|The Wizards aim to better develop young players like John Wall (No. 2) and Jan Vesely (24). (Getty Images)|
Coaching changes are a fact of life in the NBA, and we've already had two with possibly more to come before the All-Star break. As the old saying goes, you can't fire the players.
But you can fire the guy who picked the players, which brings us to a few uncertain front-office situations that could result in one or more franchises pushing the proverbial reset button and firing their top basketball executives.
The coaching change is the in-season fix, or the last resort when things go south for a variety of reasons that may or may not be the coach's fault. Lawrence Frank has lost 32 of the past 36 NBA games he's coached, with the then-hopeless Nets and the now-hopeless Pistons. Does that mean he doesn't know how to coach? No, it means he doesn't coach Jason Kidd anymore.
|More on NBA|
|More NBA coverage|
So with three weeks to go before All-Star weekend in Orlando, it's a good time to evaluate five organizations that could be hurtling toward blow-it-up-and-start-over mode:
1. Wizards: Washington fired coach Flip Saunders, replaced him with interim coach Randy Wittman and immediately shifted into youth mode. But that doesn't mean all is calm on Sixth Street.
Rumblings persist in NBA front-office circles about the anticipated ouster of general manager Ernie Grunfeld. But sources continue to maintain Grunfeld and his front-office staff remain in constant communication with owner Ted Leonsis and that Leonsis has an open mind about his GM's efforts to dig the franchise out of the Gilbert Arenas gun fiasco.
It hasn't helped that first-round pick Jan Vesely has managed to score only four points on 2-for-8 shooting from the field with only one free throw attempt over three starts covering 57 minutes of floor time. It's too soon to draw sweeping conclusions about a 21-year-old who didn't play in college, but the development of Vesely and other recent first-round picks Chris Singleton, Nick Young and JaVale McGee bears watching as it could have a direct bearing on Grunfeld's future.
As of now, there have been zero indications from Leonsis that he's anything but on board with the plan that has been in place since the roster was torn down in the wake of the Arenas incident. Also, team officials believe the franchise is in a good place with cap room and young assets to be in position to make a significant move when the time is right -- all part of a strategy Leonsis has spearheaded.
2. Pistons: Not only is Detroit 4-20 and making its case to be the worst team in the league, but the Pistons have $100 million in guarantees tied up in Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince over the next four years. It's the worst place for a franchise to be, unable to win or even compete and saddled with long-term deals with little flexibility to break free of mediocrity.
And the way the Pistons are playing now, allowing teams to regularly shoot 50 percent from the field during a season in which league-wide shooting figures are down significantly because of the compressed schedule, mediocrity would be welcome.
Team president Joe Dumars long enjoyed the support of the Davidson family, and he remains an icon of the franchise. But with new owner Tom Gores, whose influence was exerted early with the hiring of Frank over Dumars' preference, Mike Woodson, Joe D. is in a tough spot.
At the time, I applauded his effort to remake the roster before the wheels came off when he traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. Now, Billups remains productive with the Clippers (his third team since the trade) and Iverson must be physically as finished as finished can be if none of the many guard-challenged teams in the league are registering more than passing inquiries about his availability. Factor in the use of the cap space cleared by Iverson's expiring deal on Gordon and Villanueva, and the curious decision to commit $49 million guaranteed over three years to Stuckey and Prince, and it's difficult to envision a viable way out of the mess.
3. Kings: Sacramento already has changed coaches, and the annual effort to destabilize the organization from the outside and push team president Geoff Petrie out the door is fully under way. It's a play that's been run before without success, and I'm skeptical of the renewed reports of Petrie's demise in the past week.
Petrie, 63, has one year left on his contract after this season, and his future with the organization is more tied to the expiration date on that contract and the uncertain future of the franchise than on any measurement of the team's performance in the confusing prism of the shortened, post-lockout schedule.
Frankly, of far more importance is exactly where the Kings will find a permanent home -- Sacramento, with new arena costs piled squarely on the backs of taxpayers, or in Anaheim, Kansas City or points unknown.
In conjunction with that unresolved matter is the issue of how long the Maloofs will be able to maintain ownership. Joe and Gavin Maloof have privately maintained they're fine financially; while they've lost millions on the Kings, their future is secure because their trust fund remains intact. But nobody thought the Maloofs would relinquish majority control of the Palms hotel and casino franchise in Las Vegas, and fewer thought they'd sell the family's original cash cow, the New Mexico beer distributorship they unloaded in 2010.
Despite the league's stubborn efforts to keep the team in Sacramento, if a deep-pocketed prospective buyer wanted to take the money-losing basketball business off the Maloofs' hands, it's something the family would have to at least consider. Selling the team is said to be a last resort for the Maloofs, according to NBA front office sources. But as one of those sources said, if the Maloofs were interested in making money, they should've sold the Kings and kept the beer business. So the whole situation -- not just Petrie -- bears watching.
4. Raptors: Despite the apparent stability in Toronto, speculation persists among rival front office sources that team president Bryan Colangelo remains uncertain of his future with the team. As with the Petrie situation, I'm dubious. The imminent removal of the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan component of the ownership group bodes well for Colangelo, who was not held in high regard by key members of that group. The remaining power broker, chairman of the board Larry Tanenbaum, has long been a Colangelo supporter. My read on Colangelo's situation is that he's comfortable with ownership's perception of the plan to shift to a defensive mindset under coach Dwane Casey and that he assuaged any concerns by welcoming former Sixers and Nets executive Ed Stefanski into the front office. I don't see any major upheaval on the horizon.
5. Magic: With the departure of CEO Bob Vander Weide under unexplained circumstances and the elevation of president Alex Martins to CEO, the Orlando power structure is in flux. "Dysfunctional" is how one rival executive described the Magic's management team. I think that's a bit of a stretch.
While agents and GM candidates are eagerly circling as the team continues to struggle under the weight of a brutal stretch in the schedule and the dark cloud cast by Dwight Howard, sources maintain Orlando is not contemplating any in-season front office changes. But the consistent outside perception of Orlando's management team is that GM Otis Smith has become increasingly isolated and doesn't have the help he needs in one of the thinnest front-office operations in the league.
One issue that has long been neglected requires immediate attention: finally persuading 2005 first-round pick Fran Vasquez to leave Spain and join the Magic. One respected international talent evaluator continues to believe Vasquez would be an impact player at the NBA level and should be a key piece of the team's plan to move forward after Howard's inevitable departure. But Vasquez turns 29 in May, and if he's ever going to wear an Orlando uniform, now is the time for the all-out push to bring him aboard next season. The Magic's current front-office structure, however, lacks the international reach and relationships to make that a reality.
And with that, on to the rest of this week's Postups.
• Note that I did not include the Lakers in the list of five organizations that could be headed for turmoil. According to a person directly involved in the Lakers' decision-making, speculation that GM Mitch Kupchak is on the way out is premature. Privately, Kupchak is said to be seething over the Lakers' decision to unceremoniously dismiss assistant GM Ronnie Lester and nearly all the scouts who worked under him. But there have been no indications that Kupchak, a shrewd architect of the Lakers' run of championship success, is angling for a departure.
• League sources maintain one of the biggest hangups in the Dwight Howard saga is that Howard has yet to fully commit to a destination. "Dwight can't make a decision," a person briefed on the situation said. "If he'd make a decision, he'd be out of there." Meanwhile, despite the Magic's recent struggles, GM Otis Smith has shown no inclination to soften his stance on trying to play out the season with Howard and persuade him to stay. But once Howard's hometown All-Star obligations are fulfilled later this month, rival executives believe the pressure will mount on Orlando to seriously engage teams in trade discussions leading up to the March 15 deadline.
• Despite assertions to the contrary, the Lakers remain firmly on Howard's list of three teams he's asked to be traded to, along with the Nets and Mavericks, multiple people familiar with the situation said. The Lakers' clear preference is to trade Pau Gasol in a Howard deal and not Andrew Bynum, who was elected as an All-Star starter for the first time this week. League sources say Nets officials have remained in constant communication with Deron Williams and are encouraged by the All-Star point guard's improved take on the franchise's outlook. Though everyone involved acknowledges the Nets' dilemma: If New Jersey is unable to land Howard, it will be difficult to persuade Williams to join the team in Brooklyn next season. One league front-office source described the Nets as being in wait-and-see mode. "If Orlando said to the Nets, 'Go get this player [to complete a Howard trade],' they'd go get that player," the person said.
• With Kenyon Martin receiving clearance to return to the NBA and reportedly agreeing to a deal with the Clippers, front office sources have mixed views of how other players' obligations to the Chinese Basketball Association will play out -- especially in light of the CBA protesting the ruling allowing Martin out of his contract before his team's season was over. Just as the Nuggets had no intentions of bringing Martin back, nor do they intend to re-sign J.R. Smith, who scored 60 points for his Chinese team Wednesday, including 14 for 18 from beyond the 3-point arc. But restricted free agent Wilson Chandler is a high priority for the Nuggets, who soon will dispatch GM Masai Ujiri to China to touch base with Chandler in person. Denver will try to sign Chandler to a multiyear deal. But Chandler and fellow restricted free agent Aaron Brooks (Suns) play for teams expected to go deep into the playoffs, potentially delaying their return to the NBA until well into March.
• Despite the Suns' struggles, Steve Nash has yet to express an interest in being traded, league sources said. But the organization will try to accommodate Nash's wishes if the 37-year-old foundation of the franchise decides he'd like a chance to compete for a championship with a contender. "It's really on him in terms of what he wants to do or not do," a person with knowledge of the situation said. Nash, who turns 38 next week, will be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
• In addition to inquiring about a trade with Cleveland for Ramon Sessions, the Lakers also had conversations about former All-Star Gilbert Arenas, but sources say team officials are concerned about how much explosiveness Arenas has lost.