Weekly Countdown: Toughest job in sports? Try NBA coaching
That job is to serve as head coach of an NBA team. Good luck is needed to get one of those 30 positions, better luck is needed to keep it, and never mind trying to win a title. Only four active coaches have coached an NBA team to the championship:
"No question, no question," Trail Blazers coach
Coaching in the NBA is so challenging because the player contracts are guaranteed. Most of the players in any rotation know they're going to be paid for multiple years regardless of how well they or the team performs.
"So you're managing egos, and that's very difficult when everything is guaranteed," McMillan said. "These guys signed their contracts, and it's not based on winning or numbers. Your salary is guaranteed regardless of what you do the next day. There's not another job in the world like that."
There's not another job that pays an average salary of $5.9 million. Baseball players make an awful lot of guaranteed money as well, but here's the big difference: No matter how difficult
A mutual friend told me that one of the NFL's top head coaches has admitted he could never work in the NBA. The best NFL coaches can behave like bosses with the right to bench star employees or even fire them, in no small part because player contracts are at best partially guaranteed. The structure of the NBA -- as detailed in the collective bargaining agreement as well as the basketball rulebook -- provides little such authority to NBA coaches.
"We get rewarded for it," McMillan said.
There has to be more to the job than the money it pays.
"It's the challenge: Are you able to do it?" he said. "It is a great job."
"All of the people in this business, we all need competition," Pacers coach
That addiction -- which is viewed as a healthy addiction in American society -- is the one quality all coaches share.
"I went to a 12.7 from 19.5 in two years," O'Brien said of his handicap. "And that's after the guy who was hired to coach me said to me the first time, after he'd played golf with me: 'Can I be perfectly honest with you?'
"I said, 'Sure, you're going to be my swing coach.'
"He said, 'Well, the first year we're go to work on getting it up. And the second year we're going to work on getting it down.' Meaning that he's going to try to get [the backswing] up in the right spot. I'm still going to have to play golf while he's doing that, because it's going to take a while to get it up and get it down the right way. But it really was a lot of fun to compete against yourself."
So, you were like the coaches' version of
"Well," O'Brien said, "it wasn't that bad."
The Lakers' Jackson shares that concern. "In pro football, you have 10 to 12 coaches, maybe 15 coaches -- I really don't know the number -- and every [position coach] has his group of guys he's dealing with, so, as a consequence, the personal one-on-one connection [between head coach and player] is pretty limited," Jackson said. "But in basketball, it's a constant. I think one of our coaches, [
Think about that: Seven thousand meetings each season between the lions and the tamer.
"Timeouts -- there are seven a game for each team," Jackson said. "And shootarounds and film sessions ..."
And practices, and pregame, halftime and postgame meetings, and charter plane rides.
"You're constantly displaying who you are in front of them," Jackson said. "And your personal ability to deal with them as a group and as individuals is always being called into action. The preparedness that you have to go through to be representing what your team has to go through for the next game can leave you without a lot of answers at times, because you're playing one team that plays a three-point shooting, run-and-gun game, and then the next team comes in and it's a grind-'em-out type team.
"So there's a lot of manipulation of personnel. You have to have a strong staff that can represent what the special scouting assignment is for each game, and you have to have an ability for leadership. Teams that don't have leadership in this game are really left juggling a lot of times for answers."
Younger coaches spend much of their careers trying to fathom how Jackson has survived and thrived at the highest level of basketball while dealing with the strongest of all lions, whether
"He has been able to get to his stars and get them to believe in whatever it is -- I don't know if it's his religion or something else," said McMillan, who was not at all sarcastic in that statement. "Whatever it is he has been able to do, those guys respect who he is as a man and how he approaches the game.
"From the outside looking in, that's what I see. I don't know inside what's really going on there, but it's got to be that -- you cant be successful in this job without that."
Boiled down, how Jackson addresses the team can be just as important as what he tells them. "Yeah, I think so," he said. "You can't fool these guys. In basketball, they've been pursued since they were 12, 11, 13 years of age usually. They've seen all kinds of 'yes' people, back-slappers. ... I think they are savvy to character, and I think that's what wins the day with them."
A coach cannot develop meaningful relationships with his players unless they believe in his plan. This is why college coaches have so much trouble adapting to the NBA, because the pro game is so much more complex.
"I remember the first year when Grg and I came to the NBA," said Nuggets VP
The preparation for each game has never been better, noted Clippers assistant
So, the job isn't as difficult as it's made to sound?
"It's a mind-boggling job at times," he said. "Because you don't want to screw anybody up, and you hope everybody gets better as you go forward."
But his peers aren't so dismissive of how Sloan has spent 22 years and counting with the Jazz. In that time, the other 29 franchises have made 236 coaching changes.
"What I realize is that a Phil Jackson type of a career, a Popovich type of career, a Jerry Sloan type of career -- it doesn't very often happen," McMillan said. "Coach Sloan has been successful, but most organizations don't continue to be patient and allow winning to keep you there. Most organizations would have said, 'Look, if you don't have a title by now ...'
"You really have to believe in yourself and believe in what you do every day -- that's what it's about. You've also got to understand that one day it's going to come to an end."
Isn't that what the boxers say? That they all know they're going to be knocked out eventually.
"It's going to come to an end," McMillan said, laughing. "You're judged every single day, every single game on what you do. So you can never get comfortable, and you know it. So you don't put a lot of pictures up in your office.
"All that stuff I have, you can sweep in a box. Two minutes, I'm out. Not a lot of stuff in there, and no holes in my walls."
They'll never know he was there.
"They won't," he said with a big smile. "Two minutes, I'm gone."
Let's start with two responses to my complaint last week that
Most of the time, I would agree that a soccer star will be more popular globally than anyone in basketball. But Jordan was a special case based on the timing and importance of the Dream Team following the global end to the Cold War. His clothing line and the iconic silhouette of him dunking made him a brand name around the world and far more popular than any basketball star has been, before or since.
It's important to note that the NBA championship recognizes the best club, as opposed to the national teams that compete in the FIBA worlds.
I understand what you're saying. There is no way of officially deciding a world club champion because the top leagues around the planet don't play each other in a serious way. When Americans refer to the NBA titlist as "world champion," it's an assumption based on the NBA's prominence and the likelihood that no club team could be superior. I have a difficult time arguing with that assumption.
The same goes in soccer with the winner of the European Champions League: Because most of the top footballers around the world are drawn to Europe, you'll have a hard time claiming a superior club in South America or elsewhere. (And yes, I know there is a world club championship for soccer, but that event is of secondary importance compared to the Champions League.)
I agree they risk their health whenever they play, Bradley, but a guaranteed contract of five or six years mitigates that risk. After Livingston's knee was blown out, he was still paid for the final one-and-a-half seasons of his original four-year, $14 million rookie contract.
Teams are finding it more difficult to insure players with a history of injury, which adds to the risk teams accept when signing one of those players to a guaranteed long-term deal.
The owners now want players to take on more risk by accepting shorter contracts; the players will raise your argument in an attempt to maintain things as they are.
Let's be honest: They're a fringe playoff team in the inferior conference. But I get your larger point: This was supposed to be a contender for last place in the East, but Skiles has used this transitional year to develop a promising style around Jennings and Bogut, who is having a strong year. They rank in the top 11 defensively while leading the league in field-goal attempts, which means they're aggressive at both ends instead of cynically trying to waste time in hope of keeping the scores low and close. The midseason trades have improved them without hurting their cap space in 2011, when they'll be one of the teams best prepared to exploit the more austere rules of the new collective bargaining agreement. The Bucks have created hope where there was little before.
Actually, the early results from Nelson weren't at all bad: He coached the Warriors to a first-round upset of the top-seeded Mavericks. NBA teams often seek the opposite of whatever they had before. If the last coach was older with experience, the team might look to hire someone with a fresher outlook, as you mentioned is happening in Australia. Just the same, if a team lost with a slow-tempo coach, then the replacement is likely to be someone who likes to run. I would imagine Nelson's replacement, whenever that might be, will be someone promising to emphasize defense.
As provided by
At least he was an honest agent.
"That's why I picked him," Matthews said. "The word on me was, 'He does a lot of things good, but he's not an expert on one thing.' It's what people have told me."
"But then I went to Sacramento and played summer league with them and played a lot better. The Jazz called me for veteran's camp [in October]. It was a slim chance, but I was like, 'I'm going to take it. If the door is half open, I'm going to try to knock it down.'
Sloan grew to appreciate his versatility. "It turned out my doing a lot of things well worked out for me," Matthews said. "So what worked out for me was what people thought was a negative. I'd played with a bunch of different coaches, a bunch of different players, a bunch of different teams [in college]. I had to adapt to whatever style of play was presented in front of me, and I think that's one of my characteristics that really helps me out now."
"I knew it was going to be harder on Mike than it would be on me in certain ways," Walsh said of the losing. "It's more my responsibility than his for where we are right now. I've said that about three different times now, but people forget."
As the Knicks approach free agency, they will be greeted with gossip of all kinds. At the moment there is one rumor that teams will recruit
"With all of the free agents, I'm being absolutely cautious," said Walsh, who vows to not tamper until the recruiting window opens officially in July. "I'm being very cautious about everything we do, and free agency for us will start July 1."