Friday, January 30, 2009

Marc Iavaroni, Stan Van Gundy and
The Way The Coaching Carousel Bounces

Marc Iavaroni, after serving as a well-regarded assistant to both Pat Riley and Mike D'Antoni, was a hot commodity on the coaching market two summers ago. He seemed to be able to pick and choose the right job for him, so after he accepted the Grizzlies job, we had a post where we asked "Marc Iavaroni, what are you thinking???" and wrote:
    I'm somewhat shocked that he agreed to be the coach of the Grizzlies, which has to be considered the worst head coaching job in the league right now, doesn't it?... If you're going to take on a rebuilding job right now, wouldn't you want it to be in the East?... There were reports that Orlando wanted to interview him, but Iavaroni took the Memphis job before throwing his hat in the ring to potentially replicate the great work that he's done in developing Amare Stoudemire on D. Howard.... What's worse for Iavaroni is that the Memphis organization appears to be in dreadful shape, just bleeding money. I think Iavaroni should have passed this "opportunity" up -- I don't think anyone can succeed coaching this franchise in the near future.
Here's what the New York Daily News was reporting regarding the Orlando opening (probably should be taken with a few grains of salt, considering it is Mitch Lawrence, after all):
    Orlando wants to go up-tempo and has identified Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni as a top candidate for its coaching vacancy. Iavaroni was supposed to have the Memphis job locked up and is also high on Seattle's list. Not bad for a career assistant. But the best thing about Iavaroni, as far as Orlando is concerned, is that Stoudemire has blossomed under his tutelage. That makes him an ideal fit for the Magic's Dwight Howard.
Apparently, Iavaroni didn't want to wait to hear about the Magic job, and potentially miss out on other jobs:
    The Magic called and received permission to talk to Iavaroni last week. Iavaroni's agent, Warren LeGarie, said the Magic were already familiar with Iavaroni having interviewed him two years earlier. But because the Magic took three weeks to decide whether or not to fire Brian Hill, it left them way behind Memphis in the pursuit of Iavaroni.

    "They were already well aware of who he is and what he's all about, but by the time the decision was made on (Brian Hill), we were already too far into the process with Memphis," LeGarie said.

    "Orlando is really just now starting the process. The conflict of timing had a lot more influence on our decision. We were already set up with a certain idea and objective that the Magic couldn't prevent. They were waiting on me to tell them whether or not this thing (with Memphis) would finish up quickly. Then, we would have addressed the spot here in Orlando."
With the way things have turned out, that seems fairly short-sighted, doesn't it?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Iavaroni had pursued and ultimately received the Magic job in the summer of '07, which certainly seems like it could have been plausible.

If that had happened, Stan Van Gundy would, in all likelihood, have become the coach of the Sacramento Kings. SVG ended up causing a little bit of a stir that lingers in Sac, as he flew to Sacramento to interview for and presumably accept their job, even though he was negotiating with the Magic at the time, which he did not disclose to Team Maloof.

I think Stan Van Gundy is an outstanding NBA coach, who is probably this season's NBA Coach of the Year by acclamation, and should especially be commended for the work he's done in turning the Magic into one of the league's top defensive teams, even though they would seem to have several average-to-below-average defenders on their roster. (Amazing that Stan and brother Jeff are both so good and wringing maximum defensive performance out of their personnel.)

Still, all that said, you need a base level of talent to be a successful coach in the NBA, and I think that, if the musical chairs had landed differently, Stan would possibly be out of a job today.

If Iavaroni had taken the Orlando job and SVG had landed in Sacramento, here's where I think we'd be today:

- Orlando: A solid 3 seed in the East, but not within striking distance of Boston or Cleveland. Still doing well enough that Iavaroni would be safe as the team's head coach, but not a championship contender.

- Sacramento: I actually thought that Reggie Theus did a good job wringing victories out of that injury-laden club last season, but let's say that Stan made a difference of 7 games on that team so far this season (which seems like a pretty good-sized number).

The Kings would be 17-30 instead of 10-37, in 10th place in the West, still well out of the playoff hunt, and still with no buzz at what used to be the NBA's hottest arena. You'd have to think that, at best, SVG would be looking at a firing at the end of the season.

- Memphis: They would still be the worst franchise in professional sports, as Jeff Van Gundy called them this weekend, regardless of any of this.

I certainly can't say that I'm sure Marc Iavaroni is a good NBA head coach, but I also think you can't say that his Memphis experience proves that he is a bad coach. (Just look at the first season of his former boss, Mike D'Antoni, who went 14-36 with a horrendous Nuggets team in '98-99, if you need further proof of that.) All we're trying to say is that the decisions that coaches make in accepting and not accepting jobs can have a huge impact on whether they are ultimately viewed as successes or failures.