Dave Joerger, the new head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, gave an interview to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal discussing how he intends to meet the challenge this season will pose. That had me thinking about the toughest jobs in the NBA this season. Joerger's in a tough spot ... but is it the toughest?
The thing about coaching jobs in the NBA is that the "toughness" of the gig is tied to expectations and security. Every job is tough. As good as it sounds, you can't just roll the ball out there and expect it to work. The league is getting more complicated as information about performance and tactics improves. Adapting to that and leveraging data properly while maintaining a collective sense of purpose in the locker room is extremely difficult. It's the hanging ax that provides the additional crushing pressure in some cities.
Some jobs are even more difficult than others, however. So, after careful consideration, here are the five toughest jobs in the league going into 2013-14.
5. Dave Joerger, Memphis
Joerger enters in a tough spot. He takes over a team that made it to the Western Conference Finals under a coach the players responded to and seemed to love. Lionel Hollins was exiled primarily because of his poor relationship with the front office and possibly because of money. Hollins happened to dig at Joerger a little on his way out, ripping the idea that the new coach was the guy who made the Memphis defense sing over the last few seasons.
That said, basically all of the Grizzlies from last season are returning, and Joerger is the choice of the Memphis regime. He has full support from the ownership suite, so things would have to go really wrong from things to get tight for him. The problem comes if the Grizzlies have a couple of down years in a row. No one will be able to explain away the questions.
4. Mike Woodson, Knicks
Woodson was the King of New York at the end of 2011-12, but took plenty of heat last season. Now, the deck is shuffled again, with Steve Novak and Chris Copeland gone and Andrea Bargnani in. Woody is known for his defense, and New York's defense was pretty bad in 2012-13. There will be lots of pressure to get things back in order with Tyson Chandler in the middle. Juggling Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire while keeping Carmelo Anthony playing at an MVP ballot level will also pose challenges.
3. Mo Cheeks, Pistons
The Pistons are expected to compete for a playoff spot this season. They have been one of the league's bottom 10 teams for four years now. It's a lot to ask, especially with a relatively young roster. Cheeks is being put into instant pressure to get this ship in order, and given his past work, he's likely to have some puzzling Xs and Os moments. I don't think he's at risk at all this season, but this season will go a long way toward defining how long his Detroit career lasts. Also: he has the task of managing the shot selection of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith. Does that qualify for hazard pay?
2. Randy Wittman, Wizards
Same story as Cheeks, except Wittman isn't a new hire. If Washington struggles out of the gate, I think the team has to consider shaking up the leadership. Washington has been awful for longer than Detroit, and popping up into playoff contention could be more difficult than it looks, especially given the injury propensity of the main players involved.
1. Mike D'Antoni, Lakers
When the summer's No. 2 free agent leaves in part because of you ... when fans chant loudly for the contender you beat out for the job ... when your mid-30s star guard (as opposed to your late-30s star point guard and early-30s star big man) is coming off of Achilles surgery ... when you have a $100 million payroll and an outside shot at the No. 8 seed ... when your team's big free agent signing was Nick Young ... that's when you have a tough job, my friends.
Honorable mentions: Dwane Casey definitely should have been on this list, though there's not much uncertainty involved: if the Raptors don't make the playoffs, he's almost certainly gone. Scott Brooks is also a perennial contender here, and as much as everyone loves Jason Kidd, he really cannot afford a bad start. Compare Kidd's situation to that of Mark Jackson two years ago. At least the Warriors had youth on its side. Kidd and the Nets have a ticking clock.
A new frontier
Late last week, TMZ.com reported that Lamar Odom has been abusing hardcore drugs and after an attempted intervention has gone missing. Sunday, like clockwork ...
Talking to a close contact of Lamar Odom's in NYC. Said while Lamar "is going through a lot in his personal life, he wants to be a Laker."— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) August 26, 2013
The NBA rumor mill is such a beautiful, efficient machine that it can conjure legit free agency rumors while the player in question is for all intents and purposes missing. Color me impressed.
(And best wishes to Odom, wherever he is. He's one of the league's more difficult characters to assess, and always has been.)
The problem with complaining about the vanguard of NBA on-court fashion -- those damned sleeves, which will be everywhere this season -- is that it does nothing, because they are clearly here to stay. It also makes me feel old to dislike a fashion that the NBA clearly thinks is a winner. I imagine the loudest anti-sleevers as modern-day letter-to-the-editor authors bemoaning the bagginess of the Fab Five's shorts.
Let us recognize that the NBA has historically made the right choices about its uniforms, with some wonderful exceptions that prove the rule. If sleeves were as unabashedly awful as, say, the Mavericks' infamous garbage bag unis, they wouldn't be expanding. The NBA knows a dog when it sees it. In a few years, sleeves won't bother us at all. We'll have trouble remembering, in fact, what jerseys looked like pre-sleeve. Jump aboard the NBA's forward-moving tank or get out of the way.