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NBA AM: Is It Better To Stay In Free Agency?
- Updated: April 24, 2014
Is Staying Better Than Leaving?: When Rockets center Dwight Howard was in Orlando and rumors of discord began to surface, Magic owner Rich DeVos gave Howard a piece of advice. He warned his star player that if he opted to stay, the fans would reward him and that if he left he might not get that in his next stop.
“The loyalty you develop in a community is always remembered. But if you leave, you don’t pick it up in the next town,” Devos said back in 2012. “It’s not an add-on, you know, because you lose what you had. Maybe you gain some new [loyalty], but maybe you don’t. Maybe the net gain isn’t as good you think.”
Truer words could not have been spoken about Howard’s situation. He didn’t find that loyalty and love in Los Angeles and while Houston has welcomed him, the league as a whole still bashes on him at every turn. Howard played incredibly well last night, but his team still dropped to the Portland Trail Blazers and is now down two games to the Blazers as the series shifts to Portland.
So what’s the point?
Blazers big man LaMarcus Aldridge will soon find himself in the same place as Howard was two years ago; his contract with the Blazers expires in July of 2015. It’s the same place Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony now finds himself in New York and a similar place that Wolves forward Kevin Love will find himself in very short order.
»In Related: NBA Free Agents 2014-15
All will be tempted and baited by the lure and possibilities of free agency. NBA careers are short. Windows to win championships are small and like it or not athletic ability fades with time.
There is a cold and harsh reality to sports and specifically free agency. Loyalty can cost you your legacy.
By now you have likely seen Blazers guard Damian Lillard’s Footlocker commercial where he proclaims that “the last thing I want to be is one of those guys that never won a ring.”
The commercial while funny, is true. As much as Anthony may love living in New York and being a Knick, he will turn 30 this summer and is looking at the end of his career with his next contract. Sure he could be like Spurs big man Tim Duncan and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and play into his late 30’s, but the truth of the matter is most players begin to fade after 35 and that means Melo’s next deal may be his last chance to really control whether he’ll get a chance to compete for a championship.
»In Related: NBA Free Agents 2015-16
Love has spent six seasons watching everyone around him compete in the postseason, despite his game becoming one of the more potent combinations of offense and rebounding the league has seen at his position since maybe Karl Malone.
Aldridge is in the driver’s seat in his team’s series against Houston, posting back to back 40-plus point games, but just six months ago there was talk that if Portland couldn’t turn the corner he wanted out. That talk has since died down, but what happens if Portland falls on their face?
It’s easy to say a player needs to stay with his team. Fans in L.A. couldn’t envision Bryant wearing any jersey other than a Laker jersey and he is revered and considered one of the best to ever wear the logo. As Devos said, Bryant’s loyalty has been rewarded, not only in terms of respect from the fans, but in respect from the team monetarily. Duncan and Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki fall into the same class as icons of their franchises. While their skills and athleticism have eroded with time, those organizations and fan bases couldn’t imagine those players playing anywhere else.
Their loyalty has resulted in a massive legacy, both have won championships, but its been awhile and both are still revered.
As some of these star level players ponder their future and their free agency options, there is no doubt that each will weigh where their odds of winning and competing for a championship lie, but there is also something to be said about what a player gets back for being loyal.
Historically, players who have pledged unwavering support for their team tend to be valued more positively, even when things go badly. However players that hop from team to team, even once, are often thought of as mercenaries.
Miami’s LeBron James left one franchise, yet his name is constantly mentioned as a player that could be obtainable at some point in the future. No one wants to believe James is happy and content in Miami and plans to end his career there. The narrative is that he’ll keep jumping from team to team to collect as many rings as he can.
Does anyone believe Nowitzki will be anywhere but Dallas next year despite being an unrestricted free agent this summer?
When things went bad for Anthony in New York, the media story was “would the Knicks trade him?” Could you imagine Dallas putting Nowitzki on the trading block because of a bad series or a ho-hum season?
Howard’s stop in L.A. was the perfect example of how a fan base can turn on a player.
It is easy to say a player should leave via free agency. Certainly teams that need talent want to see those players hit the market in some capacity either in trade or in free agency. For the players, they have to weigh where they can win simply because their careers and capacity to earn maximum money are short.
However as DeVos said to Howard – leaving does not always get you a better situation. Leaving usually paints you as a mercenary and that’s fine when things are good, but when things turn south, that love fans have for the stars they built, that respect stars get from the media for being the anchor of a team simply isn’t there.
»In Related: NBA Free Agents 2016-17
Look at how Bulls fans treat forward Carlos Boozer. Rewind to how Lakers fans treated Dwight Howard when he struggled.
There is a cautionary tale there. Be careful what you wish for. The grass is not always greener on the other roster.
The Phases Of Coaches: As many teams begin their search for their next head coach, there is a concept to keep in mind: not every team needs the same kind of coach.
Take the Utah Jazz for instance. Their team president Randy Rigby says their search will be “exhaustive” and they plan to talk to maybe 20 different candidates. Why? They are looking for a coach that can be one part teacher, one part motivator and someone who can steer the team to the playoffs. The Jazz are not delusional about who they are. They are not a title contender in the next three years, so they are not hiring a “win-now” coach.
When you look at Philadelphia’s decision to hire Brett Brown last year, it was because he was a known talent developer. They did not hire him to bring Philly to a title game.
That’s just not where they were as a franchise.
Jacque Vaughn was not hired in Orlando to win a playoff game. He was hired to bring a positive team-first attitude to a young team that by design was going to lose games. Vaughn was hired to install a program, to help develop and showcase and to keep everything together and on message. The hope is as the team grew up so would Jacque and he’d be in a position personally and with his team to fight for a postseason berth next year.
Not every team is hiring the same kind of coach. Some teams need teachers. Some teams need veteran leadership.
Look at the LA Clippers and the growth they have made as a franchise under Doc Rivers. It’s not that Vinny Del Negro was a terrible coach. It’s that he was not the right kind of coach to lead a veteran team deep into the postseason.
Why is Mark Jackson on the hot seat despite being one of the best coaches record wise in Warriors history? Because there is a belief that he’s not the right coach to win a championship. Mike Woodson isn’t out in New York because he’s a terrible coach. He’s just not the coach that could get a veteran team into a championship.
As teams start interviewing candidates and names start floating around, understand that not every good coach fits every situation.
Lionel Hollins is a great NBA coach, however he’s not a one-size fits all candidate. That’s true of George Karl and Stan Van Gundy.
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Teams have to grow and evolve and that sometimes means a coaching change along the way. There are very few coaches that will have their jobs as long as they want them, most coaches are going to be measured and evaluated based on whether they can get their respective teams to the level that their management/ownership expects.
If a head coach can’t keep up with expectations, that’s usually when he’s gone; that’s where Indiana’s Frank Vogel finds himself today.
Equally there will come a time for Jacque Vaughn when the expectations overcome his ability. It happens to every coach at some point.
As teams like Minnesota and Utah look for a new leader, keep in mind where they are as a franchise when trying to determine who the right fit is. The Wolves have experienced players that need to be focused towards the playoffs. They don’t need a teacher of the game type of guy.
The Jazz on the other hand, do need that teacher of the game type personality, but one that has the ability and capacity to get them winning games.
Both teams need two very different things from their next head coach and it’s all based on where they are developmentally as an organization.
The kind of structure and coaching a roster of 20-somethings needs, is very different from the kind of structure and coaching a roster full of 30-somethings need.
Why does it take interviewing 20 candidates to find the next guy? Because it’s about matching the next guy to where the team is at today and where they hope to be inside the next three to five years, which is what a typical coaching contract looks like. After that, it’s usually about meeting expectations.
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