BOSTON MA - JANUARY 10: Head coach Rick Adelman of the Houston Rockets signals a play in the first half against the Boston Celtics on January 10 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this Photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The NBA coaching carousel stopped for Rick Adelman this time. Is his hire indicative of the teams' reluctance to hire young coaches, or is that a misnomer? Also in The Hook: how Adelman adds concrete credibility to Minnesota.
Whenever an experienced, less-than-glamorous coach is hired in the NBA, a set of fans invariably complains about the league's retread culture, where those who have had jobs in the league are much more likely to get jobs. Folks bemoan the lack of chances given to promising assistant coaches as coaches like Byron Scott and Eddie Jordan and, yes, Rick Adelman soak up the vacancies.
But a look at the data suggests that for all of ennui towards retread culture, there's actually been a major shift toward the inexperienced in head coaching hires over the past six seasons.
Since 2005, 48 men have been hired 52 times as full-time coaches. We included interim coach hires only in cases where the coach was signed to an additional year of work in the lead chair, like Frank Vogel in Indiana or Lionel Hollins in Memphis. We also included all nine changes for the 2011-12 season (including Paul Silas and Ty Corbin, who were hired full-time midseason).
Of those 52 hires since 2005, 20 resulted in first-time head coaches. Most of those hires were experienced assistant coaches; a few, like Mark Jackson and Vinny Del Negro, were shot out of a cannon and into the lead chair. Regardless, 20 out of 52 hires is no small chunk.
Coaches with 1-2 years of experience account for another eight hires, meaning more than half of the full-time hires since 2005 have elevated coaches with less than two years of NBA head coaching experience. There are opportunities for promising assistant coaches. Some, like Tom Thibodeau, may have to wait far too long to get their chance. But the NBA has shown a willingness to elevate first-time coaches and low-experience repeat coaches regularly.
The term "retread" is also a bit goofy in this context, as only four coaches have been hired twice since 2005: Larry Brown (Knicks and Bobcats), Adelman (Rockets and Timberwolves), Dwane Casey (Wolves and Raptors) and Del Negro (Bulls and Clippers). That pool will expand as you extend the span backwards, but if teams were simply recycling familiar names over and over, wouldn't you expect more than four repeats in the past six years, given there have been 52 full-time hires?
The more accurate depiction of the NBA coaching carousel is this: about half of the time, teams opt for first-time or lightly experienced head coaches, and about half of the time, teams opt for experienced veteran coaches. Teams don't often hire coaches who have gotten and lost jobs in past several years. Individual teams may act differently; the Wizards, for example, seem to focus on experienced head coaches, while the Kings are willing to depend on light experience (Eric Musselman), no experience (Reggie Theus), or experience so far in the past as to be unrecognizable as experience (Paul Westphal).
It's not cut-and-dry. There's plenty of variety on the NBA coaching carousel.
WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
On Adelman specifically: the important thing about hiring Adelman is the credibility he offers the otherwise laugh-a-minute franchise. "Credibility" is a fuzzy concept, but I think in this instance it has a concrete manifestation: Adelman's credibility will get Kevin Love to sign a contract extension when the NBA lockout ends. That's huge. Love's a different breed of NBA player, and he did not seem to be blowing smoke when he indicated he would look elsewhere at the end of his rookie contract if Minnesota didn't improve.
When you're a team like the Wolves, with questionable talent, criticized management and ... uh, fewer extraneous draws than say Miami or New York, you need to hold on to your best players at all costs. Ask Cleveland. If hiring Adelman gets Love to sign the extension, that prevents the team from falling into further immediate humiliation. Results on the court would come eventually, even if the Wolves hired a coach lesser than Adelman. Awful, young teams don't stay that way forever. But losing Love would have been a huge blow to that progression, too. He's the one draft pick who has worked out! The one Kevin McHale trade that paid dividends for David Kahn. Keeping Love is the expected norm -- every team keeps its superstars for a second contract. Losing him would have heaps buckets of doom on the franchise, would have killed what little credibility the franchise had. The Adelman hire saves that, thus lending the franchise a little respect.
Can he get this team to a playoff level by the end of his four-year contract? That's a more iffy proposition. Based on how the past two seasons have gone, it'd be a surprise if Kahn were around to see it if it does happen. (And no, I don't mean that Kahn is going to be fired. He will be plucked from his granola by Neptune and given domain of the Black Sea. It's his destiny.)
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