In NBA, coaches do cash in, but few get paid real respect


July 09, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

OF COURSE, Mike Krzyzewski is sticking with Duke. Coaching in the NBA is such a great job, not even $40 million could lure him.

In the NBA, petulant players refuse to check into games for you. (Scottie Pippen blowing off Phil Jackson. Allen Iverson challenging Chris Ford. Carmelo Anthony showing Jeff Bzdelik who's boss in Denver.) Inmates running the asylum is how NBA coaches describe it.

Franchise players who make three or four times more than the coach call the shots on who stays and who goes, including the coach. (See: Jason Kidd/Alonzo Mourning/Byron Scott, or, more to the point, Kobe Bryant/Jackson/Krzyzewski.)

General managers and owners are all too happy to make you a lame duck/fall guy. (Every team in the Eastern Conference, where not one single coach has been in the same job for more than one season.)

Agents of players who aren't getting their share of minutes or touches call to curse you out.

"You're so busy watching film or drawing up plays for the next game, you find it's easier just to lay the phone on your desk [while they are talking], wait 10 or 15 minutes, pick it up to say, `Thanks for calling. Have a nice day,'" an NBA coach once said.

Don't feel sorry for the coach? Don't feel sorry for him because he makes $1 million or $5 million to put up with all this headache? OK, maybe that's the part that convinces everyone it's OK to treat the coach like a punching bag. The money is good, and it is tempting to grab it.

Mike Montgomery, formerly of Stanford - the Duke of the West - is now coach of the Golden State Warriors.

Bzdelik, formerly of UMBC, is about to enter the third and final year of his first NBA coaching contract with the Nuggets.

Unless, of course, the Nuggets decide to make Carmelo Anthony happy or "upgrade" for the big push. The Nuggets, who started the offseason $23 million under the cap to pursue huge players in the free-agent market, could choose to fire Bzdelik, just because that's what you do when you're an NBA team.

Doesn't matter that Bzdelik led the Nuggets to the playoffs last season, capping the greatest one-season turnaround in NBA history for a team that won fewer than 20 games in 2002-03. The rumors of his demise are rampant, although no one can cite a good reason.

Bzdelik proved he could win, lead, build a team, which may not be enough in Denver, but somewhere, another NBA team will think he has proved himself.

"You don't take things personally in this business, because there are a lot of things you can't control," Bzdelik said. "You do the very best you can and be positive and play with a desperate relentlessness."

Is it worth it?

"You do it for the five-year contract for $40 million, because every dollar is guaranteed when you coach that first game. You could get fired after your second game, but all that money is guaranteed," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday.

That doesn't mean most coaches don't spend long, tired hours asking themselves if it's worth it.

Paul Silas, fired by New Orleans then hired in Cleveland, could only smile last year when asked how getting to the playoffs with the Hornets wasn't enough to keep his old job.

Rick Carlisle led the Detroit Pistons to the playoffs, got fired and went to Indiana, where Larry Bird (former coach) fired Isiah Thomas.

Meanwhile, Jackson, winner of nine NBA titles, is off in Montana finding a new Zen calm to combat the confusion over why a selfish superstar is the single reason he is no longer coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.

Everyone says Krzyzewski has struck a victory for college basketball, that true teachers and truly committed coaches understand where they can have enduring impact - and security.

"I don't want to hear about college coaches not making it in the pros," Williams said.

"Larry Brown did it. What you have to look at is: What kinds of jobs are you being offered? Most of the time, you're being asked to go in and lose. Those are impossible situations. But college coaching isn't as stable as it used to be. How many Division I coaching changes were made last year? Thirty or 40," Williams said.

But it's worse in the NBA, which may be one of the reasons Williams - who has had his share of feelers from pro teams over the years but chooses not to advertise his position - stays put in College Park, where he has built one of the most stable programs in all of basketball.

"You know what, unfortunately, I think, it's all about the moment in the NBA," Bzdelik said this week during a much-deserved vacation in North Carolina.

"There are so many dynamics as to what it is to try and coach in the NBA right now, I'm not even sure how to explain it. Agents, free agents, talks shows, scouts, young players. Teams now have so many forces bearing down on them.

"There are always people, an enormous amount of people who are trying to tear down or take away from your confidence and the confidence of the team. ... It's almost become a no-win situation, unless you have tremendous, tremendous support from the owner or general manager."

It was all so much easier when coaches could be what essentially they are: gym rats, teachers, team-builders. For that, they'd coach for free.

But it's not like that. The offer to Coach K proves it's a much worse job. So does the decision.

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