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Coaching success in NBA guarantees nothing, ask Kevin McHale


Coaching success in NBA guarantees nothing, ask Kevin McHale

A few weeks ago, I received in my email odds of NBA coaches getting fired. Of course, Wizards coach Randy Wittman was in the top five. So was David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers, coming off leading his team to the Finals. Not present on the list was Kevin McHale of the Houston Rockets, who led them to the Western Conference finals for the first time in two decades last season.

McHale actually became the first coach fired in 2015 following a 4-7 start. Who would've thought McHale? His firing suggests there was more than an Xs and Os were in play. They're a team with a dynamic All-Star in James Harden and Dwight Howard. But they're playing in a fog, with no energy, no fire and no commitment to defense.

J.B. Bickerstaff, the son of former Wizards coach Bernie Bickerstaff (1997-98), takes over on an interim basis.

RELATED: Webster opts for surgery; Wizards will apply for injury exception

"I think he's a great leader. I think he's been ready for this opportunity his whole life," Rockets GM Darryl Morey told reporters about Bickerstaff. "He has great mentors. I think the team responds to him. I think he has good plan to lead us out of where we are. I'm very confident in him."

Every year, the exercise of who'll be first fired takes place. Unfortunately, nothing makes people happier, particularly on social media, than proclaiming someone should be out of a job because of a bad stretch of games or just because they're perceived to have "lost the locker room." 

Exactly what does that mean? No one has ever successfully explained that sports cliche yet without tripping over themselves.

I get it. This comes with the job. But if you want to look like the smartest guy in the room about who is next, I'm making this pre-emptive strike just to head off all the inevitable questions about Wittman's job security: He's not getting fired because of a few bumps in the road in the final fully guaranteed year of his deal.

The Wizards started shaky with three bad blowout losses, but they're back over .500 after Tuesday's 115-86 rout of the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Unlike, Byron Scott (Lakers), George Karl (Kings) and Lionel Hollins (Nets), all predicted to be on the early chopping block, the Wizards are coming off consecutive conference semifinals appearances. That might not mean much in Houston, but it does here. The latter run for Washington might've been the conference finals had it not been for a broken hand/wrist for John Wall.

Wittman has done something that Scott and Hollins haven't. He has evolved with an offense that's more free-flowing and is emphasizing pace and space. Some will say it came a bit late as his previous schemes were unimaginative. To be fair, he also didn't have Jared Dudley and Gary Neal on the roster and Kris Humphries hadn't developed a three-point shot. Humphries was shooting threes after practice in training camp last year -- and I talked to him about it here -- so that light bulb didn't just come on.

By contrast, some of Wittman's long ball options before these acquisitions were Shelvin Mack (32.9% career), Chris Singleton (31.9%),  A.J. Price (31.6%), Trevor Booker (31%), Jordan Crawford (30.6%) and Jan Vesely (0%). 

The Wizards went into the 2013-14 season with a "playoffs-or-else" edict from owner Ted Leonsis, so that's not exactly the time to start developing Booker in that regard who has since shown he might be able to become a decent shooter from range with the Utah Jazz.

Unlike Karl's dilemma with his star player DeMarcus Cousins, Wittman doesn't have a combative relationship with Wall, his star pupil, or Bradley Beal, his rising star pupil. 

Wittman will make $3 million. There's a partial guarantee for 2016-17 and how the Wizards perform this season will go a long way to determining what move the franchise makes or doesn't make. Creating instability with the coaching staff would be irresponsible unless you're giving up on the season.

Still, the rumors will persist that Wittman might get fired. Well, if you're reading this, you might get fired before the season is over. If my boss understandably gets fed up with me, I might get fired, too. It's all guesswork or wishful thinking disguised as reporting.

But never let that get in the way of conjecture. It's just important to know the difference. When the Wizards lost in consecutive games to two of the worst teams in the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers, the "fire Wittman" speculation was ablaze. And as I reported at the time, there was no chance Wittman was going anywhere. Just like he wasn't going anywhere after a 2-7 start of the 2013-14 season.

The assumption is that firing someone will make a situation better, which is no guarantee, or that all situations are created equal. The Rockets are in panic mode because they believe their window on winning a championship is closing. In Washington, that window is believed to be expanding pending free-agent moves in the summer of 2016.

The Denver Nuggets unloaded Karl in 2013, after his fourth consecutive first-round playoff exit despite 57 wins and an NBA coach of the year award, hired Brian Shaw to replace them. That produced 36 and 30 wins two seasons later.

The Kings gave Mike Malone the ax after an 11-13 start, minus his franchise player Cousins who was hurt, and brought in Karl at the end of last season. He's now 15-26 overall going into tonight's game.

McHale won 56 games a year ago. He was 193-130 in five seasons in Houston, a 60% success rate which is the highest in franchise history. He didn't seem to have a problem motivating the Rockets to come from a 3-1 deficit in the West semifinals to win that series with the Los Angeles Clippers. Suddenly, however, the magic is gone. 

Firing the coach guarantees nothing. And because the interim coach doesn't succeed it doesn't mean that person failed at the job, especially if the real problem rests with the 15-man roster.

For the Wizards, it's about the big picture. They're going through a transformation with the way they play and Wittman will get a chance to see it through. 

MORE WIZARDS: Breaking down Wizards' defensive excellence in win vs. Bucks 

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Bradley Beal eliminated in first round of three-point contest

Bradley Beal eliminated in first round of three-point contest

It was a short night for Wizards guard Bradley Beal in the 2018 All-Star three-point contest on Saturday, as he was eliminated in the first round.

Wearing the Wizards' new 'The District' white alternate jersey, Beal shot a 15 and fell short of the top three spots to qualify for the second round. Suns guard Devin Booker won the contest with a 28 score in the final, beating out Klay Thompson of the Warriors and Tobias Harris of the Clippers.


Beal's was undone by a slow start. He missed all five shots on the first rack and made just one on the second. He began to heat up at the third rack, but by then couldn't recover.

Here is Beal's full round:

This was Beal's second showing in the three-point contest. He finished second back in 2014 and this year said he was motivated to avenge that loss. He should have plenty more opportunities to participate in the future if he chooses.

The NBA's All-Star Saturday night began with Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie winning the skills competition. He beat Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen in the final round.


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2018 NBA All-Star Saturday night: TV and live stream info, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

2018 NBA All-Star Saturday night: TV and live stream info, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

The 2018 NBA All-Star Saturday Night is here with the three-point contest, dunk contest and skills competition set for Los Angeles.

Here is all you need to know: TV and live stream info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:


Where: Staples Center
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
Online with no cable TV: fuboTV (try for free)


Skills competition

Participants: Lou Williams, Clippers; Jamal Murray, Nuggets; Al Horford, Celtics; Spencer Dinwiddie, Nets; Joel Embiid, Sixers; Buddy Hield, Kings; Lauri Markkanen, Bulls; Andre Drummond, Pistons

What to know: This year's crop has a fascinating mix of guards and big men and don't sleep on the seven-footers. Embiid in particular has a unique skillset for his size. Still, it's tough to beat the guards. Watch out for Dinwiddie, who is the best passer of the bunch.


Three-point contest

Participants: Klay Thompson, Warriors; Eric Gordon, Rockets; Devin Booker, Suns; Paul George, Thunder; Wayne Ellington, Heat; Bradley Beal, Wizards; Kyle Lowry, Raptors; Tobias Harris, Clippers

What to know: Thompson and Gordon enter the contest as past champions, as Thompson won it in 2016 and Gordon took it home last year. Thompson has the best three-point percentage among the group and is the favorite, but watch out for Beal, a past runner-up, and George who has the second best percentage. Also, Booker is one of the game's best young players and has a very smooth stroke from three.


Dunk contest

Participants: Dennis Smith Jr.; Mavericks; Donovan Mitchell, Jazz; Larry Nance Jr., Cavaliers; Victor Oladipo, Pacers

What to know: This is all about the rookies, Smith and Mitchell, who most are predicting to win. Oladipo has been in the contest before, but didn't win. He's also the only All-Star of the bunch. Nance is the only guy who isn't a guard and his father won it back in 1984. It will be interesting to see if he does some sort of nod to his old man, now 34 years later.