Bring back Iavaroni … as an assistant


NBA coaches are often benefactors or victims of their situations.

Everybody knows Phil Jackson is a great coach, but would he have won nine NBA championships without Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant?

In that same vein Marc Iavaroni wouldn’t possess a 33-90 career head coaching mark if he wasn’t in charge of a terrible Memphis Grizzlies team before being fired last week.

During his previous five years in Phoenix, he was everything the Suns asked for in an assistant coach. Most notably he challenged Amare Stoudemire when need be to make him better and served as the de facto defensive coordinator, that is if Phoenix had one at all under Mike D’Antoni.

Then before the 2007-08 season it was finally time for him to sprout wings and take his first stab at coaching an NBA team.

Clearly, it isn’t so easy when your best player is dealt in what is unanimously known as the Most Lopsided Deal of the 21st Century (the Pau Gasol trade) and you’re forced to try to win with a roster of kids that not even Mr. Jackson could get close to the playoffs.

Even D’Antoni was only 35-76 as a head coach before the Suns acquired Nash and everything changed.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote that Iavaroni was also fired for lack of player development, but Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo seem to be doing just fine to me, even if Mike Conley hasn’t exactly lived up to his No. 4 pick in the draft stature.

I just don’t feel after a year and a half in that situation Iavaroni had the chance to prove himself when his GM trades his best player for nothing and puts the team in a massive youth movement. I believe in continuity and thus that Iavaroni deserved to at least get into his fourth year before being on the hot seat.

I doubt Lionel Hollins in his 10th stint with the Grizz is going to do much better.

When a coach takes over a bad team, it’s going to take time to accumulate a talent base.

Look at Dennis Green and the Arizona Cardinals. He didn’t win, but he put together great drafts and built what this year turned into a football that is not who we thought they were. (We’ll find out Sunday if we can crown their asses).

Meanwhile in Phoenix, just over halfway through his first season people are calling for Suns head coach Terry Porter’s head.

First off, I think we can all agree Porter’s in a ridiculously tough situation following a coach as popular with the players and fans as Mike D’Antoni.

As Iavaroni’s former assistant Kevin O’Neill often said last year while serving as interim head coach at Arizona for Lute Olson, you don’t want to replace a legend, you want to replace the guy who replaced the legend. Not that D’Antoni is a legend of that stature, but you get the point.

Porter was brought in basically to fulfill general manager Steve Kerr’s vision of his basketball team, and that is to give Phoenix a defensive presence while having the ability to win halfcourt games in the playoffs San Antonio Spurs-style.

Of course, Porter has since loosened the reins and everything seemed to be going OK until Phoenix sputtered to five losses in six games the past couple weeks, three against losing teams and two in which the team barely showed up, bringing into question if they’ve tuned out the coach.

The Suns would be dumb to panic and can their coach right now, because the last thing they need to do is start over.

But why not do the next best thing by firing assistant coach Bill Cartwright to bring back Iavaroni?

This could make for an uncomfortable situation in that the Suns’ coach-in-waiting could be sitting a couple feet away from Porter, ready to take the reins if Porter takes a fall.

However, Cartwright clearly isn’t getting through to Amare. Iavaroni and Amare weren’t exactly the best of friends, but through his improvements you could see Iavaroni made Amare a better basketball player.

This would provide enough of a shakeup to show the players and coaching staff that management means business, but it wouldn’t mean starting from square one halfway through the season.

I think it would be a comforting feeling for players like Nash, Amare and Barbosa to add another coach from the past, an assistant who seemed to do a hell of a job during that first stint.

And if this season ultimately proves Porter isn’t the right man in Phoenix, the Suns wouldn’t have to look far for their next head coach.

Is he a fundraiser again?

In the aftermath of the Iavaroni firing, the Grizzlies released two assistants and reassigned Kevin O’Neill from assistant coach to special assistant to GM Chris Wallace.

Too bad K.O. was off coaching Arizona last season, maybe he would have convinced Wallace to hold out for a little more in the Gasol deal.

Anyway, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I heard this news because of how much it reminds me of what happened last year when O’Neill was demoted from interim head coach and coach-in-waiting to assistant to UA athletic director Jim Livengood, taking on a “fundraising role” before officially leaving the university for Memphis.

If this position is more than a title, you can count on Memphis not picking UA forward Chase Budinger even if he falls to the second round because saying Budinger didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with O’Neill last season would be a gross understatement.