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A Quick Talk With Mike Dunleavy from Playa Vista

With a game last night in New Orleans Memphis and Denver looming tomorrow night, the Clippers held a brief walk through at the training center in Playa Vista today.  Afterwards, Mark Medina of the LA Times and myself spoke with Mike Dunleavy Sr. for a few moments.

We talked about Marcus Camby's status (a little better today, but questionable for Denver), Kareem Rush's roster spot (they're looking at what's out there), the disappointing results in New Orleans and Memphis and a few other things.  I'll share more of that at some point no doubt, though there was nothing earth shattering.

But for now, before I head back to Long Beach, I need to get this part posted.

The fact is, the Clippers coaching situation is complicated by many factors including an unpredictable and parsimonious owner (I'd call him niggardly, but the irony level of using that perfectly fine vocabulary word would be a little too high right now).  But perhaps the biggest issue is the fact that MDsr is both the General Manager and the coach.  NBA management teams are not uniform - different teams use different titles, and it's difficult to construct a one-for-one relationship.  And plenty of teams have used a coach/GM structure in the past, with the same person making in game and personnel decisions.  But MDsr is the only such dual hat person in the NBA today. 

In most cases, when a team is performing poorly, and the coach comes under fire, it is the general manager who must make a decision.  When David Kahn took the job in Minnesota, the first thing he was asked was "Are you going to fire Kevin McHale?"  That's the usual hierarchy.

So I asked GMMDsr what he thought about CMDsr.  I asked him to try to disassociate the two roles for a moment and to tell me, speaking as GM of the Clippers, what he would do about the team's coach.  Here's what he told me.

  • "Easy.  When's the last time you ever saw an interim coach come in and the team be successful and make a playoff run?"
  • "I have not lost with my players.  I've lost without my players, but I haven't lost with my players...." 
  • "From an ownership standpoint, I know there's always a lot of pressure [to make a coaching change]. I'll live with whatever decision our owner makes. I'll live by it."

([Note by Steve Perrin, 11/19/09 10:57 PM PST ]  For a more complete rendering of MDsr's answer, see Mark Medina's blog entry.)

I give him credit for handling the question well.  He didn't get upset, he didn't deflect.  He answered, and his answers are at least reasonable.  In fact, he's saying several things that I've said on Clips Nation in the past.  As I've always maintained, the situation is not as black and white as some people think - nothing ever is.

He's saying that making a change mid-season is essentially writing off the rest of the season.  Of course, it's not always the case, but it often is.  As I pointed out last week, the teams that changed coaches last season by and large did not make the playoffs. 

(By the way, to answer his question, Tony DiLeo took the Sixers to the playoffs last season as an interim coach, though of course they had been to the playoffs the season before.  Moreover, there certainly are major success stories with mid-season coaching changes, though rarely changes of the interim variety.  The greatest mid-season coaching change of all time happened just five years ago when George Karl took over a 17-25 Denver team and went 32-8 over the final 40 games.  Obviously, George Karl was never an interim hire, but it does illustrate better than any other case that a different coach with the same team can have vastly improved results.)

Nitpicking about historical examples aside, his point is essentially correct - the odds of salvaging this season because of a coaching change are miniscule.  Of course, on the other side of the argument is the rather obvious: what exactly does the team have to lose at this point?

He's also saying that he deserves a chance to coach with his full complement of players.  Of course we've heard this before, but you can't blame him for feeling that way.  As frustrated as the fans are with the fact that the team has had at least one significant injury for something like 200 consecutive games, you can only imagine how the coach feels.  Please, please, just once let me go into the gunfight with a loaded weapon.  It's got to be excruciating.

On the other hand, while we don't know how the team would perform when fully healthy, we do know how they're performing with the injuries, and it seems reasonable to evaluate the coach based on those performances.  Houston is winning games without Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady.  Sacramento is winning games without Kevin Martin and a roster that looks suspect in the first place.  More importantly, those teams are giving a great effort every night.  Is it reasonable to expect deep playoff runs with major players hurt?  Perhaps not.  Is it reasonable to expect more than we've gotten these last several years?  That's a different question, which the General Manager failed to answer.