Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
According to some hoity-toity government agency called the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in our country is, thankfully, declining these days.
But I’m wondering if they’re taking into account all those former NBA head coaches who are out of jobs these days.
No less than six NBA franchises are currently looking for a new head coach — the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Charlotte Bobcats (who will soon reclaim their old, original Hornets’ mascot) and Philadelphia 76ers, whose former coach, Doug Collins, did not get fired but rather resigned.
(And after getting stuck with an all-world head case like Andrew Bynum — who sat out all of last season after re-injuring his ailing knee while bowling, of all things — who could blame Collins for wanting out?)
What’s more, three other teams — the Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings — may very well also be in the market for a new coach within the next couple of weeks.
If all those coaches lose their jobs, too, that would bump the NBA head coaching unemployment rate up to close to 30 percent — a figure that someone like Rush Limbaugh, I’m sure, would certainly try and blame on the Obama administration.
Of course, most of those coaches won’t stay unemployed for long, because the NBA — much like the NFL and Major League Baseball — is all about recycling its former coaches and finding new jobs for them in other places.
Let’s face it — plastic bottles, newspapers and aluminum cans haven’t been recycled as much as most coaches in professional sports.
After all, Mike Brown got canned early last season by the Los Angeles Lakers and was recently hired as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers — or we should say “rehired,” since he previously served as the Cavs’ head coach for five years before getting fired in Cleveland three years ago.
My point exactly.
In this age of recycling coaches and finding new jobs for them, the names you often hear as possible candidates for NBA coaching vacancies these days are former head coaches Nate McMillan, Stan Van Gundy, Scott Skiles, Byron Scott, Alvin Gentry, Avery Johnson and coach-turned-commentator Jeff Van Gundy.
Johnson, Skiles and Gentry haven’t been out of work long, as they all got fired from their respective jobs with the Nets, Bucks and Suns during the 2012-13 season, and Scott got axed by the Cavaliers after the season ended to make way for the recycling of Brown.
And, of course, there’s always the Big Kahuna of former NBA coaches, Phil Jackson, who piled up 11 league championships in his stints with the Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers and seems to be mentioned every time a high-profile NBA coaching job comes open — even if it’s only wishful thinking on the part of the franchise who’s looking to make a splashy hire.
Then there are the up-and-comers, guys who haven’t been NBA head coaches yet, but appear well on their way to landing one of those jobs someday — guys like Kelvin Sampson, Brian Shaw, J.B. Bickerstaff, Mike Budenholzer and Utah Jazz assistant Jeff Hornacek.
Like Jackson, though, there’s this other ’ol guy out there who’s unemployed and ought to be high on every team’s list of coaching candidates. He’s an old-school farm boy from the Midwest, a guy by the name of Jerry Sloan — maybe you’ve heard of him? — and he might be just what a young, underachieving NBA team needs to whip ’em into shape.
Especially a young, underachieving team like the Clippers, whose coach, Vinny Del Negro, got whacked despite guiding that “other” L.A. team to a franchise-record 56 wins and its first division championship last season.
However, in the spirit of “What have you done for me lately?” Vinny was shown the door when the Clippers got eliminated by the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of this year’s playoffs.
So, why wouldn’t a team like the Clippers be interested in Sloan?
Sure, Jerry is 71 years old, and no, he didn’t win 11 NBA championships in his coaching career like Jackson did. But the Hall of Fame coach won more than 60 percent of his games and only had one losing record in 23 seasons with the Jazz. He would bring the respect-hungry Clippers’ franchise immediate credibility. In fact, he just might be the right guy to push that team over the top.
Some people might say that Sloan’s too old to coach today’s NBA players, who are accustomed to being coddled and pampered and probably wouldn’t appreciate Sloan’s intense, tough-minded approach to the game.
But the Clippers’ two most marketable superstars right now are point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin. And if memory serves, it seems like Sloan’s system worked mighty well for many years using a stellar point guard and a strong power forward as the focal point of its attack — whether it was John Stockton and Karl Malone, or Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.
Sloan has already talked to the Bucks about their job opening and decided it wasn’t the right fit for him. Williams, now the Nets' point guard and the guy who’s been accused of driving coach Sloan out of Utah, has said he’d love to play for his old coach again.
Any one of those other NBA teams would be lucky to have him, too, if only for a few more years before Sloan decides to hang ’em up for good and spend more time back on the farm.
But seeing him sitting in the seats at EnergySolutions Arena, watching the Jazz play, he seems somewhat out of place. Instead, he belongs on the sidelines, doing what he always did — yelling instructions to his team, barking at officials and winning a bunch of ballgames.
If there’s any NBA team that wouldn’t want that, well, it’s no wonder they're looking for a new coach.
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