Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Aftermath of the Firing of Eddie Jordan

Well, after 5+ seasons, the Eddie Jordan Era has come to a close in Washington. There are two questions to look at here: How did it go, and where will it go from here?

How did it go?

Well, let's start with the good. The Wizards made the playoffs each of the past four seasons, placing second in the Southeast Division each time. They went from something of a laughingstock to a legitimate team, and it's fair to say that free agents are interested in Washington at least on an average level among NBA teams; they're less appealing than the Knicks or Lakers, but more appealing than the Grizzlies or Clippers. While that's not crucially important, it's good to know that Washington is no longer playing from behind when it comes to NBA free agents (though their baseball counterparts are; perhaps a discussion for another time).

However, the Wizards' record consistently hovered around .500 after Jordan's first season in Washington, winning 45, 42, 41, and 43 games. They were also just 8-18 in the playoffs since Jordan's arrival, winning only one of their five playoff series.

This past offseason, owner Abe Pollin locked up Gilbert Arenas (against my wishes) and Antawn Jamison to give Jordan essentially the same squad he's had for his entire tenure with the Wizards. Arenas went down, and so Jordan had more so the team he worked with most of last season, when Arenas was also hurt. And the Wizards were awful. They pulled off a 1-10 start under Eddie Jordan, and a guy who starts that bad will almost always get canned.

Where will it go from here?

The idea behind firing a coach during the season is that the replacement of that coach can make your team better that season. When your coach sets a 1-10 pace, it's difficult for a replacement coach to do worse. Ed Tapscott's job will be to simply steady the ship, and likely get it ready for a bigger name hire in the offseason.

Interestingly, Gilbert Arenas made a good point recently. He said that the team's troubles might not be such a bad thing in the long term, as they'll likely be a lottery team this season. They've lingered at the bottom of the playoff picture, staying out of the lottery but getting wiped by the better Eastern Conference teams (or, just the Cavaliers) in the first round every year. Adding a high pick is a nice way to grab a quality player who comes with a very affordable rookie contract. Ask the aforementioned Cavs if their high pick worked out.

It's worth mentioning that NBA coaches are often worthless. Bringing in a famous seems to have such a minimal impact on the team if the personnel hasn't changed that the value of an NBA head coach is questionable at best. There are certain guys who do seem to be able to make a difference in the win-loss columns like Greg Popovich, Jerry Sloan, and Phil Jackson, but those guys are rare. Most other coaches are simply bosses, and very replaceable. So, whatever possible difference in skill level between Jordan and Tapscott that may have been lost is probably mitigated by the shock of Jordan's firing. The action itself will probably have more impact than the coaching change.

I think it was probably a fine move to make. The risk is minimal; with 10 losses already and Arenas and Brendan Haywood on the shelf, the Wizards aren't looking like a potential playoff team, so you're not too worried about having any transitional difficulties into a new coach's culture and/or system. And it gives the Wizards the opportunity to try to find one of those rare guys who actually can make a difference as head coach. If Arenas can get healthy and the new coach is a gamer, maybe, just maybe, this team can win a playoff series.

Dare to dream.

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