Cleveland Cavaliers Tyronn Lue is the latest coach to be fired after a poor start to a season. The announcement that Cavs GM Koby Altman had relieved Lue of his coaching duties came out early yesterday morning, October 28th. Lue and the Cavaliers opened the season with an 0-6 record, which didn’t come as a surprise to many with the current roster and early season injuries.
When a team has a bad record the person that takes the majority of the blame is the head coach. The coach is the easiest person to blame because they are who we see making decisions on the court. The truth is, they really aren’t making all of these decisions alone, and when a coach gets fired because of a bad record it is usually hiding a bigger problem.
Every NBA team has a front office staff with analysts that aid in decision making. They are involved with decisions like signing players and identifying what lineups play best together on the court. Even though the coach decides who is in the game in real time, there is analysis and statistics to back the decisions that were made.
When you really think about it, coaches have much less impact on the game than we give them credit for. When the game is on the line, a coach can draw up the perfect play or have the perfect plan, but if the players don’t perform the team loses. Even if the players do perform, there are times that the opponent is flat out better and still outperforms your team even when they play their best. If your roster isn’t good enough to compete with the others in the league, it doesn’t matter who your coach is. The next coach of the Cavaliers will have the same exact roster and the same challenges ahead of him, so I find it hard to believe that the coaching change will have a big impact on the team’s performance.
Even though a coach doesn’t have as much impact over a team’s success as we often believe, they are still more than just a figurehead. I believe the main thing a coach brings to an organization is their coaching system. This is probably where the coach has the most impact on a team’s performance.
The most sought-after coaches in the league are appealing because they have a system with a unique identity that has proven to be successful in the past. Mike D’Antoni, now coaching the Houston Rockets, is known for his jump-shot heavy, offensively potent coaching style.
D’Antoni has had a marvelous coaching career when it comes to his win loss ratio and has had no shortage of stars. He’s even had the pleasure of coaching MVP caliber players like Kobe Bryant and James Harden. When you look at D’Antoni’s worst seasons, they just happen to be with his worst rosters. When he had 27 wins with LA in the 2013-14 season, he found himself guiding a Lakers team that had two key starters, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, appearing in only 21 combined games due to injury.
The fact of the matter is good players can play well with or without good coaches. It’s ideal to have a good coach along with good players, but if your roster is not skilled enough to compete with the rest of the NBA no coaching change can make up for skill level gaps.
In the case of Tyronn Lue, replacing him with another coach isn’t going to turn Cleveland’s season around and I don’t think that the Cavs believe that either. I think Cleveland has identified what type of roster they are hoping to have long-term and don’t think Lue’s system will work with it. If the Cavs want to see an immediate change in the win column, they will likely need to see significant changes in their roster, not their coaching staff.