It's been announced by now that Bob Weiss has become the 13th head coach in Sonics history. In the interviews that I've heard time and time again the need for continuity has been cited as a leading factor in Weiss' hiring. The Sonics, in fact, were apparently so enamored of Weiss that they didn't even bother interviewing any other candidates. Of the candidates mentioned in the press most frequently, I would have preferred Silas to Weiss. I understand their rationale for hiring him, I just don't completely agree with it or the way they went about it.
I feel in this case continuity is overrated. Discounting last year, the current coaching staff has exactly one playoff series win to hang their hats on in the last 9 seasons. If continuity was truly important, then why not match the Blazers offer to Nate? Or try like hell to get a deal done before June 30? Obviously continuity is important for the sole reason that management was caught flatfooted, no matter what platitudes about Weiss they float our way.
Perhaps it doesn't matter, you say. There's one school of thought that says for the most part coaches are irrelevant at the NBA level in terms of providing more than a couple of wins per year. Aside from a handful of guys of course; Larry Brown, Don Nelson, Rick Carlisle, etc. The rest are just placeholders if you will. As in there isn't enough difference between PJ Carlissimo, Paul Silas, Jeff Bzdelik, Eric Musselman, Mike Dunleavy, Dennis Johnson and Tom Izzo to fill a $7 glass of MGD Light at Key Arena. From the way the Sonics conducted that search and from their past practice it seems that they ascribe to this theory of the importance of NBA coaches.
I'm tempted to point out that every Sonics coach that's been hired since George Karl has been as much a company man as an Xs and O's guy or an ego massager. Paul Westphal, Nate McMillan, now Weiss; none of these men make for colorful copy in the daily paper. Perhaps George Karl was just a hard act to follow, but at the same time no Sonic coach has captivated the fan base as he has. Don't get me wrong, Karl was an insane martinet at times -- his insecurities over his contract and his constant ego battles with his star players have become commonplace now that we've seen him repeat his pre-Sonic tenure 3-year-burnout pattern in Milwaukee and is about to repeat it in Denver -- but he also had that blue collar chutzpah that sells so well in the Seattle media. That of course ended up being his undoing in Seattle as his clashes with Wally Walker finally became too much for the organization to tolerate. Whether or not Bob Weiss can recapture or channel the qualities that made Karl so strangely beloved remains to be seen, but I'm pretty sure that a major reason he was hired was to NOT rock the organizational boat and preserve the Sonics status quo -- whatever that is. We've seen it work to great effect last year, but we've also seen four consecutive years of mediocre futility and basketball in the seasons preceding the 2004-05 Cinderella run. Which is the true team and who was truly responsible for last year's success? Nate? Casey? Weiss? The front office? The players?
I'll readily concede that players are far more important than coaches in terms of wins; but at the same time I do think the coach sets the tone for the team in terms of professionalism and approach to the job, as it were. For all of Nate McMillan's shortcomings and faults as a coach he did do a good job of being businesslike, which I think this team sorely needed. I just don't see Weiss being able to replicate that. He doesn't come off that way in interviews or the way he carries himself. I have no doubt in my mind that he's probably a hell of a fun guy to be around but that's not necessarily a good quality to have in a boss. I've heard from several sources that Paul Westphal was one of the nicest guys in the pro basketball business, but he couldn't demand the respect of his players and the product on the floor was reflective of that.
Which brings me to the second most cited reason for Weiss' hiring: the "near unanimous" support of the players. I don't put much stock in that for a reason to hire someone. If you give employees a vote in who their next supervisor will be, I'll guarantee that more often than not they'll pick the person least likely to crack the whip. And I think that's the case here. Of course Ray Allen likes Bob Weiss. Weiss is no threat to his authority. And don't believe for a second that Weiss is higher in the pecking order than Ray -- Ray's deal runs at least two years more than Bob's does and is worth several million dollars more. And that, in my opinion was THE major reason for hiring Bob Weiss -- he's cheap, he won't call out management in the paper, if he doesn't work out they can fire him or move him elsewhere.
I can't believe they didn't at least TRY to interview Silas or Iavoroni or Saunders in person before committing to Weiss. Sund said in a radio interview that they did exhaustive research on several candidates for about 8 or 9 days before choosing Weiss ... but didn't call anyone in for interviews. That seems a rather curious way to do business. I've been on a few hiring panels and I think you can tell far more about a person from a five minute personal interview than by looking at their resume. What would it have hurt to at least bring Silas in for an interview? For all they know he could have had the exact same ideas about the roster as Bob Weiss ... and I think Silas probably fires up the fan base for next season far more so than Weiss does.
I wish Weiss well. He seems to be a jovial guy and it's going to be hard to follow Nate in the hearts of Sonic fans. But at the same time I feel this is more a hire of convienence than the Sonics actively pursuing and finding the best man for the job. I don't think the organization was prepared for Nate actually jilting them for the Blazers. I think they overestimated his loyalty and it couldn't have come at a worse time with Dwane Casey also leaving. I think in retrospect Walker's comments that they didn't talk to other candidates for the head coaching job out of respect for Nate seem naive and ill-advised. (As does the premature raising of Nate's number to the rafters in an attempt to create mythos without the natural passing of time, but that's a subject for another post). I just don't feel real good about this hiring or the way it was conducted. Time will tell.