6.01.2007

Billy Donovan might actually succeed in Orlando;
Other observations from the M's to LeBron to white GMs

So, Billy Donovan wants to coach in the pros, huh?

The college hoops fan in me -- and it's a big one -- is disappointed to be losing Donovan to a job where the odds are severely stacked against him. But I can't really say I blame him -- $6 million is a heck of a lot of money to pass up, no matter if you're going to be making $3 million at your previous place of employment or not.

And, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, I think there's actually an outside shot that this college coach could have some success in the NBA where so many others have failed.

I think most college coaches that get pro jobs fall into the self-fulfilling prophecy category -- they don't succeed in the NBA because they inherit terrible teams that have little talent. It's a league of superstars: If you've got one, you generally win; if you don't, you don't. The rule isn't hard and fast, but you try finding an NBA winner without a star. (You could maybe argue Utah, but Deron Williams sure looks like one to me after his team folded without him in the series-deciding game with the Spurs.)

So, let's look at the recent history of college coaches in the NBA:

  • Rick Pitino: Inherited a putrid 15-win Boston team, missed out on Tim Duncan in the lottery. Think Pitino might have been a better pro coach with Duncan on his team?
  • Lon Kruger: Inherited a putrid 28-win Atlanta team. (This just in: Without Kruger, the Hawks are still putrid -- only once since his final year of 2002 have they exceed the 33 wins he posted that year.)
  • John Calipari: Inherited a putrid 30-win New Jersey team. His "stars" were an injured Sam Cassell and noted headcase Stephon Marbury; he was fired just in time for the team to hire Rod Thorn, who drafted Richard Jefferson, Kenyon Martin and traded Marbury for Jason Kidd. In what I'm sure was all the coaching skill of his successor, Byron Scott, the team won 52 games in 2001-2002.
  • Mike Montgomery: Inherited a so-so 37-win Golden State team that hadn't had a winning record since 1994. Fired after two years, Don Nelson leads franchise to the playoffs in his first year -- but only with a healthy Baron Davis and after suckering Indiana into taking Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy for Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, two key cogs in the Warriors' late-season success.
Donovan does have this going for him that those guys never had: This team just made the playoffs, and has a budding superstar. Granted, making the playoffs in the east -- and at 40-42 at that -- isn't the biggest accomplishment, and they were obliterated in the first round by Detroit. But with Dwight Howard as the centerpiece of the franchise, they're already heading in the right direction; Donovan will not be fighting against years of suckitude from the get-go, as virtually every other college-to-NBA coach has.

Additionally, I know that I'm overimplifying each of the four situations above, and that on some level each of them was in a bit above their heads in the NBA. Pitino's hard-driving nature grinds on players, while Montgomery's players never took him seriously. I'm not convinced that Donovan will be so over his head in Orlando. He's 42 years old, still young enough to relate to players (as was obvious from his rapport with his players in Florida) yet old enough to command some respect. He also was (briefly) an NBA player and (briefly) an NBA assistant. So he at least has some clue about the culture he's going to be entering.

If there's a guy to buck the trend of college coaches failing at the NBA level, I think Donovan might actually be it.

Other thoughts from the last 24 hours:
  • Didn't catch hardly any of the Mariners game last night, but I was pleased to see that this team did exactly what it should have done: Beat the tar out of a terrible team. Good to see the offense continue to roll against an awful, awful pitcher, and good to see Cha Seung Baek do enough to keep his team in a game. Disappointing that Hargrove had to gas the bullpen a little bit to make a 7-0 lead hold up, but J.J. Putz needed to pitch anyway. A sweep would be fantastic; anything less than winning two of the final three is a failure.
  • I also didn't watch the Cavs/Pistons game last night, but I did watch the highlights of LeBron James scoring 29 of his team's final 30 points here. This just might go down as one of the greatest playoff performances in the history of the NBA, but only if the Cavs can win the series. We'll see how much LeBron has left in the tank tomorrow night after that heroic effort. Guess he kinda does know what he's doing, doesn't he?
  • What's with NBA franchises just handing over the reigns to former players who have absolutely no previous track record of any kind with player personnel? Why do franchises constantly think these people will be able to manage franchises? Here's to betting that Steve Kerr, like former players Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale before him, will figure out a way to run a perfectly OK franchise into the ground.
  • And while we're at it: Is it just me, or are only white former players -- with the notable exception of Michael Jordan (who stunk at his job, too) -- the only people NBA franchises will hire for these jobs with no experience? With so many black coaches, it looks like the new color barrier in the NBA is to the front office. Just wondering why this is.

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