Sunday, December 2, 2007
I just returned from a Los Angeles Clippers game this afternoon, and I have one thought: Mike Dunleavy should be shown the exit door. It's a feeling I've had for a while, but this afternoon the writing was on the wall, the court, the scoreboard and just about every fan's face in the arena by the end of the game. The Clippers had played themselves into a 15 point deficit in the first half against the unimpressive Indiana Pacers, but at the end of the second quarter they charged back to tie it up. Good enough. What happened after that was the problem.
The second half began right where the first had ended with the Clippers taking it strong to the hole and showing the kind of hustle and determination that made them a 4-0 team at the beginning of the season. But as the fourth quarter drew to a close the energy shifted. It was a palpable change, and the crowd seemed to sense it. It was around the three minute mark when things were tied up at 90-90 that Mr. Dunleavy had his opportunity to step in and really coach the team to a victory. The players wanted the guiadance. You could see it. They wanted the leadership. As usual, however, Mike Dunleavy sank into the shadows. Each successive trip down the court the team became more and more disheveled until, finally, Dunleavy called a timeout with just under two minutes to go and the Clippers trailing by six points. Six points is by no means an insurmountable lead with two minutes to play, especially in the NBA. I remember once listening to a Dallas Mavericks game back in the mid 80's where the team was trailing Golden State by seven points with about eleven seconds left to play when Mark Aguirre hit a three point shot. Seconds later, he stole the inbounds pass and made another three pointer while being fouled in the process. He made the free throw and sent the game into overtime. Seven points in about ten seconds. So the Clippers had an eternity by comparison. If only Mike Dunleavy knew how to manage that eternity.
The Clippers came out of the timeout and ran nothing that resembled a play. It was just random chaos. Corey Maggette missed a layup or two, and Tim Thomas followed suit as the team showed no tangible signs of a strategy. The term offensive flow is oxymoronic under Dunleavy's stewardship. There is no offense it seems, and if there is such a thing as "anti-flow" they've mastered it. The spacing on the floor is in a constant state of imbalance, thus rendering impossible the kind of crisp around the horn passing that gets teams like the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs so many open looks. And in terms of pick and rolls, well, let's just say Dickau and Kaman are no Stockton and Malone. But then again, they don't NEED to be. They would be just fine if they could achieve even a third of the Stockton/Malone pick and roll output. No such luck.
More troubling than his lack of discernible play calling, however, is Dunleavy's overall lack of enthusiasm and motivational skills. I don't see him inspiring these guys down the stretch to "win one for the Dunster!" It's true that some great coaches, most notably Gregg Popovich, don't have to exude enthusiasm and energy on the bench to be successful. But guys like Popovich are such commanding forces that enthusiasm and excitement aren't necessary for them. Popovich is a serious student of the game and rides all his players equally when they screw up that his guys respect the hell out of him. And that translates to victories in the crunch. They know what to do, and Pops reminds them when with a swift kick in the ass when they forget. It's a healthy fear/respect dynamic that's led to multiple championships. Take Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli and throw them on the Clippers, and I think you'd have a different result. Dunleavy simply doesn't inspire that kind of performance from his players. How can you get inspired and hungry when the guy who's running the show doesn't seem inspired or hungry?
The Clippers are shorthanded right now to be sure. With Elton Brand, Shaun Livingston, Sam Cassell, and Quentin Ross all out with injuries of varying severity, the team is not going to be much better than a .500 ball club. But great coaches can get their teams to overachieve and ride out the storm until the stars return. Mike Dunleavy is no such coach. Never was that more apparent than by looking at the fans' stunned faces as they exited the arena today in an eerily quiet procession. I have a feeling it's a scene that will play out many times this season.
*I'm not the only one who thinks Dunleavy should go... ESPN LINK