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NBA AM: Trades May Come Down To The Wire

There may be a rush of deadline deals, but they may not take shape until the 11th hour… It is not always the coach’s fault.

Steve Kyler profile picture
Updated 11 months ago on
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Down To The Wire

With the NBA trade deadline 11 days away, things on the trade front are picking up. However, for those holding their breath on a deal before the All-Star break, you may not get much satisfaction.

In talking with team sources, the amount and frequency of talks is picking up, but there is still a sense that getting something done before the February 18 3 p.m. EST deadline may come down to the final hours.

Most teams are holding out that an offer will get better or that something new may surface and no one wants to trigger a deal today only to find themselves sitting out a bigger or better transaction closer to the deadline.

As one executive said it best, “We don’t do things in the NBA until there is a deadline.”

Last year saw a flurry of deals in the final hour on what was looking to be a dull day on the trade front; however, when all was said and done, there were 11 transactions involving 38 players or player rights changing hands at the deadline.

In the days leading up to the deadline last year, there were just two transactions in February before the All-Star break.

While no one is expecting as chaotic a deadline this year as last year, history has shown that the bulk of deals do not get moving until a day or so before the deadline – with a mad rush to consummate deals at the 11th hour.

So while it’s likely that a number of deals get done, as there are a number of teams looking at what’s best called roster and cap management type deals, the odds that something breaks before All-Star seems at this point fairly slim.

At Some Point It’s Not the Coach

There is a saying in professional sports: “Coaches are hired to be fired.” Every coach that signs a contract understands that in the very best of situations he may see the final year of that deal, but in most cases he knows he has a greater than average chance of being fired before his deal expires. That’s life as a coach in sports.

To put that in context of the 30 NBA coaching jobs, just seven have been on the job longer than three seasons (including this one). San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich is the most tenured coach in the NBA having been hired in 1996. Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Dallas’ Rick Carlisle come in second and third, having been hired in 2008.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for coaching stability.

With the New York Knicks parting ways with Derek Fisher yesterday, he became the fifth coach fired this season and if the reports turn out to be true, Sacramento Kings coach George Karl could be the sixth.

The problem teams face in hiring and ultimately firing a coach is that there is no longer an accountability to the coach of a team. Outside a small handful of situations – San Antonio, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta and Boston – most players know that the coach is not the end-all authority. Coaches themselves know they have to play politics to get results and the ones that are really good at the political parts seem to stick around a little longer than those that challenge their roster.

So what ends up happening is that really good basketball coaches get ousted, because they cannot enforce principals. If they try and it’s not immediately successful, players tune the coach out and things spiral out of control.

That’s not to say that every fired coach did a good job, because as we are seeing play out in Sacramento, the fit of coach to roster isn’t always a good one and that too dooms the coach. Few teams are willing to re-structure their roster around their coach, because it’s easier to fire a coach and hire a new one than find a 26.8-point, 11.1-rebound per game big man.

The problem with that mindset is that eventually the players sour on the organization because of the self-inflicted chaos.

In Sacramento, DeMarcus Cousins has had five coaches in his six NBA seasons. If Karl is indeed fired during the All-Star break, Corliss Williamson – the expected interim – would be a sixth coach in six seasons. Considering the Kings likely hire the seventh coach during the offseason, it’s hard to imagine Cousins remaining loyal to the franchise if seven becomes eight before his contract is up.

Firing a coach is sometimes necessary. Things had run their course last year in Orlando with Jacque Vaughn. Things may have run their course with Randy Wittman in Washington.

However, if you look at the history of success in the NBA, the teams that build around their coaches usually have more success than those that don’t. The franchises that empower their coach usually have greater stability and longevity and when it comes to signing and retaining free agents those same stable franchises have done well.

Firing a coach is part of the business. Coaches and teams know that when they make the hire. However, it’s not always the coaches fault when things don’t go right. Sometimes the organization has to shoulder the blame.

In the case of the New York Knicks, they have no one to blame but themselves for Derek Fisher. He did not have the experience, the resume or the mentality to be successful in New York. The Kings have no one to blame but themselves on hiring Karl to skipper a roster he clearly was not going to reach.

In both cases, the coaches were set up to fail by the teams that hired them. Neither were put in situations where they could have been truly successful, but both will get labeled with blame because they couldn’t make the unworkable, work.

Coaches are hired to be fired, that’s the sad reality of the profession, but it’s not always the coaches’ fault when the relationship needs to come to an end. Sometimes, it’s more on the team and management than it is the coach.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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