Wrong man for the job
NBA team hiring Donovan would be a rookie mistake
Posted: Wednesday April 4, 2007 3:57PM; Updated: Wednesday April 4, 2007 5:03PM
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Donovan to the Miami Heat? As has been noted elsewhere, there is no way that Shaquille O'Neal would respect a coach straight out of college. The rumor two years ago had Shaq questioning whether the highly esteemed Stan Van Gundy had the experience to lead Miami to a championship. By that standard, Donovan is a non-starter.
Donovan to the Memphis Grizzlies is another ongoing rumor. The last time I checked, Jerry West was still running the Grizzlies. Unless a brick from a crumbling tenement lands on West's head to make him forget everything he knows about the NBA, I can't imagine him hiring a head coach with zero NBA experience.
This is not to condemn Donovan, who is terrific. In an era when college has turned into a halfway house for NBA wannabes, Donovan not only held his players together but also persuaded them to defend and play team basketball at the expense of their individual stats. That's the end result every NBA coach is seeking from his team.
But it takes NBA coaches years to develop the understanding and respect necessary to connect with players and earn their trust toward a common goal. The last collegian to win the NBA championship was Paul Westhead, the former LaSalle coach who as an NBA rookie led the Lakers to their 1979-80 title upon taking control in midseason following an injury to head coach Jack McKinney. Two years later Westhead was fired after clashing with Magic Johnson, and he was replaced by Pat Riley, an NBA lifer.
To become a successful NBA head coach, Donovan would have to take a costly step backward and enter the league as an assistant. He would need many seasons of deprogramming to unlearn much of what made him successful at Florida. Put it this way: The NCAA and NBA both have rule books as thick as bibles, but that's the only thing they share in common.
The NCAA rule book exists to prevent teams from giving any money to the players.
The NBA rule book, also known as the collective bargaining agreement, prevents teams from giving all of the money to the players.
How can any college coach who is used to wielding power over his players be expected to succeed overnight in an NBA world where he'll be granted little or no power over his players?
If Donovan jumped to a veteran team, his players would quickly realize that they knew more about the pro game than their coach. That would not end nicely.
So let's agree that a neophyte coach has no business running a veteran team. The argument then becomes: "We'll hire him to coach a young roster, because a guy like Donovan is used to teaching inexperienced players. He'll provide the college environment that they need.''
But that creates a new bouquet of problems. The NBA season is so much longer, and the games are so much more complicated strategically, that any college coach would need at least one season to work his way up. You'd wind up with a franchise where both the players and the coach were overmatched.
Will the Charlotte Bobcats make good on another recent rumor by hiring Donovan? If so it would indicate that Michael Jordan failed to learn from his experience in Washington, where the limitations of his owner forced him to go cheap and bring in Leonard Hamilton from the University of Miami, who (like any college coach) proved unable to cope in his one year with the Wizards. I think Jordan's too smart to repeat that mistake by hiring Donovan; plus I question whether the Bobcats will be offering the kind of money needed to lure Donovan from the NCAA.
If an NBA owner really wants to hire a college coach, then he should start by interviewing either Jeff Bzdelik, who is about to accept the job at Colorado, or Lon Kruger from UNLV. Both have extensive NBA experience, and both, I'm told, would like to build on what they've learned by coaching in the NBA again someday.
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