Brad Stevens trying to escape loooong run of college coaches failing in NBA

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In 1987, the New York Knicks hired a hotshot college coach who had just led Providence to the Final Four. The new coach was smart, energetic and extremely promising.

In his first year, he led the Knicks to a 38-44 finish. Although that record wasn’t great, it sure beat the 24, 23 and 24 games New York won the three prior seasons .

In year two, he took the Knicks even higher. They went 52-30, their best record in 16 years.

But, despite his success, the coach wasn’t totally happy in the pros, and he left for the University of Kentucky. NBA commissioner David Stern even chided him after he left, implying the coach couldn’t handle the challenges of the Association.

“He’s leaving the stress of the pros and all the traveling for what really is an easier job,” Stern said. “In the end, who wouldn’t do that?’”

That coach was Rick Pitino – perhaps the most famous example of a college coach failing to successfully jump to the NBA, but also arguably the most recent example of a coach who did it well.

Since Pitino left the Knicks with a 90-74 record, 13 NCAA Division I coaches have been hired to become NBA head coaches. Just two of them have had a winning record with the NBA team that plucked them from the college ranks.

New Celtics coach Brad Stevens, whom Boston hired from Butler, will do his best not to follow in those footsteps. Here’s the history he’s trying to escape:

Mike Dunlap

Hired by the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012 from St. John’s

Record: 21-61

Dunlap is a unique case, because he was a St. John’s assistant when the Bobcats hired him.

But the reasons he failed in his lone season were hardly unique for a former college coach. Associated Press:

Dunlap struggled at times with game management, transitioning from the college game to the NBA and handling professional athletes, often benching veteran players for weeks at a time after they’d irritated him in some way.

Reggie Theus

Hired by the Sacramento Kings in 2007 from New Mexico State

Record: 44-62

Strangely enough, Theus credited Pitino and Jerry Tarkanian, both whom will appear later on this list, for helping to get him the job. Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof sounded pretty excited on his own to get Theus despite his small-time accomplishments after his playing career ended. “He’s very well thought of and revered in Las Cruces,” Maloof said.

Ultimately, Theus clashed with the Maloofs – who exercised the type of oversight not often seen by college coaches – and was fired early in his second season.

“I was dead man walking before I even took the job,” Theus said. “I wish I had known that.”

Mike Montgomery

Hired by the Golden State Warriors in 2004 from Stanford

Record: 68-96

Montgomery was very mindful of the difference between the college and pro games when he was hired. Associated Press:

Coaching in the NBA has always been something Montgomery has considered as the next logical step. For several years now he has been talking to other coaches about the differences.

“Obviously there will be somewhat of a transition going from college to the NBA, but I’m prepared to meet those new demands and am confident in my abilities,” Montgomery said.

Perhaps, Montgomery overly compensated for those differences, though. Michael Deuser of Sporting News:

At Stanford, Montgomery built his program on tough defense and an offense based on tightly controlled half-court sets. Many of Monty’s point guards chafed under his direction, complaining that their creativity was squelched by a coach who called plays every time down the court. With Davis, Montgomery has behaved differently. He has given Davis free rein over the Warriors offense, allowing his All-Star to pass and shoot at his discretion. Somewhere along the line, Montgomery decided that the only way the Warriors could win was by letting Davis do his thing. In doing so, he has abandoned the discipline that made him a successful coach at the college level, and he has lost the respect of his players and control over his team in the process.

Mike Dunleavy Jr., in particular, has been vocal about the changes to the Warriors offense under Davis, telling reporters, “We can’t just go throw the ball out there and play street ball, and that’s what we rely on. You can’t just let your All-Stars, your best players, go one on one. As good as those guys are, the other guys are good, too. I’ve been trying to explain this to everybody since the first game of the season.”

Montgomery lasted just two seasons in the NBA before getting fired and retreating back to the Pac 10, where he took a job with Cal.

Lon Kruger

Hired by the Atlanta Hawks in 2000 from Illinois

Record: 69-122

The Hawks hired Kruger because they thought he could bring college sensibilities to the pro game. Unfortunately, they didn’t actually let him steer the ship like he could have in college. Michael Baldwin of The Oklahoman:

Kruger discovered one major difference between coaching in college and the NBA: He didn’t have the final say on personnel.

“It’s different, there’s no question about that,” Kruger said. “I was a little naive going into that situation. It was very much a learning experience, a very good experience other than the losing. The losing got old.”

Kruger had a couple losing seasons and was on his way to his third when Atlanta fired him.

Leonard Hamilton

Hired by the Washington Wizards in 2000 from Miami

Record: 19-63

Hamilton’s only pro season went so poorly, an assistant coach had to cover the standard postgame press conference following Washington’s final game, because Hamilton met with Michael Jordan immediately after the game about to end the coach’s tenure.

At least Hamilton looks back on the experience as a positive. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:

Career mistake, right?

“It was a decision that I made that I don’t regret,” Hamilton said.”It was a great experience for me. Sometimes, change is necessary and can be a good thing. It opened up my eyes to a lot of things.”

Actually it opened up his bank account to a lot of money.

This is when I realized why my “career mistake” question was so silly.

Hamilton may have only coached one season in the NBA, but he collected the entirety of the 5-year, $10 million contract he signed with the Wizards.

The FSU coach smiled when he saw the light go on in my head and he knew that I’d finally figured out why going to the NBA was actually a great career move. It gave him financial security for the rest of his life and he was still able to come back and get a good college job at Florida State.

“Now,” Hamilton said, “you’ve got the picture.”

Tim Floyd

Hired by the Chicago Bulls in 1998 from Iowa State

Record: 49-190

Floyd: The coach so bad he made Michael Jordan retire. College coaches must gain respect from NBA players, and Floyd had a particularly difficult time doing that. Associated Press:

Jordan has made no secret of his unwillingness to play for the 44-year-old Floyd, who has no NBA coaching experience and compiled a 243-130 career record with five NCAA tournament appearances. He has been at Iowa State for four years and his team went 12-18 last season – his only losing season in 12 as a college coach.

In his most recent public comments, Jordan reiterated that he won’t play for any coach but Jackson, who left at the end of the season after the team won its sixth championship.

Jordan said he wouldn’t announce a decision on his future with the Bulls until after the NBA’s lockout ends.

He has ridiculed Floyd by calling him “Pink” – as in the rock group Pink Floyd. Dennis Rodman also has called the possible hiring of Floyd “a joke.”

Floyd tried to control how injured Bulls dressed on the bench (this was before the league-wide dress code), and he clashed with Ron Artest and Charles Oakley.

“Every day has been hell,” Floyd said during his fourth season. “It hasn’t been fun.”

He resigned on Christmas Eve of that year.

Rick Pitino

Hired by the Boston Celtics in 1997 from Kentucky

Record: 102-146

This is the coach whom Stevens will be constantly compared to, because Pitino also coached in Boston.

After leaving the Knicks for Kentucky, Pitino made his triumphant return to the NBA with great fanfare, a 10-year, $50 million contract and the best chance to land the No. 1 pick and choose Tim Duncan in the upcoming  NBA Draft.

But lottery luck wasn’t in Boston’s favor, and Pitino said he would have never accepted the Celtics’ opening if he knew they wouldn’t get Duncan. NBA jobs are tough when you can’t pick your own players like in college.

Pitino’s style also didn’t really fit in the NBA. Mike Wise of The New York Times:

Pitino’s recipe for success at every level — constant pressing and trapping on defense and end-to-end transition on offense — often collided with the nouveau defensive-minded N.B.A. While more and more coaches stressed taking away options and cutting off areas of the court — using reams of videotape to show their players how to better defend their opponents — the Celtics kept running and pressing.

Pitino lasted longer with the Celtics than he did the Knicks, but now at Louisville, Pitino isn’t getting a third NBA opportunity anytime soon.

John Calipari

Hired by the New Jersey Nets in 1996 from Massachusetts

Record: 72-112

Calipari was a familiar trope: the overbearing college coach who tried to remain overbearing in the NBA. Chris Broussard of ESPN:

From day one, Calipari’s talk of “changing the culture” rubbed members of the organization the wrong way. Sure, he was right (after all, the Nets had won just 30 games in each of the previous two seasons), but the holdovers, who had essentially run the place like a mom-and-pop operation, took offense at the way the savvy young hotshot pooh-poohed their way of doing things. He was also demanding to the point of absurdity, driving secretaries and underlings crazy.

“He would ask you to do something that can’t be done in three days and he’d want it done in three hours,” said one former member of the organization who was there for Calipari’s final season. “You’d tell him it can’t be done, and he was like, ‘Yeah, it [bleeping] can.'”

And, accustomed to being the kingpin on a college campus, Calipari would stick his head where it didn’t belong. He’d offer advice to those on the business side of the franchise, telling them a better way to do things. Pat Riley, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich can do that. But a 30-something pretty boy from the Atlantic 10?

His enemies within the organization began piling up.

Maybe Calipari could have overcome those issues if he had just drafted Kobe Bryant in 1996. Ian O’Connor of ESPN:

“John wanted to take Kobe Bryant in the [1996] draft,” John Nash, Calipari’s general manager at the time, said Thursday by phone. “And he got faked out.”

“Everybody knows I was talked out of that,” Calipari said of his desire to select Bryant

And Calipari had him. He had Kobe Bryant out of Lower Merion High School as much as he had John Wall last season and as much as he’ll have Michael Gilchrist next season.

Calipari worked out Bryant three times at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and three times came away mesmerized. “If you watched the workouts,” Calipari said, “you would say either this kid was taught to fool us in these workouts or he’s ridiculous.”

Or both. Nobody knew it at the time, but Bryant and his agent and sneaker benefactor were about to fool Calipari in a staggering way.

The night before the draft, Calipari and Nash had dinner with Bryant’s parents, Joe and Pam, at the Radisson in Secaucus, N.J. Kobe’s mother and father were thrilled that their son would be playing within commuting distance of their suburban Philly home.

Only Bryant wasn’t about to wait years for his liberation. He called Calipari after the coach’s lunch with Taub, and Bryant’s agent, Arn Tellem, called Nash. Prospect and agent declared they wanted no part of Jersey; Tellem even threatened that his client would play in Italy if the Nets ignored their wishes.

Nash met with a panicked Calipari and tried to calm the coach. The GM made some phone calls and figured out that the Lakers’ Jerry West had reached an agreement with Charlotte, holding the 13th pick, to trade Vlade Divac for Bryant; West was confident that Kobe would make it to No. 13 if the Nets passed at No. 8.

Sneaker maven Sonny Vaccaro would later admit he worked with his good friend, Tellem, to maneuver Bryant to a franchise that would maximize his marketing charms. But Nash thought the Nets should hold firm and call Bryant’s bluff.

“Kobe wasn’t going to play in Italy, and he had nowhere else to go,” Nash said. “But I firmly believe a call from [agent] David Falk, who was representing Kerry Kittles, made the difference.”

Nash said Falk leaned hard on Calipari to take his client. As coach and executive VP of basketball operations, Calipari had final say. About 90 minutes before the draft, he told his owners he would select Kittles at No. 8.

Nash lobbied his coach one last time. From his time running the Sixers, Nash had extensive connections in the Philly area, and he was hearing and seeing the same things West was hearing and seeing — Bryant might be a once-in-a-generation player.

“John, you’ve got a five-year deal,” Nash told Calipari. “If you miss on this kid, you’ll get a couple of more chances.”

Calipari wouldn’t take the risk of having his first draft blow up on him in his own building. He took Kittles

NBA players – with their armies of agents, advisers, “sneaker mavens,” etc. – come with different challenges than college players, but Calipari couldn’t understand that web at the time.

P.J. Carlesimo

Hired by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1994 from Seton Hall

Record: 137-109

Carlesimo is one of just two coaches on this list who had a winning record in an NBA job he took directly from coaching a college team, but he was still fired after just three seasons because he couldn’t get the Trail Blazers out of the first round of the playoffs.

At one point during his tenure, Carlesimo benched Rod Strickland for missing a flight, seemingly a reasonable punishment. But that just made their relationship worse, and Strickland demanded a trade. Typically, college players don’t (can’t) push back to discipline with that level of furor.

Immediately after firing Carlesimo, Trail Blazers president Bob Whitsitt said he wanted a coach with NBA experience.

Butch Beard

Hired by the New Jersey Nets in 1994 from Howard

Record: 60-104

Beard had been an NBA assistant for a while when he left the league to coach Howard, and he’d always had a reputation for being outspoken. But it’s doubtful his time at the relatively small-time school taught Beard how to defer in a players’ league. The Associated Press when the Nets fired Beard:

The outspoken Beard almost guaranteed his dismissal two weekends ago, criticizing his bosses and calling his team a bunch of “second-line players” who might never get better.

Jerry Tarkanian

Hired by the San Antonio Spurs in 1992 from UNLV

Record: 9-11

Oh, boy. This one ended nearly as quickly as it began, because Tarkanian just could not make the transition. Robert McG. Thomas, Jr. of The New York Times:

A professional coaching career that began with the jitters and included bouts with chest pains, team dissension and unaccustomed underachievement came to an abrupt end yesterday afternoon when Jerry Tarkanian was dismissed as coach of the San Antonio Spurs hours before the team’s 21st game of the season, against Dallas at home.

The 62-year-old Tarkanian, hailed for his coaching achievements as Tark the Shark during 19 tumultous seasons at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, had seemed to be a fish out of water almost from the moment he joined the Spurs this year after his rancorous departure from the college ranks.

Tarkanian acknowledged preseason jitters at the prospect of making the often treacherous transition from college to the pros and had every reason to be concerned.

There were injuries to Willie Anderson and Terry Cummings, plus the defection of Rod Strickland to Portland, which left the Spurs without a first-rate point guard. Tarkanian was forced to resort to a makeshift lineup that included the use of rookie forward Lloyd Daniels in the backcourt.

By the end of November, the pressure on Tarkanian was so intense that he was hospitalized briefly while suffering from chest pains, and by early this month some of his players, in particular Dale Ellis, were in open rebellion, complaining publicly about Tarkanian’s tactics.

Tarkanian may have actually brought about his own dismissal with a letter he sent to [Spurs owner Red] McCombs on Monday urging the acquisition of a point guard and arguing that the team could simply not win without one. “All I wanted was a point guard,” he said.

What fantastic last words. “All I wanted was a point guard.” If only he could have recruited one.

Paul Westhead

Hired by the Denver Nuggets in 1990 from Loyola Marymount

Record: 44-120

Westhead successfully brought his high-scoring offense from Loyola to the Nuggets. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize his team would  also need to play defense to win in the NBA.

In Westhead’s first season, the Nuggets scored a league-best 119.9 points per game. But they still lost three quarters of their games, because they allowed a league-worst 130.8 points per game. That is incredible.

Larry Brown Hired by the San Antonio Spurs in 1988 from Kansas Record: 153-131

If Brown were a college coach when the Spurs hired him, it was in name only. He was a true professional coach. Before leading Kansas to the 1988 NCAA title, Brown had already won more games in the NBA and ABA than everyone else on this list combined entering their college-to-NBA job.

Stevens isn’t really like Brown in that sense. The new Celtics coach has absolutely no NBA experience.

Really, Stevens isn’t exactly like any coach on this list. He deserves a chance to blaze his own trail, an opportunity to rise or fall on his own merits.

But there are several lessons in these examples Stevens should heed so he won’t follow his NCAA-to-NBA predecessors lengthy track record of failing.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.