Synergy is one of those corporate buzzwords that can drive a person crazy. The people who talk about it in stern, serious tones have usually never seen it, and the ones that have it don't talk about it much at all. The NBA is suffering through a stunning lack of synergy this year, with several teams displaying a complete breakdown of unity and communication between their front office personnel and the coaches under them.
Frank Vogel is the winningest coach in Pacers' NBA history. He battled the Raptors - who have now made the Eastern Conference finals - in a seven game series with an undermanned Pacers squad that's basically Paul George and the Pips. It's a one-man show, which is definitely not Vogel's fault. Larry Bird thought someone else could do better and declined to renew Vogel's contract, stating he needed a better offensive voice. He then hired Nate McMillan, who spent years calling every play on the court for his point guard to follow religiously and is known as more of a defensive mind.
Dave Joerger was given the most injured team to ever make the playoffs this year, after three years of bucking the small-ball trend and playing a type of grindball that nearly eliminated the Warriors last year. He said they'd played old and slow, which ownership took as a slight against team construction and fired him after two 50-win seasons and three consecutive playoff years.
Scott Skiles, local hero in Orlando, resigned after one season. Clashes over personnel were denied by GM Rob Hennigan but given more weight behind the scenes. Skiles was said to be frustrated with the young culture of the new NBA, but that's a strange reason to quit a multi-million dollar job in a place you're revered. And if he had reservations, management did not exactly press him to stay.
Those weren't the only casualties either. Tom Thibodeau was fired by Chicago last and the Bulls promptly had their worst season since Vinnie Del Negro was the coach and missed the playoffs. The Houston Rockets are paying Kevin McHale 12 million dollars for the 11 games he coached this year. David Blatt went 83-40 and still got the axe due to personnel conflicts with a Hall of Fame player and de facto GM. George Karl was hired in Sacramento after our own Michael Malone was thrown overboard, and then Karl immediately found himself on the hot seat with plenty of shots fired by management and ownership.
More often than I ever remember, good coaches are being tossed aside (and in many cases paid to leave) in favor of the unknown due to simple disconnects in vision that turn fatal. The Vertical published a great article about how Skiles and the front office had a philosophical divide that could not be surmounted.
From that article:
In the NBA, talent is paramount, but continuity between the front office and the bench is right behind it. The two don’t have to think as one mind; in Boston, Doc Rivers used to chafe when Danny Ainge supplemented the Celtics' core by gambling on low-priced players with oversized personalities or questionable character, and Rivers and Ainge thrived together for nearly a decade. The goals and the objectives have to be in sync, the lines of communication always open.
In that sense, the Denver Nuggets are exceedingly fortunate. Tim Connelly has known Malone since college, and they worked together before in New Orleans. The Nuggets don't have a situation where a coach has a good interview but the cracks start forming once the working relationship takes effect. Malone has said many times that he enjoys the communication he receives from Connelly and ownership, and that they are all on the same page regarding the state of the Nuggets and the expectations going forward.
Winning used to buy time for a coach. Overcoming adversity meant something. Then coaching became more about ego maintenance than Xs and Os - keeping the talent happy, in other words. Now a third criteria for success has been codified: stay in lock-step with the front office. Coach what is given to you, not what you want to have. Be happy they let you have a job at all, and even if you are a young coach who has had a large amount of success don't get too comfortable. A disagreement with your boss may lead to your firing.
The Vertical also offered this advice to Denver: don't take shortcuts.
The Nuggets have already completed Step One – building a strong roster of young players – and Step Two – finding the right head coach. The next phase is to compete for a playoff spot next season.
I would say that they also managed a step that a lot of up-and-coming or playoff teams have not yet conquered: getting the general manager and the coach on the same page. That alone makes Denver more of a long-term threat than simply having good players or the right coach, because it should prevent the derailing that many teams around the league are suffering through this year.
Synergy isn't a word that Nuggets fans have had to hear too much of this year, and that's a very good thing for Denver's future.
*** Join us for Stiffs Night Out: NBA Draft Lottery Party ***
Jake's Sports & Spirits | 3800 Walnut Street, Denver CO
Tuesday, May 17th 5:30 PM
Join fellow Nuggets fans for our annual Stiffs Night Out NBA Draft Lottery Party. We'll be watching live as we find out if the Nuggets won a top pick in June's NBA draft. The lottery begins at 6pm MT so we'll be meeting a half hour before. Stay for the Eastern Conference Finals and to bask in the glory of winning the lottery (or sulk in the misery of another year without moving up). Jake's Sports & Spirits will have two-for-one drink deals and the Stiffs will have prizes and more. If you are a Nuggets fan, come on out and meet fellow Stiffs and Nuggets fans!