MIAMI — The NBA’s coach of the year was fired before the finals even started.
The NBA’s coach of the month for November was fired in December.
There’s decreasing job security in the league, something that the two coaches in the NBA Finals lamented before their teams squared off in Game 1 on Thursday night.
The Denver Nuggets parted ways with coach George Karl on Thursday, just a few weeks after he was honored as the league’s top coach. When Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra finished second, he half-seriously joked about avoiding the curse that has befallen recent recipients of that honor.
Of the last nine winners of the award, six have been fired — a combined eight times. If Memphis moves on from Lionel Hollins, a strong possibility, six of the 16 coaches who led their teams to the playoffs this season will be gone.
“That’s a tough state for our business and where it is right now,” Spoelstra said shortly after learning of Karl’s departure. “That just doesn’t correlate to an objective mind. People’s expectations are way off or (they’re) just not looking at it really objectively.”
So now, the NBA Finals have two of the three coaches with the longest tenure with their current clubs. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been with the Spurs since 1996, Doc Rivers with the Boston Celtics since 2004, and Spoelstra with Miami since 2008.
“That is scary,” Spoelstra said.
Commissioner David Stern said he thinks that the new collective bargaining agreement, which was negotiated to try to give all markets large and small a better chance to be competitive, may be contributing to the even more volatile climate for coaches. Expectations are higher than ever.
“Because they’re feeling the pressure of a system that allows them to draft players, sign free agents, get revenue sharing,” Stern said before Game 1. “And they better look at themselves in the mirror if they can’t compete and be competitive at the gate as well.”
Popovich has always been close with Karl and said he was disappointed to hear the news of his firing. But he also knows that this is the way of life for NBA coaches, and it’s been that way for quite some time.
“It’s a pretty volatile job being the head coach in the NBA,” Popovich said. “But nobody makes us do it. If you’ve got a job in the NBA, you know it’s pretty volatile. It’s a fact. The grass is greener, for the most part. The sky is kind of blue. And that’s the way it is.”
REPLAY TWEAKS: The NBA’s replay system, it appears, is under review.
Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday night that the league is examining ways to streamline the process in hopes of cutting down on the delays caused when officials go to the sideline to look at a call. One of the options is a system similar to the one the NHL uses, where a group of officials in a control room offsite look at any play under question across the league and then relay the ruling to the officials in the arena.
“If you have a group of officials in a broadcast center somewhere ... there wouldn’t be that delay, which officials need to walk over, turn the monitor around, put the headphones on, call for the replays,” Silver said. “You could have offsite officials looking at multiple monitors at once.
“We want to get it right. But that’s the biggest issue now and that’s the delay in the action.”
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: The Spurs are considered the old guard in these Finals, the team that is trying to make one last championship run with a core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker leading the way.
While that characterization certainly has some merit, the Spurs will actually being relying more on young, untested players in important roles than the will the Heat. Starters Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter have never played in the Finals before, neither have bench players Gary Neal and Cory Joseph.
“We haven’t really talked about it,” Green said. “It’s more of an unspoken, understood type of deal. I’m pretty sure I’m going to experience it for myself. I believe they trust in me and the other young guys that we’ll be fine. We’ve been on a big stage last year before. We’ve been on many big stages in our careers before. Obviously this is the biggest.
“They trust us. If we’re out there and they see us acting a little shaky, I’m sure they’ll come over and talk to us.”
Popovich said there is no need for a rah-rah speech to try to prepare them for something they’ve never experienced.
“Talk is cheap in these situations,” Popovich said. “Guys just have to go experience it and go play. Everybody’s different. Some guys will handle it well, and some people might not. ... It is still basketball. The same things win and lose. And when it’s over, life will go on.”
LEBRON’S DEBUT: LeBron James has become the face of the NBA, a four-time MVP who is the league’s biggest and most marketable star. But he’s never appeared on the cover of a video game, until now.
James will be on the cover of NBA 2K14, the wildly popular basketball video game franchise, 2K Sports announced on Thursday night.
“My friends, family, and fans all know how much I love NBA 2K,” James said in a statement. “I remember, as a kid, getting so excited for the game to come out and see who was on the cover and it’s amazing to be a part of this great tradition.”
The game is scheduled to be released on Oct. 1.
“Widely regarded as the best player today, LeBron James is the perfect choice for NBA 2K14, the biggest and best game in our NBA 2K franchise history,” said Jason Argent, SVP of Sports Operations at 2K Sports.
BY THE NUMBERS: This year’s NBA Finals will be broadcast to fans in 215 countries, and in 47 different languages.
Which makes sense, given how the Miami-San Antonio series has a decidedly international feel.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is of Filipino descent and has a huge following in his mother’s homeland. Miami’s Joel Anthony and San Antonio’s Cory Joseph are from Canada, and the Spurs also have Aron Baynes and Patty Mills of Australia; Nando De Colo, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw of France; Tim Duncan of the U.S. Virgin Islands; Manu Ginobili of Argentina; and Tiago Splitter of Brazil.
The NBA said more than 310 international media members from 34 countries are credentialed for the series.
LAYUPS: Assuming he plays in at least four games in this series, San Antonio’s Tim Duncan will climb into the top six of in career NBA postseason appearances. He entered the finals with 204 playoff games, four behind Scottie Pippen. ... According to the ticket-resale site StubHub, the cheapest seat available for Game 2 of the finals on Sunday is $185. Two hours before game time on Thursday, some seats could be had for as little as $40 — three times less than the cheapest seat earlier in the day.