SAN ANTONIO — The lack of job security for head coaches in the NBA has seemed to reach an all-time high level of silliness this year, and the two who are still playing for a championship believe that the consistency shown by their respective organizations is a big reason why they’re still competing at the latest stage of the season.
There are at least 12 of the league’s 30 teams that will have new head coaches to start next season, and that includes teams like Denver, Memphis, and the L.A. Clippers who just wrapped up wildly successful seasons that ended with trips to the playoffs.
It’s getting to be ridiculous, and the more tenured guys in the game will tell you that a constant level of turnover is far from the best way to build a team for long-term success.
Speaking via conference call on an off day after Game 4 of the Finals, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra had no trouble at all articulating the specifics of the issue.
“I think it’s a terrible state for the profession right now,” Spoelstra said. “And look, all you have to do … I mean, we see it differently, the San Antonio organization and the Miami Heat organization. For true success in the NBA, you must have consistency of culture. When you see that type of turnover over and over and over, it’s impossible to create any kind of sustainable consistent culture. And we don’t see it as a coincidence. We’ve had the same leadership in our organization now for 18 years. Micky Arison took over (as owner), put (Pat Riley) in charge. Even though we have had four different coaches, it still has been the same culture and relatively the same philosophy. San Antonio has been the same way for 15 years with Pop in charge.”
Gregg Popovich believes that ownership may not be able to fully understand the differences between success that is achieved by leaders in basketball versus those in other businesses they may have been associated with over the years.
“I think that in some cases one might surmise that some owners think it’s easier than it really is,” Popovich said. “It’s difficult to win an NBA game, let alone playoff game‑type situation. It’s not that easy. You don’t just go draft, or make this trade, or sign this free agent and then it gets done. It’s very difficult. And when things don’t happen quickly, I think some owners become frustrated. Some even take it personally, I believe, almost like a little bit of an embarrassment because they’ve been so successful in their own way and have a hard time understanding this business.”
Th Spurs have been the model of consistency, appearing in the playoffs 21 of the last 22 seasons, and winning four titles in nine seasons from 1999-2007. And the Heat haven’t been too bad themselves, missing the playoffs only three times in the last 18 seasons, while winning titles in 2006 and 2012.
There’s something to be said for staying the course, but too many teams don’t have a plan or philosophy that they’re willing to stick with on a long-term basis, and are looking for immediate gratification in the form of a championship or, at the very least, a deep run into the postseason.
But for a variety of reasons, most teams aren’t willing to commit. And for them, the constant upheaval clearly isn’t the answer, even though it’s something that ends up feeding on itself.
“As you think about it, it seems like it would apply no matter what your business is,” Popovich said. “If you can have continuity, a good group, a team, so to speak, and all that that entails and keep it in a continuous manner so that it grows more or less upon itself, within itself, and the knowledge and understanding continues to grow, you have a pretty good understanding. You can deal with adversity and not get too pumped up about success but just enjoy it and realize how fleeting it might be. But the change, change, change, change, change thing doesn’t really work. You can see that in a lot of organizations.”
Spoelstra agrees, and is thankful he’s part of an organization that gets it.
“I think it’s really a shame for the profession of coaching that it’s been so volatile,” he said. “But I’m also very grateful that our organization doesn’t behave in that manner.”