Brown First to Go; Who’s Next?
Despite the resignation of Hubie Brown on Thursday from the Memphis Grizzlies, the pace of coaching changes is slower than it was last season.
By Thanksgiving a year ago, there already had been three changes -- Stan Van Gundy taking over from Pat Riley in Miami, Johnny Davis replacing Doc Rivers in Orlando, and Bill Cartwright being dismissed in Chicago.
There were five ensuing in-season coaching changes, with Don Chaney in New York, Frank Johnson in Phoenix, Byron Scott in New Jersey, Jim O’Brien in Boston and Randy Ayers in Philadelphia all getting fired or resigning prior to the All-Star break.
Brown, citing health reasons, resigned a day after the Grizzlies fell to 5-7 with a 93-84 loss to the Seattle SuperSonics. He led Memphis to a 50-32 record and its first playoff appearance last season, earning Coach of the Year honors.
The Grizzlies have been mediocre this season, entering the weekend in fourth place in the five-team Southwest Division, and there was an episode of player-coach disharmony earlier this season between guard Jason Williams and Brown’s son, Brendan, a third-year assistant.
Brown, 71, was the league’s oldest head coach.
The second oldest is New York’s Lenny Wilkens, 67, whose lead assistant, Dick Helm, was forced by management to resign following the Knicks’ 34-point loss in their home opener.
Team president Isiah Thomas has set a .500 record as a benchmark for the Knicks to reach after their first 20 games, meaning they’ll need to win five of their next nine games to avoid Wilkens’ job security coming into question again. Six of the Knicks’ next seven games are against teams that entered this weekend with a losing record.
Several teams have struggled through the first three weeks of the season, but most of their coaches have strong job security. Among them:
* New Jersey Nets. The blame for this franchise’s misfortune does not fall on the shoulders of Lawrence Frank, at 34 the league’s youngest coach. He signed a four-year contract earlier this season.
* Atlanta Hawks. Mike Woodson is in his first season at the helm, and this franchise stuck with recent former coaches Terry Stotts for 137 games and Lon Kruger for 191.
* Chicago Bulls. Scott Skiles’ team was the last in the league to record its first victory. If anyone is being set up as the fall guy, it’s Eddy Curry. Skiles removed him from the starting lineup Tuesday night at Utah, and the Bulls won to avoid an 0-10 start.
* New Orleans Hornets. Byron Scott just came onto the job, and the person the franchise is trying to get rid of is co-owner Ray Wooldridge. The abysmal start may cause general manager Allan Bristow to revisit trade talks with Philadelphia for Glenn Robinson.
* Golden State Warriors. Another case of a new guy enduring early season struggles. Mike Montgomery, in his first season, isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
* Milwaukee Bucks. For lack of a better candidate, Terry Porter may be the man moving into the leaguewide designation as the coach most likely to be sitting on the hot seat. Following a surprisingly successful 2003-04 season in which they made the playoffs, the Bucks entered the weekend with a six-game losing streak, a 3-7 record and an upcoming stretch of schedule in which their next six opponents are the Pistons, Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Pacers and Heat.
Toward whom was Raptors coach Sam Mitchell directing his postgame rant after Toronto lost Tuesday at Washington?
“For the ones who don’t want to play, do everybody a favor: Quit,” Mitchell said while also comparing his team to the Washington Generals, the longtime foils of the Harlem Globetrotters.
The Raptors staged a fourth-quarter comeback that fell short against Washington, but this time Vince Carter was a part of it. Mitchell had benched Carter in the fourth quarter of three games, including last Sunday’s rally from a 19-point deficit in a victory over San Antonio.
Carter has said he wants to be traded, with New York his preferred destination.
He has been booed at home by the dwindling crowds at the Air Canada center, his popularity having plummeted even lower than his career-low scoring average of 15.9 points.
First-year Raptors general manager Rob Babcock may find himself at a point where he cannot get equal value for Carter if he continues to insist that any team acquiring Carter also take on the contract of Jalen Rose, who makes $14.5 million this season and $15.7 million next season.
The Knicks are one of the few teams that could be willing to take Rose along with Carter, who makes $12.6 million this season. Trade rules would require New York to exchange at least $24 million in salaries to get back Carter and Rose, but an offer including Allan Houston ($17.5 million), Penny Hardaway ($14.6 million) or Tim Thomas ($12.9 million) would soak up a large portion of that obligation.
In the meantime, Mitchell is struggling to coax effort out of players who expect major personnel changes to arrive at any minute.
“If I’m going to get fired, I’m going to get fired doing it my way,” declared Mitchell, who said he was “losing his mind” because of his team’s shabby play.
“I hope he doesn’t lose it totally. It’s only the first two or three weeks of the season. We have five or six months to go. I hope he stays sane,” Raptors guard Rafer Alston said.