In no other sport does coaching make the enormous impact as it does in basketball. As we head into the 2009-10 season there have been a handful of coaching changes that will have an effect on a number of players who will be drafted in your fantasy leagues and they will all be addressed below.
Growing up a Knicks fan, I was treated to some of the worst basketball this side of Teen Wolf. I would literally cry tears when they would lose heartbreakers, and suffice it to say, by the time I turned 30 I was all cried out. For me, the Hubie Brown era was the low point as he started a point guard named Edmund Sherrod, whom I’d swear was an extra in a White Shadow episode.
Those Knick teams made me appreciate the Doug Moes and Paul Westheads of the world, not because they were visionaries or even quality coaches, but they were coaches who weren’t afraid to let talented players do what they do best. Hell, Moe never ran any plays for the Nuggets, who consistently led the league in scoring by a wide margin.
I’ve always believed that defense wins championships and nobody hates chuckers more than I do, but I think I would have been happier losing in the playoffs Moe style than with the plodding, physical brand Pat Riley’s Knicks annoyed purists with in the early ’90s.
Regardless, good team defense certainly doesn’t win fantasy basketball championships. As the 2009-10 season draws nearer, let’s look at some of the new coaching arrivals that your fellow owners may be sleeping on. Moe and Westhead were unavailable for comment.
Eddie Jordan, Philadelphia 76ers (former team: Washington Wizards)
Fast Eddie gave his three-headed monster in Washington – Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler – carte blanche from anywhere on the floor, and despite him getting his walking papers, I don’t see that philosophy changing much as he has been handed the reins in Philly. The Sixers had the strangest of seasons in ’08-09 as they were dismal when Elton Brand was healthy and thrived following his season-ending injury. Talented swingman Andre Iguodala seemed lost playing alongside Brand, and Sam Dalembert played as if he were preparing for the autobiographical role of Luther Rackley. After Brand went down, Iguodala reverted to the Iguodala we knew and loved the previous few years. The questions for 2009-10 remain: can Brand and Iguodala co-exist and how will the offense flow without underrated floor general Andre Miller? It probably won’t be pretty, but Iguodala, Brand and Thaddeus Young should be able to put up impressive all-around numbers.
Flip Saunders, Washington Wizards (former team: Detroit)
Following a one year hiatus, Saunders re-emerges in the nation’s capitol, where he inherits a talented point guard who gives new meaning to the word bizarre. Saunders will try to bring some coaching cachet and a defense-first approach to a team that gave up the fifth most points per game (103.5) last season, but it may be a little late in the game for Arenas and the 33-year old Jamison to buy in. Newcomers Mike Miller and Randy Foye will command their share of shots, so Jamison may not be as amazing as he has always been. Butler is coming off a tough year, but he’s probably at his best when he’s the second or third option on the floor and he will be the best guy to target out of this group.
John Kuester, Detroit Pistons (former team: Cleveland asst.)
It was obviously Kuester’s brilliant coaching that led Cleveland to more than 60 wins and the NBA’s #1 ranked defense last year. Kuester, the long-time misanthrope at George Washington, takes over a Detroit team with plenty of problems. Its biggest problem, Allen Iverson, will now wreak havoc on a young Memphis squad, so at least he is further ahead of the game than the deposed Michael Curry. Tayshaun Prince is arguably the premier defender in the league, but with the exception of an aging Ben Wallace, the remainder of the roster has too many shoot first and ask questions later guys, including newcomers Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Gordon will get his, but stay away from this roster as Kuester will be doing his share of tinkering.
Alvin Gentry, Phoenix Suns (former team: Phoenix asst.)
Gentry is among the worst coaches the league has to offer, but as far as we’re concerned in fantasy, he’s the new Red Auerbach or at least the old Mike D’Antoni. Alvin and his chipmunks will no doubt revert to the breakneck pace that had the Suns a perennial 55+-win team for several years. By no means does this team have a shot to win it all, but they promise to light up the scoreboard. Amar’e Stoudemire should be the biggest beneficiary of the up-tempo style and Jason Richardson‘s and Leandro Barbosa‘s careers may now be exhumed. Keep your eyes peeled for Earl Clark, Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic if injuries befall some of the regulars. Oh, did I mention Steve Nash? He’s got at least one more big-time rotisserie season left in him before his back forbids him from stepping onto the court.
Paul Westphal, Sacramento Kings (former team: Pepperdine)
Westphal returns to the NBA, taking over an abysmal Sacramento team that has nowhere to go but up. As a player, Westy was one of my favorites and one of the most underrated guards of all time. As a coach, he has never been known for valuing defense, so expect the Kings to run and gun with the best of ’em. This is a young roster with decent talent but little toughness. Expect a few guys to explode in Westphal’s open system, particularly Kevin Martin and Spencer Hawes. Also, the door is open for Jason Thompson, Tyreke Evans, Andres Nocioni and a hopefully-healthy Sean May to earn considerable minutes and garner surprising totals. Look to the royalty late in your drafts.
Kurt Rambis, Minnesota Timberwolves (former team: Los Angeles Lakers asst.)
The long-time Laker role player and assistant coach gets his first crack in the big seat at the helm of the Timberwolves. Weird team. After all their high draft picks and all their trades, Damien Wilkins is somehow listed as their starting shooting guard. This won’t last. Rambis will bring a no-nonsense approach to this program and I expect good things to finally happen on both ends of the floor. Al Jefferson will remain dominant and I’d be surprised if Rambis didn’t have Kevin Love playing big minutes and producing 13-15 points with 7-9 rebounds and decent peripherals. Ramon Sessions and Jonny Flynn will likely share time at the point, so that is a situation to remove yourselves from. But keep an open mind when it comes to Corey Brewer and Wayne Ellington, both capable of winning Rambis over and producing decent totals.