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Eddie Jordan and the Absense of Ingenuity

By Matt Reed

A marquee free-agent.
A top draft pick. A new coach. At some point, a franchise will acquire at least one of these, making for vast generalizations by the fans on how the newcomer will “fit in” or “take control” of the already-fixed dynamics of a given group. With a free agent, the player ultimately chooses his team, and the team, naturally, assigns a price (value) to that player. You will be paid this many dollars. You are expected to produce this many stats/wins. The relationship is not particularly complicated, and the same goes for draft picks. Teams expect players to produce, especially players thought to be above average ballers. Management understands holes that must be filled, and available players fill those holes. However successfully these players fulfill expectations is beside the point.

Mostly, unlike new coaches, free agents and draft picks are not set on implementing their philosophy/strategy on the rest of the players. Free agents are brought in to bolster a team’s reputation or “put the team over the edge” as an extra piece. Draft picks are just trying to fit in at first, attempting to make a career/identity for themselves. But coaches, conversely, are responsible for everyone at hand, managing egos and preaching “their way.” Obviously, the (rather large) problem lies when new coaches misinterpret their respective teams, making room for misunderstood roles, player grudges, and a tense, anxious locker room.

If we are to categorize NBA coaches, we might do so in three categories: The Greats (Phil, L. Brown, Pop, Sloan), The Really Goods (Adelman, McMillan, D’Antoni, Doc), and Everyone Else (everyone else). If your franchise hires one of the parenthesized Greats or Goods, chances are that your team is moving in the right direction, or at least making a thoughtful, calculated, energetic decision to put a fanbase at ease. Save from a few uncharacteristic seasons (L. Brown in New York, mid-nineties Adelman in Golden State, Sloan in ’04-’05, etc.), these coaches have traditionally boasted the league’s best teams, making for the most entertaining and ring-inducing roundball.

However, these are not the coaches we’re worried about.

What we’re focusing on is the inevitability that at some point in a fan’s existence, his/her team will select a coach from Everyone Else. It’s a broad, eclectic group made up of stylistic and personality-driven mini-clusters, including “The 50-55 Win Guys Who Never Actually Scare Anyone In May/June” (Don Nelson, Carlisle, Flip), “The Talented, Young, Resourceful Guys Coaching Talented, Young, Resourceful Teams” (Erik Spoestra, Scott Brooks), and my personal favorite, “The Guys Who Always Have Really Good Records Yet We’re Not Entirely Sure If Their Teams Like Them, Like, At All” (Stan Van, G. Karl, B. Scott, Eddie Jordan). And yes, as you already know, the 76ers hired the last name you just read.

This is not a column meant to bash Coach Jordan. Far from it. This is a column attempting to understand- logically, of course- the rationale invested in the franchise’s decision, aside from the already-known former working relationship between Jordan and Sixers GM Ed Stefanski with the Nets a few years back. The object and mission of each NBA team is to win a championship. The first Finals I remember watching was ’94 Rockets-Knicks, and since then, there have been six head coaches to have accepted championship rings: Rudy T., Phil Jackson, Popovich, Larry Brown, Pat Riley, and Doc Rivers. Go beyond that, and you’ll find more Jackson, more Riley, and some Chuck Daly. Simply put: teams do not conquer without a great coach. It simply does not happen.

So, with that information, why do teams continually pick from the litter of Everyone Else? I understand that there are only a handful of successful, high-profile, championship-caliber coaches roaming the sidelines, thus making for a significant amount of difficulty obtaining them, but why settle for mediocrity if a title is truly the ultimate goal? Plus, the turnover rate for coaches is so high, why not put the squad in the hands of a younger, lessor-known, lessor-seen coach and see where it goes? Miami did it with Spoelstra, and he’s been great. New Jersey did it in 2003 with Lawrence Frank, and he made three conference finals appearances. With this logic, the team would be 1) giving a new coach a chance to break into the seemingly impenetrable fraternity of NBA coaches, 2) showing their fans that they refuse the regurgitating of mediocre coaches, and 3) paying less money for that coach, making for less risk.

Besides, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown, Gregg Popovich, and Jerry Sloan are not going to be around for much longer. These are the game’s greatest coaches, and when they do decide to leave the bench, where does the league turn for its next batch of hardwood masterminds?

I sincerely hope that Coach Jordan can rally the troops and continue to climb the ladder in the East. It’s just hard for me not to envision the Sixers going through the same process with Someone Else next summer.