Gone Fishing: Coaching Fires and Hires in a New Free-Agent Market

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

– Henry David Thoreau

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It’s well-documented that the NBA salary cap is set to explode this off-season and then further balloon in subsequent off-seasons. With the extra cap-space available, teams are vying to make a splash in free agency, with the free-agent class headed by Kevin Durant.  With the player market flooding with cash, most NBA teams will be capable of freeing up the money to land a big fish free-agent.

Meanwhile, the amount of Head Coaching vacancies that opened up in the last year is unprecedented. Since the start of the season there has been 15 coaching changes: that’s half the league in one season.  Teams edgy and impatient with their current head-coaches, and this is largely due to the roster implications of the upcoming cap spikes: teams recognize their unique opportunity to improve through free-agency without completely burning down their rosters and building from the ground up.

012216-NBA-Report-Cavs-fire-head-coach-David-Blatt-PI.vadapt.664.high.46Hitting a win total isn’t good enough to keep a coaching job – nothing but excellence is demanded by front offices.  David Blatt figured that out first hand after getting the boot despite reaching the NBA Finals in his first year as the Cavaliers Head Coach.  For many of the unseated coaches, cap-space changes was an element of their undoing: their performance may have been enough to hold on to their positions in a different season, but with the money about to be let loose, front offices don’t want to be left thinking “what if?” after being left empty-handed in free-agency.

Now coaches are flooding the market as well, and with so many coaching changes, a domino effect started to occur.  Some teams fired their coach under questionable pretenses just for the sake of a coaching change (Memphis or Indiana anyone?). With Scott Brooks and Tom Thibodeau waiting in the wings, many teams salivated over potential coaching upgrades for their franchises that might lure top-flight free-agent players.

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This was likely the case with Scott Brooks, the Washington Wizards, and free-agent superstar Kevin Durant.  There have been non-stop whispers of a KD homecoming for a couple of years now: he was courted by the Wizards earlier in the season, and Scott Brooks coached KD for the previous 7 seasons.  The Wizards hope to capitalize on the existing relationship between the two.

This suggests that one of two theories are the root cause of the NBA’s constant coaching flux: teams are either acquiring coaches with the intention of using their upgraded coaching staff to attract free-agent stars, or to compensate for their decreased chances at landing a sparkly new free-agent star in an over-saturated market.  Teams that are actively contending for a championship hope to pull of a high-profile free-agent, and rebuilding teams are searching for a coach who can right their ship through a full roster rebuild.  Most teams are chasing new coaches in the pursuit of free-agents, however teams like Indiana, Memphis, and Sacramento have other goals in mind as well.

coach-kenny1The Brooklyn Nets are still looking to rebuild and need a coach who can develop players: Kenny Atkinson used to be the director of player development in Houston, so the Sean Marks and the Nets made the logical hiring choice.  The Nets be able to capitalize on the changing market by using cap-space to acquire players from teams that are looking to unload big salaries and pursue free-agent signings on the open market.  Their rebuilding status softens the impact of absorbing overpaid players from other teams, as they could still have enough money left over to also pursue free-agents of their own – most likely players who hope to leave their teams and get minutes playing under a historically proven player-development coach.

The cap-spike has already caused a great lot of turmoil, despite the fact that it hasn’t even happened yet.  How many of those 15 coaches were looking forward to trying their luck at a big fish of their own?  Money makes people crazy, but, apparently, it doesn’t make them complacent.  If teams want to transform into true title-contenders, they will do whatever it takes to get there; with the salary cap time-bomb ticking away, NBA owners are showing their coaches the door, hoping to get their teams moving.

By James D’Elia

Actually By Tim D’Elia