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Lon Kruger. Jerry Tarkanian. Rick Pitino. John Calipari. Tim Floyd. Leonard Hamilton.
What do these six men have in common? All were highly successful college coaches who were lured from cushy jobs in big time college programs by the opportunity to coach the game at the highest level, and all were subsequently fired/resigned/running for their lives from the team that hired them.
Fellas, meet Mike Montgomery.
With the Warriors off to a 1-7 start, questions again start to surface about college coaches working in the NBA, a place in which they've historically been unsuccessful. Even if you throw out Tark's disastrous 20-game run with the Spurs in 1992, the remaining five have a combined winning percentage of .340, and on average have lasted only 2 1/3 seasons in the league.
I don't blame Monty for accepting the Warriors gig -- if someone offered me $10 million I'd take it. Besides, the state of the college game has become such a mess that every off-season is a race to recruit the best second-tier player, because coaches know that all the blue chip recruits are likely one year and done, if they bother to come to school at all. Even a storied program such as Duke, which didn't have a player leave before their cap and gown ceremony until Elton Brand and William Avery did so in 1999, is feeling the effects of the NBA exodus-you think Mike Krzyzewski wouldn't like to have Luol Deng and Shaun Livingston in his starting lineup? The days of four-year stars like Grant Hill and Tim Duncan are long gone.
That said, there's a state of mind to being a college coach that doesn't carry over to the pros. Being an NBA boss is more than X's and O's, it's about coddling rookies and pacifying stars. A college coach's best weapon is his ability to run his team like a dictatorship. Pitino, one of the hardest working men I have ever met, saw firsthand when he came to Boston that the rants that were so effective with Antoine Walker and Ron Mercer while they were under his thumb at Kentucky were no longer effective at this level. For all the accolades he earned at Iowa State, Floyd proved to be out of his element with not one franchise, but two. Hamilton, Michael Jordan's handpicked selection, didn't even make it to a second season.
I thought coaches had finally come to their senses when Krzyzewski passed on an $8 million a year contract with the Lakers this summer to stay at a school that plays on a court bearing his name. Why would you want to leave a place where you're considered a god? But Warriors GM Chris Mullin decided to go with a college coach, one who's only pro experience was a stint on the bench of the disastrous 2002 USA basketball team (come to think of it, if that didn't scare him off, maybe nothing will). Montgomery is an excellent coach-his 393-167 record with the Cardinal attests to that-but if he doesn't start winning, pretty soon he's likely to join the aforementioned list as unlucky number seven
I was inundated with letters from Knicks fans last week asking me how I could blame Isiah Thomas for the team's woes, especially since he unloaded the many bad contracts his predecessor, Scott Layden, saddled him with. Let's be clear -- Layden was awful (that Allan Houston contract seems to get bigger by the day), but what Thomas has done is replace bad with worse. He traded the bad contract of Howard Eisley and the expiring contract of Antonio McDyess to Phoenix for two max-contract guys in Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway. He sent Mutombo (who was only making the mid-level exception) to Chicago along with another expiring contract in Othella Harrington for two longer, much worse contracts in Jamal Crawford and Jerome Williams. Tim Thomas, acquired from Milwaukee, makes the same money as the man he traded, Keith Van Horn. Shandon Anderson? How many GM's out there would like the ability to just pay a player to go away? The point is that yes, New York is more talented than they were when Thomas took over. But Knicks fans better get used to this roster, because it's not going anywhere for a while.
Great piece by fellow blogger Chris Ballard in this week's Sports Illustrated on Jazz forward Carlos Boozer. After you read it, ask yourself this-how much would you pay to see a celebrity death match between CeCe Boozer and Jackie Christie, wife of Sacramento Kings guard Doug Christie?
Many thanks to Suns fans who wrote in to share their thoughts on Phoenix's early season success. While a lack of size up-front could hurt Phoenix in the long haul, they are one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the league. Last night Steve Nash torched his former team for 17 points and a whopping 18 assists. Yet another example of the importance of having a pure point guard running the show.
Next up I'd like to hear from Grizzlies fans (Vancouver and otherwise) who want to throw in their two cents as to why Memphis is off to such a sluggish start. Hubie Brown-coached teams have a history of struggling following a breakthrough season, so I want to know if Brown's young team is starting to tune him out.
Finally, I have to give a much overdue shout out to the best three-point shooter not playing in the NBA, that being Boston Celtics equipment manager John Connor, who for the last few years has been regularly beating up on Celtics star Paul Pierce in pregame 3-point contests. Sorry P, Johnny-Joe just has the touch.