Sports » Other Sports

Players calling all the shots in NBA as coaches lose power

by

comment

It’s a players’ league, they say. And they’re right. No sense in fighting it anymore, because it’s true: The inmates are in full control of the asylum.

Yes, the students are running the classroom, the prisoners have taken over the cell block and the employees have run the boss off.

The NBA is truly the players’ league.

There was once a time in the NBA when the idea of a star player rebelling against his coach and getting him fired was frowned upon. There was a time when a guy like Magic Johnson running Paul Westhead out of Los Angeles was a rarity, excusable only by the fact that this was, well, Magic Johnson.

And I’m sorry, Deron Williams, but I’ve seen Magic Johnson. I’ve watched Magic Johnson. Magic Johnson was an idol of mine. Deron, you’re no Magic Johnson.

Neither are you, Rip Hamilton.

And LeBron James? Well, you do have two MVP trophies, so you kind of remind me of Magic. But still.

Far too often in today’s NBA, the same scenario is playing out: Head coach says “up,” player says “down,” and we’ve got a power struggle on our hands.

Coach says “black,” player says “white,” and well, somebody’s gotta go.

I’ll give you two guesses as to which “somebody” usually hits the bricks, and your first guess doesn’t count.

Jerry Sloan knew the truth. When the Utah Jazz coach of 23 seasons realized his old-school style was smashing head-on into Williams’ modernized views on basketball and leadership, there was really only one choice. He apparently gave Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor the old “it’s-him-or-me” routine, and a day later he was announcing his retirement.

Ironically, if Sloan had been able to stick it out just a few weeks longer, his Hall of Fame career might have continued, since the Jazz subsequently moved Williams to New Jersey rather than lose him to free agency after next season. The point, however, had been reinforced: Star player status almost always trumps head coach status.

James’ story is well-chronicled. As his Cleveland Cavaliers struggled in their playoff series against the Celtics last spring, James complained loud and long about how Boston’s Doc Rivers was out-coaching Cavs boss Mike Brown, in part because Rivers had been a player in the league.

Immediately after their playoff exit, Brown was gone. Most recently, it was Hamilton trying to orchestrate the ouster of second year Piston’s coach John Kuester. The long-time Pistons’ star reportedly screamed directly into the face of Kuester in a profanity-laced tirade during practice in early January, calling him nothing more than a career assistant coach.

It was the second such confrontation initiated by Hamilton, and last Friday, the three-time All-Star was also one of several Pistons to miss the team’s shootaround, in an apparent boycott of Kuester’s methods, prior to a game against Philadelphia.

Kuester has stood his ground against Hamilton, playing him just once since Jan. 10, in a show of strength that might actually signal coaches reclaiming their lost authority. Of course it could also mean the Pistons are simply afraid to make an expensive coaching change that could impact the imminent sale of the team to a new ownership group.

Regardless of how the drama plays out in Detroit, there is an overwhelming feeling that the players are truly running the entire league. The game’s superstars are already becoming their own GMs, orchestrating their own trades and free agency moves to unite with one another on a select few “super teams.”

Now they apparently want to coach themselves as well.

Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.