(Ed. note: Shout out to ClipperBlog reader Paul Rubinfeld who suggested the #tbt idea many moons ago. #tbt may not have been his creation, but smashing it into ClipperBlog certainly was. And we like any reason to gaze back on old articles.)
It’s Thursday, so time for another throwback, this time to the ancient era of 2007. “Runaway Love” and “What Goes Around… Comes Around” entered the Billboard Top-10. Kevin Arnovitz spied a wonderful comment by John R about the expectations a coach brings to a team. Seems salient as the Clippers transition from one head coach to another this offseason.
The Embodiment of Expectations
Clipperblog rarely posts reader comments, but thought that John R’s commentary on how we, as fans, tend to let coaches personify expectations was stellar. I consider myself an agnostic on the matter of Dunleavy. Generally, I believe that Dunleavy’s good enough to win if conditions are favorable, but unexceptional enough to lose if guys just aren’t executing. The Clippers are a pretty good defensive team for a starting lineup that features a disaster, a big man still learning how to defend off the post, a fairly good – but not All-NBA – defensive off-guard, an undersized power forward, and a stopper who still is a little foul-prone. They clearly have cultivated a proficiency for guarding the screen & roll. Their rotations could use some help, but are probably no worse than your average NBA team. Offensively, there is a little less motion than I’d like there to be. I realize that the Clippers are a post team, but that doesn’t mean you can’t figure out how a very mobile Elton can work shots off that left block. So far as Kaman’s development, that’s a matter of execution, not coaching. All a coach can do is create opportunities for guys to score, and the shots are there for Chris. On the other hand, Dunleavy hasn’t been able to mold the team an offensive identity – and I think that emanates somewhat from a lack of creativity.
Anyway, John R’s comment:
Scrap that. I figured it out. Dunleavy is a symbol of expectations. Pre-expecations you enjoyed the Clippers because you expected them to fail. It was ok to fail as long as you got an alley-oop or two in, even if it was botched and a bad idea in the first place. Losing was acceptable because it was the only choice. Standard operating procedure.
Dunleavy has brought, hope, talent, and until this season, results. This has created positive expectations, which are currently not being realized. They won’t win 50 and they are poised just so on the playoff bubble.
Its clear firing Dunleavy won’t actually increase success in the medium to long term at this point. Maybe they have a short Memphis-like burst, but then it will return to headcoach-less form. They can bring in someone who will roll the balls on the floor and call timeout when the other team scores 8 unanswered, but this won’t improve the team. And what message does that send to the next prospective coach as well as to the players who only want to be in LA as long as Dunleavy is in LA? You gain back Maggette, but potentially lose EVERYONE else. Eliminating Dunleavy only eliminates the expectations. Its not that it will solve the problem of losing. It just makes losing not a problem.
There’s something unfair about issuing a punitive judgment on a coach based on a lousy half a season. And witch hunts, in any walk of life, make me really, really nervous. The truth is that there probably aren’t more than a handful of people who could improve the Clippers in the short and middle-term, and most of them will be pacing the sidelines in May. I’d add that much of coaching occurs behind closed doors, which makes me a little reluctant to make wholesale evaluations. Sure, the product on the floor reflects a certain team climate and chemistry — much of it the coach’s responsibility to create — but we never really get a sense of more than 40% of the coursework. And anybody who’s ever run a department in any organization understands that. Again, I’m not defending Dunleavy, per se, but I do defend a certain brand of restraint and relativism when passing judgment on coaches.