Jeff Van Gundy: stop the NBA’s coaching carousel!

jeff van gundy

Tonight, once either the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers win Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Finals series, we will be one series away from entering into the NBA off-season.

The NBA off-season is a magical time where teams sell hope, players switch teams, and rookies are appointed to their first NBA team. Oh, and don’t forget about the coaches; by the end of the NBA Finals, the NBA coaching carousel has typically been spinning for several weeks already. For example, here is a chronological list of the coaching changes that have taken place since the end of the NBA’s regular season:

  • On April 18th, the Cleveland Cavaliers fired Byron Scott.
  • On April 18th, the Detroit Pistons fired Lawrence Frank.
  • On April 18th, Doug Collins resigned as the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.
  • On April 23rd, the Charlotte Bobcats fired Mike Dunlap.
  • On April 24th, the Cavs hired Mike Brown.
  • On May 1st, the Milwaukee Bucks did not renew Jim Boylan’s contract.
  • On May 5th, the Brooklyn Nets did not renew P.J. Carlesimo’s contract.
  • On May 21st, the Los Angeles Clippers did not retain Vinny Del Negro.
  • On May 28th, the Atlanta Hawks did not retain Larry Drew and hired Mike Budenholzer.
  • On May 28th, the Phoenix Suns did not retain Lindsey Hunter and hired Jeff Hornacek.
  • On May 29th, the Bobcats hired Steve Clifford.
  • On May 31st, the Sacramento Kings did not retain Keith Smart and hired Mike Malone.
  • On May 31st, the Bucks hired Larry Drew.

At the moment, at least 10 of the 30 NBA teams will have a new coach next season. So now is a perfect time to think about the effect that NBA coaches have on their teams. Over at Freakonomics and Huffington Post, our own Dave Berri has done just that. Here’s an excerpt:

These changes – as I have argued before –will probably not make much difference. A study published in the International Journal of Sport Finance (full PDF here) – which I conducted with Mike LeedsEva Marikova Leeds, and Mike Mondello – found that most NBA coaches across a sample covering 30 years did not have a statistically significant impact on player productivity. And in other sports, we also have evidence that coaches cannot systematically change outcomes.

One would expect that coaches would disagree with these studies. Certainly a team is not likely to commit millions to a coach who claims the coaches really don’t matter. That is why I was surprised to read the following from Brendan Savage of mlive.com a few weeks ago. The article includes extensive quotes from Jeff Van Gundy, a former NBA coach (and current television broadcaster) whose brother (Stan Van Gundy) is actively seeking employment as an NBA coach.

Van Gundy’s interesting comments are included in the articles, so go ahead and click on through to get the whole story. Dave also provides a list of the productive players that have played on the Detroit Pistons since 2008 (spoilers: Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Tracy McGrady, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond all make appearances; Allen Iverson does not).

And that’s not all — Dave will be on the radio this morning to discuss this article with Marc Daniels and Jerry Greene of “The Beat of Sports”. You can tune in to 740 The Game if you’re in the Orlando area, or catch the interview online here [Editor's note: unfortunately this link only works for those who are in the US. Non-US residents, I share your anger]. The interview will start around 11:00 am EST.

UPDATE: You can listen to the full interview here (even if you aren’t in the US!)

- Devin

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