24 coaching changes since start of 2002-03 season
The dean of Eastern Conference coaches, Terry Stotts, was fired Friday after 1½ seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. That must seem like an eternity to Tim Floyd, who was dismissed by the New Orleans Hornets after just one disappointing season.
In the rapid-fire, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately profession of NBA coaching, both got more time to prove themselves than John Carroll, Randy Ayers and Chris Ford -- each let go after less than a year on the job.
In fact, the firing of Stotts and Floyd means all 15 teams in the Eastern Conference have changed coaches at least once since the end of last season. Five coaches -- all in the East -- have lost their jobs since the regular season ended less than a month ago. Boston (Doc Rivers) and Philadelphia (Jim O'Brien) have hired replacements; Toronto is still looking for a new coach.
Rivers and O'Brien are no strangers to the coaching carousel. Rivers was fired by Orlando on Nov. 18. O'Brien resigned as Boston's coach Jan. 27.
"The whole atmosphere right now I don't think is healthy for coaching," said former Milwaukee coach George Karl, who is now an analyst for ESPN.
Since the start of the 2002-03 season, there have been 24 coaching changes in the NBA.
The reasons vary -- from too many losses to personality conflicts with players and management to a team simply wanting a coach with a marquee name.
Floyd was let go after a combination of injuries and chemistry problems he struggled to control contributed to a 41-41 regular season and an opening-round playoff loss.
"We thank Tim for his hard work, but we are in a bottom-line business," owner George Shinn said.
Of the four Eastern Conference coaches remaining in the playoffs, Detroit's Larry Brown has technically been on the job the longest. He was hired by the Pistons on July 2, two days after they fired Rick Carlisle -- who had led them to two straight 50-win seasons.
Carlisle was subsequently hired by the Indiana Pacers, who had the league's best record this season and are currently up 1-0 in their best-of-seven second-round playoff series against Miami, led by first-year coach Stan Van Gundy.
Earlier this season, New Jersey fired Byron Scott -- who had led the team to two straight NBA Finals appearances -- after reports of a personality conflict with star guard Jason Kidd. Assistant Lawrence Frank took over and has the Nets in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"I don't understand it when good coaches get fired, when coaches who are winning are let go," Karl said. "It's kind of confusing. It doesn't make a lot of sense right now."
Indeed, wins and losses no longer seem to be the only way coaches are measured. They need to get their teams playing an exciting brand of basketball and keep their star players happy.
"It's not just a person that can handle and manage X's and O's, it's a person that can manage these egos and the personalities," Shinn said. "It takes a special individual and we're committed to finding that individual."
He acknowledged that one unidentified coach currently available wouldn't be in the running for the Hornets job because "one of our top players totally dislikes him."
All-Star guard Baron Davis clashed with Karl during the 2002 World Championships when the Karl-coached U.S. national team failed to finish in the top five.
The new owners of the Hawks, a nine-person group that took over in March, wanted to get their own coach on the job. One of the new owners, Boston businessman Steve Belkin, indicated that one of the coaches Atlanta is interested in talking to would be a significant draw for free agents.
And if they sign, results will be expected quickly.
"There's no easy head coaching job in the NBA, every job has its own challenges," said Stotts, who ended the season as the longest tenured coach in the East. "You just do the best job you can.
Lately, that hasn't been nearly enough.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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