NBA coach’s mantra: Follow the exit signs

SHARE NBA coach’s mantra: Follow the exit signs

Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks accepts the NBA Coach of the Year Award from former Atlanta Hawks coaches Mike Fratello (left) and Lenny Wilkens. | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images


For the Sun-Times

For Mike Budenholzer, whose Atlanta Hawks have been the surprise of the NBA this season, we have good news and bad news: The good news is Budenholzer was recently named NBA coach of the year; the bad news is he has two, maybe three seasons before he’ll be gone.

Here’s the thing — and Couch Slouch hates to start off columns on such a dark note — but just as assuredly as people know from the moment they are born that they one day will die, NBA coaches know from the moment they are hired that they one day will be fired.

Or, as the late comedian Mitch Hedberg once noted, ‘‘I had a stick of Carefree gum, but it didn’t work. I felt pretty good while I was blowing that bubble, but as soon as the gum lost its flavor, I was back to pondering my mortality.’’

Somewhere in an Oklahoma City saloon, Scott Brooks just spit out a gin-and-tonic that lost its flavor and is pondering his NBA mortality, postmortem.

But we’ll get back to Brooks in a moment.

There are only 30 NBA head coaches, making that fraternity a more exclusive club than, say, the 100-member U.S. Senate. In addition, U.S. senators get a six-year term and often can buy their way into multiple six-year terms; NBA coaches are more season-to-season and, with the exception of Gregg Popovich, generally are ex-coaches working on ESPN within three years.

Just two springs ago, we got a chilling reminder of the rate of attrition among NBA coaches. The Grizzlies’ Lionel Hollins, the Clippers’ Vinny Del Negro and the Nuggets’ George Karl all were fired after leading their teams to a franchise record for wins in a season.

Karl, in fact, was terminated one month after being named NBA coach of the year.

(No wonder Budenholzer was moved to tears when he accepted the coach of the year award last month — somebody must’ve told him something.)

So, yes, while they call it ‘‘coach of the year,’’ it may as well be renamed ‘‘the kiss of death.’’ Here’s a look at the fate of NBA coaches of the year over the last decade (excluding Popovich, honored after the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons):

υ Avery Johnson, Mavericks (2005-06): Fired two seasons later during a year in which he became the fastest coach to reach 150 wins in NBA history.

υ Sam Mitchell, Raptors (2006-07): Fired 17 games into 2008-09 season, one year after surpassing Lenny Wilkens for most wins in team history.

υ Byron Scott, Hornets (2007-08): Fired nine games into 2009-10 season; like Mitchell, lasted barely more than one year after winning award.

υ Mike Brown, Cavaliers (2008-09): Fired one season after leading team to franchise-best

66-16 record; he was 61-21.

υ Scott Brooks, Thunder (2009-10): Fired last month despite .620 winning percentage with team over seven seasons.

υ Tom Thibodeau, Bulls

(2010-11): The only survivor of the group, though the yahoos have been calling for his head during dry stretches of this season.

υ George Karl, Nuggets

(2012-13): Took the team to playoffs all nine seasons as coach; Nuggets have missed playoffs in both seasons since he was fired.

To casual observers, Brooks’ recent dismissal was shocking. Before this season, he had taken the Thunder to three of the previous four Western Conference finals, making the NBA Finals in 2012. This year, with Kevin Durant missing 55 games, Russell Westbrook missing 15 games and Serge Ibaka missing the final 18 games, the Thunder finished 45-37 in the brutal West, knocked out of the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.

“This decision is not a reflection of this past season, “ Thunder general manager Sam Presti said, “but rather an assessment of what we feel is necessary at this point in time in order to continually evolve, progress and sustain. We determined that, in order to stimulate progress and put ourselves in the best position next season and as we looked to the future, a transition of this kind was necessary for the program.”

Boy, that sounds like a long-winded, highfalutin way of saying, ‘‘We decided we need a better coach.’’

So they went out and hired Billy Donovan last week. No date for his termination has been officially set.


Q. The Orioles played a game in which no fans were allowed into Camden Yards and beat the White Sox decisively. Had you not permitted any guests to attend your first two weddings, do you think you also would have had favorable results? (David Landau; Washington, D.C.)

A. Frankly, my best shot at either wedding would’ve been not to attend myself.

Q. How many hours of the NFL draft did you torture yourself with this year? (Peggy Shay; Austin, Tex.)

A. Alas, my own mock draft ran late, preventing me from watching a single moment of the actual draft.

Q. Could a potential Redskins draftee have defected to Canada to avoid the draft? (Bruce Dean; Frederick, Md.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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