Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Coaching Question

The subject of Glenn Rivers' coaching performance during these playoffs has been marred with controversy pretty much since Game 3 of the Hawks series. For those of us who've never been convinced of Glenn's competence it was easy to blame the team's underachieving on his playcalling deficiencies; others chose to blame the poor performance of certain players, arguing that it doesn't matter what plays you call if guys can't hit open jump shots or, even worse, won't even take them. Both sides had their salient points. However, there recently appears to be a sort of despondent coalescence of feeling around the brutally apparent fact that Glenn Rivers is not a championship-caliber NBA coach, not by a long shot. He's been arguably outcoached thus far by two guys (the Mikes, Woodson and Brown) who are almost universally considered to be in the bottom tier of head men in the league, and let's face it, Flip Saunders isn't exactly making anyone forget Red Auerbach, either. Even if the Celtics can get past the Pistons, does anyone want to see what Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich will do to a Glenn Rivers-coached team in the NBA Finals? Good lord.

I could take this time to catalogue the various deficiencies of Glenn's strategies, or lack thereof, as Simmons did in his cathartic guilty pleasure from a couple weeks' back. I could bang my head against my computer in frustration that we still--STILL--have absolutely nothing resembling a consistent rotation, even having just completed the 100th game of our season. These are all valid criticisms and weighty evidence of an NBA coach in far, far over his head.

But I'd rather step back and look at a slightly larger picture. Here are the names of the men who, in the past twenty years, have won NBA titles: Popovich. Riley. Brown. Jackson. Tomjanovich. Daly. And you know what? That's it. Basketball, quite simply, is a sport where coaching seriously, seriously matters. This isn't football, where every now and then a coach like Brian Billick or Barry Switzer will win a Super Bowl simply because his players are so good they won't allow him to fuck it up. And it's certainly not baseball, where the basic job description of the manager is often simply to stay out of the way. In a very real sense, in basketball, there are championship-caliber coaches and then there's everyone else, and from all indications, Glenn Rivers falls into the category of "everyone else," and right now that feels like an almost laughable understatement.

Hey, I hope he proves me wrong, and soon, but how fucking hollow does that sound right now? A bigger-picture problem is the fact that if Ainge didn't fire Glenn after three seasons of grotesque mediocrity there's no reason to think he'll fire him now, unless--and this is an extremely outside but still existent possibility--ownership is so committed to winning a title (which they genuinely appear to be) and so frustrated with this team's playoff performance (which is thoroughly unclear right now) that they force the issue. Again, this probably won't happen, especially because there's not a whole lot out there that represents a genuine upgrade over Rivers, particularly now that Larry Brown's settled on Charlotte. Except...

Be warned, this post is about to veer into flagrantly irresponsible, baseless speculation; Buzz Bissinger's getting aroused even as I type this. I think that, if the Celtics lose this Pistons series, management should seriously consider putting out a feeler towards Pat Riley. Granted, Riley seems pretty well ensconced in South Beach right now, but don't forget how he ended up there in the first place: the whole Arison/Knicks tampering debacle. In other words, it's not outside the realm of possibility that he'd at least be flattered by the attention. More importantly, if Riley were to come back to coaching, and many think it's only a matter of time before he does, isn't this precisely the sort of situation he would jump at? A solid veteran core and intriguingly deep bench whose championship window is right fucking now? Sounds a lot like the situation that led to the bloodless overthrow of Stan Van Gundy a few years back. And while I realize that it'd be almost perverse for Riley to take the helm of the Celtics after his storied history with the Lakers, but hasn't Riley always struck you as exactly the sort of contrarian asshole who would relish such a move?

Again, this is nothing short of flagrantly irresponsible speculation, an extravagant daydream. There's a million and one reasons why this is almost entirely impossible. But then again, nothing's impossible, and daydreams sometimes feel like all you've got.


Anonymous said...

"Almost" perverse? I'd say you're halfway there.

Agreed on Doc, though.

Duff Soviet Union said...

Am I the only one who thinks Flip Saunders is actually a really good coach? Yeah, he's had his problems in the playoffs, but in the regular season at least he piles up the wins like few others. As for a new coach if you get rid of Doc, I'd suggest Dwayne Casey. I know most people hate retreads, but I don't think he is one. He got an absolutely terrible deal in Minnesota.

The Fox said...

I watch every game and wonder "have the Celtics taken anything out of the experience of this season?" And I see them making the same mistakes they made in November, the same mistakes they made in the first round. This is a team that should be peaking right now, and I think there's a definite lack of leadership here. Doc is a serviceable, but not great coach (which doesn't get him anywhere in this scenario). Pierce is a serviceable, but not great captain (he himself gets rattled or lost more often than not - how can that guy be your leader?) Sure KG has tons of fire, but is he willing this team to victory? I don't see it.

Who's gonna lead this team?

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