes those changes can lead to an immediate improvement. For instance, Steve Kerr taking over for Mark Jackson in Golden State. However, sometimes changes can lead to more questions than answers.

Such is the plight of head coaches Alvin Gentry (New Orleans) and Fred Hoiberg (Chicago). Both coaches are wrapping up their first year at the helm of their respective franchise and both will be watching the playoffs from home. Keep in mind, both franchises made the playoffs last season. They each had their own set of obstacles contributing to the unfavorable results and backward progress this season.

But considering why these guys were hired, to push their clubs over the hump, the lack of success leaves no room for excuses.

The Pelicans were absolutely ravaged by injuries early and often throughout the campaign, while Bulls also had their bouts battling the injury bug too. But what makes the disappointment of Gentry and Hoiberg opening campaigns sting the most is the fact that their predecessors, Monty Williams and Tom Thibodeau, navigated the same obstacles and successfully reached the playoffs.

Make no mistake, the Pelicans have been known for injuries over the past four seasons. Superstar Anthony Davis has yet to play in 70 NBA regular season games in any of his four campaigns. Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans have been known to miss significant time over the last few seasons. However, Williams was able to overcome those injury woes and reach the playoffs, winning 45 games last season. Williams appeared to have plenty of momentum to finish what he started to build, but the club opted to hire Gentry, who was fresh off of a championship season with the Golden State Warriors as their assistant coach.

But Gentry has not been able to recapture the magic from Williams’ last season in New Orleans faced with injuries. Now, the dynamic of a team and the league changes each season so this is not meant to be an apples-to-apples comparison. But the Pelicans faced plenty of adversity last season and somehow got the job done, while Gentry is still figuring things out in his new position.

Thibodeau won plenty of games in Chicago and was also coming off of a playoff season. But his relationship soured with the Bulls’ front office and that ultimately led to a change.  Hoiberg was fresh off of some promising seasons at Iowa State University and the franchise thought the change would put the Bulls over the top. However, Hoiberg spent most of the campaign dealing with injuries to Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and Pau Gasol. But to be fair, if you go back to Thibodeau’s tenure you would quickly realize that the departed coach faced plenty of injury problems as well and never missed the postseason while at the helm in Chicago.

The Bulls (41-40) face plenty of questions this summer with Gasol likely to test free agency and Noah an unrestricted free agent as well. It also doesn’t help that there are plenty of rumors circulating that Butler and Rose cannot co-exist together in the same backcourt – overstated or not.

At the end of the day, Gentry and Hoiberg may be the right men for their respective jobs. But the early returns, while facing some of the same obstacles as their predecessors, seemingly indicates both have fallen flat in year one. However, the NBA is fluid and things can change on a dime. But as of now, we have more questions than answers when evaluating if Chicago and New Orleans made the right choice in their head coaching search last summer.

Why do people spend time defending greatness?

As the Golden State Warriors attempt to secure the best regular season in NBA history, a question has emerged.

Why must we continue to defend greatness?

Recently, members from the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team have been very vocal in the press about how their 72-game winning unit would fare against the Warriors, who are poised to eclipse their mark some 20 years later. Some of these players (including Scottie Pippen) have said that their Bulls unit would have swept the upstart Warriors without breaking a sweat. While it sounds ludicrous to consider, many past players have also jumped on the bandwagon to disrespect the current greatness of Golden State.

So why must we defend the honor of that Bulls unit? And, if we must defend the honor of that Chicago team, why do we have to completely discredit the Warriors in the process? After all, the Warriors brought their “A” games every single night over an entire season, winning 70-plus games in the process.

The reason is simple.

Much like former high school jocks go back to their alma mater and tell the new generation about war stories from yesteryear and their individual greatness, former professional athletes are no different. You can make an argument that fans are the same.

No one wants their heroes or portions of their early days of fanhood questioned. That’s what makes the Warriors’ ascent so uncomfortable for most. However, there’s room at the top for more than one team.

Consider this: The Bulls’ 72-game winning season came on the heels of losing in the playoffs the year before to the Orlando Magic. That Bulls team entered the campaign with a chip on their shoulder, trying to reclaim their spot on top of the throne. On the flip side, the 2106 Warriors are coming off of a title-winning season and have taken everyone’s best shot night in and night out as the top dogs. This is what makes the Warriors’ quest for 73 victories so incredible. The team isn’t sneaking up on anyone. The secret has been out. They are the defending champions, receiving everyone’s “A” game and have fully embraced the challenge. They aren’t worn out from the extra games or complacent after last year’s championship. The Bulls unit, 20 years ago, was not coming off of a title-winning campaign with the pressure of being the defending champions.

But in the Bulls’ defense, Hall of Fame forward Dennis Rodman missed 18 games during that record-setting season. If you remember, Rodman led the league in rebounding back in 1996 and was named to the All-NBA Defensive Team. Think about this: Rodman was a key contributor for the Bulls and he missed 20 percent of the season, yet the team still reeled off 72 wins.

In contrast, the Warriors have been able to avoid the injury bug to their top players. While role players such as Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli have battled an assortment of injuries, the team’s top players Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have all played over 70 games this season.

The question of who would win a mythical series between both units should be the topic of plenty water cooler debates. And these will be a fun to be to talk about for years to come. But there would be no easy sweeps, as members of those old Bulls units would have you believe. As great as the Bulls were during their six NBA title winning seasons during the 90s, those teams never swept anyone in the NBA Finals.  The 1995-96 Bulls team were taken to six games in the Finals by the then Seattle SuperSonics led by Gary Payton Shawn Kemp. Last season’s Warriors, on the other hand, eked out a six-game Finals victory over an injury-ravaged Cleveland Cavaliers team last June.

At the end of the day, lines in the sands will be drawn. But you shouldn’t spend too much time defending the greatness of the 1996 Bulls nor should you spend your time debating silly comments and justifying the greatness of the 2016 Warriors.

Because greatness is. Greatness is. Greatness just is and needs no defending.


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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last eight seasons

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