By Craig Kwasniewski
Is it me or have these playoffs established a wider divide between the coaching haves and have-nots? For every Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson leading two well-oiled machines primed for a colossal showdown in mid-May you have Flip Saunders and Doc Rivers doing... well doing their best Doc Rivers and Flip Saunders impressions (read: not coaching). Since the haves are very obvious (Jackson, Popovich, Byron Scott, Jerry Sloan, the Hedgehog and Mo Cheeks) lets focus on the have-nots:
Mike D'Antoni: Honestly, Phoenix Suns fans should be even more pissed off at D'Antoni after Sunday's season-saving win over San Antonio. It only took all of three games for D'Antoni to finally make the key defensive adjustment by switching Boris Diaw on Tony Parker. THREE FREAKIN' GAMES!
When we finally look back at the 2006-07 Suns, people will point fingers squarely on Steve Kerr and blame downfall of the Suns on the Shaq deal. It was a huge gamble that, as Charles Barkley pointed out on TNT, the Suns needed to take a chance on. Sure, they probably needed more time to blend together as a cohesive unit and facing the second best team in the West in the first round obviously didn't help. But Mike D'Antoni cost the Suns this series. Let's even look at that epic Game One where Popovich ran circles around D'Antoni at three key moments:
1. D'Antoni had Leandro Barbosa guarding Michael Finley as he hit the first game-saving three at the end of regulation. Where was Grant Hill? He has same build and athleticism as Finley and is strong enough and has the basketball IQ to throw off Finley from the perimeter. Instead the Brazilian Blur, who's not know for his half-court defense, became the Brazilian Burned and the Spurs were given a second chance.
2. The second game-saving three was a pure miracle shot by Tim Duncan that never should have happened. The Suns should have fouled Ginobili when he was dribbling around the perimeter looking to create (or facilitate, the buzz word for 07-08) for one of the Spurs spot-up shooters. Instead, the Suns watched Ginobili dribble around and then the collapsed on him in the lane leaving Duncan wide open. Why collapse on a guy in the lane when you're up three? And isn't it a European thing to foul instead of playing defense? And didn't D'Antoni make his name as a hoops star in Italy?
3. But the game winner was pure Popovich! The Suns were out of time outs and Nash just hit a risickulous three in the corner to tie it up. Normally Pop would signal an immediate time out and diagram a play. He's notorious for saving all of his time outs for these situations, but the Spurs didn't stop the action. Why? Because the Suns took out all of their interior defenders for that last-second three and Popovich realized that Manu had a good chance at driving the lane for a game winner. Well... we all know how that ended and we all know that Pop CLEARLY dominated D'Antoni.
So the question remains, how many more postseason failures and late adjustments will the Suns' fans, front office and roster put up with? Or more importantly, how many more seasons do they have a relevant Steve Nash on the floor? Stay tunned!
George Karl: Rumors persist that the Nuggets are keeping Karl for next season.
(Time to play "Really" with Seth Meyers and Amy Pohler.)
Really? The Nuggets are keeping a head coach who's led the third highest payroll to a first-round sweep? Really? The Nuggets have a total of three playoffs wins in the last four years (BTW - such a low number that it's grammatically correct to write out the number) and you're keeping him? Really? Melo admits that the team quit in game three. Isn't it the job of a coach to motivate the players? Really? Really? The same George Karl famous for season-ending flameouts in Seattle and Milwaukee is being asked to return? Really? Karl will return to coach the team that "saved" Allen Iverson from 76ers. Isn't that the same 76ers that have at least two more playoff wins than Karl's Nuggets? Really? REALLY?
Avery Johnson: Before Sunday's loss to New Orleans, Johnson was on the 50-50 list along with Mike Woodson, Mike Brown (say what you want about his coaching, the guy pulls out W's), Sam Mitchell and Rick Adelman. But Avery Johnson made two mistakes that killed the momentum of the game and ultimately ended the series (Dallas just doesn't have the stones to rally from a 3-1 deficit.).
What the hell was JJ Barea doing in uniform instead of Tyronn Lue? I know he's injured with a back, but a broken Lue is eons better than Barea! And the Mavs paid dearly when Johnson put Barea in with a lead during the second period. Barea played like it was "win a spot on the Mavs night" and killed all of their momentum. That was the turning point of the most important game of the season and Dallas never really threatened the rest of the way. Why play the ball boy during the playoffs?????
Unlike Phoenix, people should point to the Kidd trade as the downfall of the Mavericks. It never should have happened and now the Mavs are way over the salary cap with Avery Johnson most likely fired this summer.
Doc Rivers: Until this guy actually wins a playoff series (which he hasn't in *NINE SEASONS* of coaching!) I can't ever consider him a good head coach. And the "best team in the NBA" just lost to the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks. Hey I understand... quality teams are allowed to stumble every now and then. As San Antonio showed us, good teams tend to lose focus. But what absolutely kills me is that this guy is actually in the conversation for his second coach of the year award. Really? (opps, I already did that!) So you're telling me that he's getting votes over nine-time NBA champ Phil Jackson or even Jerry Sloan (who deserves it more that anyone). The guy has never won a playoff series in *NINE SEASONS* of coaching!!!!!!!!!
Eddie Jordan: Two GLARING things with the Wizards: bad turnovers and worse emotions. A ton of HORRIBLE turnovers did the Wizards in on Sunday. But what's even worse is the lack of control that Eddie Jordan has on his players. Is it wise to piss of one of the best players in the NBA? Do you really need to motivate him even more?
Flip Saunders: Let's save the best story for last. On Sunday's telecast on TNT, Chris Webber confirmed what everyone in the NBA already knew but didn't know: that the Pistons tune out Flip Saunders. With Detroit losing to Philadelphia by 10 at the half, Ernie Johnson put a question out to the former Piston and new in-studio member:
Ernie: You've been in that locker room with Flip Sauders at halftime, what is the mood in there now.
C-Webb: Truthfully, no disrespect against Flip but it doesn't matter what Flip says because they take on the personality of Joe Dumars. So I'll tell you this: Rip, Chauncey, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed and McDyess are very mad right now, they're probably not even talking and they're probably just saying, "okay we're going to go win this ballgame."
Joe will come down to the locker room though and tell everybody, "I don't know what y'all think you're doing. I'll trade all y'all today." Joe will do that.
So who's doing the coaching anyway... Joe D or Flip? This totally explains why under Saunders the Pistons seem bored during the playoffs. But if they were tuning him out last year (as C-Webb learned first hand), then why is Saunders still coaching them? Again, like the Suns, how many playoff disappointments under Flip Saunders will the Pistons' fans, front office, and roster put up with? Sheed, Rip and Chauncey are getting up there in age. Do they really want to do this again next season?
You can't hide bad coaching in the playoffs.