MIAMI (AP) — Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Denver’s Michael Malone are two of four NBA coaches to have spent at least eight years with their current team.
They know how rare it is.
Both Spoelstra and Malone spoke out on Monday following the recent layoffs of three coaches who are not far off from great success – 2019 NBA champion Nick Nurse, 2021 champion Mike Budenholzer and most recently the Western Conference champion 2021 and 2022 Coach of the Year Monty Williams. Nurse was fired by Toronto, Budenholzer by Milwaukee and Williams by Phoenix.
“I’m thinking more about the great, experienced, proven coaches who have already lost their jobs,” Spoelstra said as the Heat prepared for another trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and a game against Boston that begins Wednesday. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Spoelstra has the second-longest current tenure in the NBA with a team. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich has coached the Spurs since 1996, Spoelstra took over the Heat in 2008, Steve Kerr coached Golden State in 2014 and Malone coached Denver in 2015.
“I understand this case,” said Malone, who will lead Denver to the Western Conference Finals starting Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers. “You look around in the coaching landscape, if you want a safe profession coaching is not the one for you. I should have been a TV journalist.
Of the last nine coaches to take a team to the NBA Finals, only two – Kerr and Spoelstra – are still with the franchise with which they went to the title tour.
Three of the last four championship-winning coaches – Budenholzer in 2021, Los Angeles Lakers’ Frank Vogel in 2020 and Nurse in 2019 – have since been fired by those clubs. Also dismissed for various reasons after recent stints in the Finals: Ime Udoka in Boston, David Blatt of Cleveland then Tyronn Lue as well, and now Williams of the Suns.
Budenholzer’s dismissal upset Kerr, as he revealed earlier this month – but noted that all coaches understand how vulnerable they are.
“My first response isn’t necessarily shock, it’s more disappointment because Bud is a fantastic coach,” Kerr said. “He has just won a championship and has been wildly successful in his coaching career. But that’s the area we’re in. … The expectations every year for every team are so high, and only one team can win. This is sad news for the coaching profession.
At least five teams will have new coaches next season – Phoenix, Milwaukee, Toronto and Detroit are on the hunt, and Houston has already hired Udoka to replace Stephen Silas. Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn was signed by the Nets in November, and Atlanta’s Quin Snyder was signed by the Hawks in February.
And, at a minimum, 12 of the NBA’s 30 teams will open next season with a coach who’s been in place for no more than one season.
There is also speculation about the future of Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers, and he was asked about it after the 76ers lost to Boston in Game 7 of their Eastern Semifinals on Sunday.
“No one is safe in our business. I get it,” Rivers said, adding that he has two years left on his contract with the 76ers and therefore expects to be back next season.
Spoelstra has long said that part of Miami’s strength is consistency. Managing general partner Micky Arison, CEO Nick Arison, team president Pat Riley, general manager Andy Elisburg and others have been with the Heat for decades — and since the very beginning, in the case of Elisburg, since he’s been with the franchise for all 35 of his seasons.
Spoelstra was also part of the organization for more than half his life; he was 24 when he started in the video room, and now he’s 52.
“It takes so much time and energy to restart something,” Spoelstra said. “And I think that’s part of the reason why we’ve been able to restart so many times, over and over again. We don’t reinvent a new culture and then try to teach everyone and then all of a sudden, two years later, it’s someone else doing the exact same thing. But especially to have veterans who have proven themselves (returned), it’s just breathtaking. It was really disturbing.
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