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Firing Your Coach? A Guide

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The writing is on the wall. Let's try to learn from the mistakes of other franchises.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

On December 13th the Sacramento Kings lost their third straight game, a painful 95-90 defeat at home to the then moribund (and, not coincidentally, with Josh Smith) Detroit Pistons. The loss dropped them to 11-13. Of particular note, it was ninth consecutive game without superstar center DeMarcus Cousins, who was out battling viral meningitis. When Cousins left the team it was 9-6.

Surprisingly, to everyone covering the team, the Kings fired head coach Mike Malone the very next day. There really was not a succession plan in place, although rumors swirled that George Karl could be the replacement. Instead the team picked Ty Corbin as an interim, and eventually the coach for the rest of the season. The front office wanted to play fast and Corbin has delivered. He has also nuked their defense.

Sacramento's firing of Mike Malone has to date been one of the more confusing firings in recent memory. Malone had the Kings playing well over the first part of the year, leading them to a 9-6 record before star center DeMarcus Cousins fell ill with viral meningitis. Just one game before Cousins was expected back, Malone was fired after a loss to the Detroit Pistons at home that dropped the Kings to 11-13 and just 2-7 in the prior nine games. The reasoning given for Malone's firing was that he wasn't playing the uptempo style of basketball that the Kings front office wanted to see.

Regardless of whether or not that is true, it was the timing of Malone's firing that was the most perplexing to Kings fans and others around the league. Without DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings are not a good team, and for Malone to be fired without given the chance to see if he could bounce back once his star was back in the fold was confusing to say the least.

Time to Go

If there is a time to make a move for the Pelicans, it is right now. 10 of the next 12 games are at home. The Pelicans will be on the road for just four days in the next month; January 22nd and 23rd (@ Minnesota on the 23rd), and February 5th and 6th (@ OKC on the 6th). The trade deadline is February 19th, just before the Pels first game after the All-Star Break, a short 30 days from now. If Monty Williams and/or Dell Demps are unlikely to survive this season then the time to go is now.

Moving now has drawbacks. Three specific college coaches (John Calipari, Fred Hoiberg, and Tony Bennett) are all busy. They will not come to the NBA during their season. It is not going to happen. The majority of front office candidates are currently employed by other teams as well. A move right now means a likely internal promotion both on the bench and in the GM's chair.

Candidates - Short Term

Randy Ayers is currently the lead assistant on the Pelican coaching staff. Typically when a move is made during the season it is the lead assistant, as Corbin was in Sacramento, who is promoted. Ayers has been a head coach in the NBA just once, he lasted a grand total of 52 games with the Sixers in 2003-04 before being fired during the season. Ayers is most recently famous thanks to this story from Grantland concerning Kyle Korver.

It’s a telling contrast with Korver’s first season in Philly, when Randy Ayers, the team’s head coach, pushed Korver away from the 3-point arc. Ayers wanted his rookie to develop a midrange game and attack the basket before launching triples.

Pardon me while I wash my eyes out with bleach.

Next in line, if Ayers is not given the nod, is Bryan Gates. Gates has been an assistant with New Orleans for the past four seasons. He is most notable for being the NBA D-League Coach of the Year in back-to-back seasons; 2006-07 and 2007-08. After those successes with the Idaho Stampede he was an assistant with the Sacramento Kings in 2008-09. Gates has been extraordinarily successful as a head coach throughout his career.

While coaching the Stampede, Gates was a two-time recipient of the Dennis Johnson D-League Coach of the Year award (2006-07, 2007-08), and compiled a record of 101-51 (.664 winning percentage, tied for highest in league history), including winning the NBA Development League Championship in 2007-08. Gates was also an assistant coach in Idaho for five years, beginning with the team’s inaugural season in the CBA in 1997-98.

Gates’ first NBDL experience came as an assistant to Head Coach Dennis Johnson with the Austin Toros during the 2005-06 season. He spent the four years prior to joining the D-League in the USBL, as head coach of the Oklahoma Storm. During this time, Gates lead his squad to three Western Conference titles and was named Coach of the Year in 2004.

The other coaches on the bench, Dave Hanners and Fred Vinson, do not have head coaching experience at any level. Hanners, like Ayers, is a veteran of the Philadelphia 76ers under Larry Brown. Unsurprisingly, both Ayers and Hanners were coaches when Monty Williams and John Salmons played for Philadelphia. Vinson has coached just two years (with the Los Angeles Clippers under Mike Dunleavy) before coming to New Orleans.

Long term replacements (college coaches, assistants on other coaching staffs, etc) will be discussed more fully in the near future.

Have a Plan

Reading through Sactown Royalty the overarching theme is the lack of a plan that the fans can ascertain. You really should read this post, "Don't Tell Me, Show Me" by Greg Wissinger. For brevity, I will include a small portion.

I'm tired of being told that the Kings front office knows what they're doing. I'm tired of that being followed by piss-poor basketball. The Kings were the feel-good story of the year, and now I feel like the offseason can't come quickly enough. Arco Arena was barren against the Nuggets. It doesn't matter that the Nuggets aren't a big draw. It's a Friday night game, and if there's an iota of excitement the building should have been 95% full. But it started empty and emptied out more with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. And it's not just because the team is bad, it's because we know they can be better.

The Pelicans have not been a feel-good story at all this year. Much of that is due to expectations, both internally and externally. The Kings had the luxury, at least among their fan base, of patience. Simple competence and battling around .500 was enough to sate a population begging for a passable product, and one who nearly had that franchise stolen from them just a year and a half ago. Now their own players refer to their head coach as a substitute teacher.

This is what a franchise without a definitive plan can reap. The Kings could have battled around .500 and been a feel good story. Instead their fans aren't filling their typically raucous building and their players are tuning out the head coach.

Whatever the long term plan is, the Pelicans need to be ready to act. If a new GM is desired replace Dell Demps now. Give the new man this trading deadline (if the past month is any indication, players will be on the move) to begin to shape the team for the long haul.

This is important

One final request, allow the GM to hire a coach. Monty Williams was hired first, and then Dell Demps was brought in as GM, and hypothetically, Monty's boss. That is backwards. Hire the GM first, and let the man in charge (and the one who is going to take the fall if it goes south), build the team holistically. Hiring positions piecemeal and bringing in the coaching staff first only creates unnecessary divides and fault lines within the organization.

Consequences

This summer is the single most important summer in New Orleans basketball history since Tom Benson purchased the team and kept them in the city. Anthony Davis can sign his rookie extension on July 1st at 12:01am. There is a precedent that changing coaches does not eliminate the possibility he will re-up long term. (That's before we get into the absurd amount of money on the table).

The Cleveland Cavaliers fired Mike Brown after just one season this spring and hired David Blatt, who had not coached a single NBA game. Kyrie Irving agreed to a five year maximum extension just 11 days later. All that occurred before LeBron James decided to return to the Cavs.

First, let's relive the Tyson Chandler trade. Chandler was initially traded to Oklahoma City, only for that trade to be rescinded due to a failed physical. Pelican fans could see the problem from a mile away.

"I hate this with a passion," writes ticktock6. "CP is gonna be mad. D West said in the paper today that he’d be mad too if they traded Tyson. So, to sum up, you pissed off your two best players. Way to go, cheapskates."

Chandler was ultimately traded months later to cut costs.

There was a time not so long ago when Paul would not have thought about leaving. In 2008, New Orleans won 56 games, finishing one game behind the Lakers for the best record in the Western Conference and pushing defending champion San Antonio to seven games in the conference semifinals. Then the Hornets let Jannero Pargo leave as a free agent. They traded Tyson Chandler after the next season to further cut costs. Then owner George Shinn went into bankruptcy, and last year the NBA took over ownership of the team until it could find a buyer. That search is ongoing.

"We felt like (in 2008), we had a championship caliber team" Paul said. "Woulda, coulda, shoulda and all that stuff, but we felt like we would have given the Lakers a run for their money in the Western Conference finals. So, the next year was a big year for us and they started breaking up the team. They traded Tyson and I didn't know about that. The ownership became a shambles. There was so much uncertainty — you don't know who to believe when they're telling you that this person may be buying the team or this or that. Then just the day-to-day decisions, like would you trade for this guy? Would you go over the luxury tax? Does the team need a masseuse? Those are things that are very valuable during a season like this with how your body is maintained. It was tough to deal with."

Then, just nine games into the following season, Chris Paul was caught off guard when the Hornets abruptly fired Byron Scott just nine games into the season. It did not help matters when Jeff Bower, then GM, stepped into the head coaching chair.

David West and Chris Paul left New Orleans before the 2011 season. West declined a player option while recovering from an ACL injury to leave. Paul forced his way out in a trade to the Clippers. Just like that, a playoff team in 2011 was rebuilding.

Hope

Thankfully, the big picture problems that faced Chris Paul should be non-factors. He seems to really like Monty Williams but everything seems to point to AD understanding this is a business. Unlike CP3 the uncertainty surrounding ownership and franchise stability has been eliminated with the ownership of Tom Benson. The list of players who have turned down a maximum extension is non-existent in the current CBA. It has never occurred.

With the new television deal about to take effect the Pelicans have very little money tied up beyond next year. The best basketball player under 25 should (hopefully) be under contract for the following six seasons this July.

There is not a better advertisement to come coach the Pelicans than hours upon hours of Anthony Davis highlights. He can do anything a coach would want. He plays both ways. He doesn't need to hold the ball to be effective. No possible coach or general manager is limited in their method to building around AD.