The art of coaching

[Bumped from the FanPosts. We're starting to get the very beginnings of some anti-Monty rumblings, and this is a great, measured response to that. -R]

It’s been said over and over again – coaches are hired to be fired. When a team fails to win as often as its fan base and its owner requires, coaches are asked to leave. This is because coaches are the easiest to let go. Players are harder to let go because of the restrictions of the CBA and the difficulty of the free agent market. That is why when a team is losing it is easy to blame everything on the coach. Fans and owners alike believe that by simply replacing a bad coach with a good coach, they can make any group of players (no matter the skill set) into winners. And why wouldn’t they? It is reasonable to think that by placing players in a system where he is comfortable will make him better. Yes?

This endless question on the value of a head coach is quite similar to the question of nurture versus nature. And there have been numerous articles regarding this topic. And it has been suggested that like managers in firms and corporations, managers are nothing more than “principal clerks”. That is what managers do with respect to the “inspection and direction” of a firm is essentially the same for all firms, and consequently managers can’t have much impact on the success or failure of an organization. (Stumbling on Wins).

Does that mean coaches are insignificant? Does that mean coaches are basically just dolls placed beside players to make it seem like there is a system in place? Are coaches basically replaceable by deck chairs and dummies?

No, what evidence suggests is not a comparison between a team’s performance with and without a coach. No. What the studies have shown is that, there are few coaches that could actually alter player performance and that most coaches are ,in actuality, at the mercy of the talent on the roster. Vinny Del Negro said it best:

"Everybody runs the same stuff," Del Negro said. "I would say 80 percent. Everyone tries the post-up guys. Everyone runs isolations. Everyone runs pick-and-rolls. It's all the same stuff; they just have different visuals for it. We call something horns -- it's an elbow set. They call it 54. Everyone runs ... we call it floppy, single-double -- other teams call it power or they call it 2-chest."

Del Negro said there's little variance in the schematics of NBA teams, with very few exceptions.

"Most of the stuff is very similar,” he said. “Angle pick-and-roll, high pick-and-roll. Everyone runs those. Other than probably the old Utah stuff -- the UCLA stuff, which we run, which other teams run -- or the triangle offense, which only the Lakers used to run, everyone runs pretty much very similar stuff."

Del Negro said he believes that execution far outweighs design on the basketball court. On Friday, he said he calls only about 50 percent of the Clippers' half-court sets from the sidelines. As a coach, he's not there to put his stylistic imprint on his team or to wow the league with his tactical prowess. He's in Los Angeles to inspire basketball players to play basketball. Give him quality players, and he'll give you a quality product. This is the Vinny Del Negro brand. (TrueHoop network: The Clippers’ efficient Woody Allen offense by Kevin Arnovitz)

Now you may ask, what then is the purpose of a coach who doesn’t actually alter player performance unlike Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich? (both improve their teams expected wins by 17.1 and 15.9 wins just by adding the coach).

What a coach does is, like the manager of a firm, he manages the team. He keeps them motivated. He keeps them pushing, keeps them working. No matter if the players are productive or unproductive what matters is that he keeps them working. Mostly, it is up to the players to be productive or be unproductive.

Monty as a coach succeeds in this regard. It’s been well documented how players appreciated Monty as a coach. CP3 said it. David West said it. Landry said it. JSmith said it. Heck, even Kaman said it (even only after 1 month with the coaching staff). There have been numerous accounts where players who played for Monty responded to his “call to work”.

Does that mean Monty is off the hook? Does that mean he doesn’t deserve criticisms that question his offensive and defensive systems? Heck no. What was quoted was that there are few coaches that can alter player performance. That doesn’t mean only they can. Life is all about improvement. We strive for perfection. And in the process, we better ourselves, continuously learn and evolve. Socrates said it best:

“I know one thing, that I know nothing.”

Is Monty growing as a head coach? Does his work continually evoke that spirit of paradoxical search for wisdom?

The answer to that question varies from person to person. And like any mathematical pursuit, the answer lies somewhere there. There are an infinite number of answer to be had ranging from “HE SUCKS A$$. Let’s start a trend #FireMonty” to “OMG, Monty is the best coach i can’t believe your questioning him”. Somewhere between that is the answer we seek.

With all that in mind, remember that basketball is, unlike baseball, a team sport. And as such, it is very difficult to put basketball in a scale of black and white. There are grey areas, areas where nobody has ever conclusively answered yet. And as such, it is important to know everything and at the same time know nothing in order for each and every one of us to help find the answer to those grey areas. Think of every scenario, think of every possibility, of all options before making an answer. Think of the players, think of the coach, think of the franchise, think about the coaching market, about the fans, about the other team’s fans/franchise about all the other effects the answer can get. Then ask yourself, is Monty still the right coach?

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