Don’t let Gregg Popovich’s 18-season tenure in San Antonio fool you, head coaching in the NBA has become a high-turnover affair. As SB Nation’s Tom Ziller so resoundingly states, “the average current tenure length in the NBA is 2.4 seasons.” 2.4 seasons. And that’s with Pop’s 18 years skewing numbers. With Mark Jackson being the latest casualty of this new NBA reality, there are, again, plenty of open head coaching positions across the league.
Mike Woodson is gone. Mike D’Antoni resigned but there’s no guarantee he wouldn’t be let go in this offseason. Tyrone Corbin got let go. Rick Adelman retired. Maurice Cheeks was Joe Dumars‘ sacrificial lamb, and got Detroit Rocked City. Randy Wittman doesn’t just owe his players a dunk, he owes them his job. If the Wizards hadn’t dominated an ailing Bulls team, he might be on the unemployment line himself. And, really, the bleeding might not be done. If Scott Brooks‘ Thunder get eliminated by the Clippers, his job could also be in jeopardy. As the third longest tenured coach in the league, his firing would further bring down the 2.4-season average. Heck, with the way things are going, there’s no guarantee Spoelstra wouldn’t be axed if the Heat somehow lost to Brooklyn.
It’s obvious that this hasn’t become just a players’ league, it’s also a GMs’ league.
Maurice Cheeks and Mike Woodson, though playing highly questionable lineups this season, could do little with the Frankensteinian rosters they were handed by Steve Mills and Joe Dumars respectively. When you trade for Andrea Bargnani and/or pair questionable decision makers in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings on the same roster, you’re essentially calling for your coach’s job at the outset.
The league’s parity is certainly improving but it won’t be sustainable without a sense of direction and culture coming from management teams. With every new coach, a squad of players must take on a new system, new expectations, new temperaments, new responsibilities. After enough coach swaps, that can become detrimental to the identity of an organization and that of its burgeoning players. It’s certainly no accident that the Spurs boast the league’s highest pedigree of success when it’s their coach that also boasts the longest tenure as a head coach. Or that the men who follow him in longevity–Scott Brooks, Tom Thibodeau, Erik Spoelstra–also sport respected and contending squads.
It’s hard to say at this exact moment what the long-term consequences of playing the field with head coaches will be but it most certainly can’t be good. If anything, it creates a culture of rigidity–something already plaguing the league–where coaches are afraid to play rookies, develop young talent, toy with lineups, try new play schemes, etc. And the growing parity, which was supposed to make the league more fun in the long run, will be the first to suffer as a result.