Today whilst riding the train home I began scrolling through my Twitter timeline to catch up on any news or irreverent humor that I might have missed whilst I had been at work, where I was also scrolling through Twitter whilst pretending to do things. One Tweet in particular stood out.
Oh no wait, hold on.
Yeah, that's it.
Mr.Fournier is in the Philippines right now, practicing his jump-shot with a hoop made from what looks like a toilet seat attached to a few planks of wood, nailed half-way up a tree, and what can only be described as 'not a basketball'. Clearly, the news that Scott Skiles had just resigned as the Orlando Magic’s head coach after only one year in charge had come as a surprise. It surprised everyone.
Skiles had hardly shone during his brief tenure; two promising runs at both the start and close of the season were offset by a barren period at the turn of the New Year, including an eight game losing streak in January. The idea behind his appointment was a sensible one; this was an experienced, defensive-minded coach who would help instil discipline and hard-work in a young Magic roster. Whilst Skiles improved the Magic’s record by 10 wins on the previous season, this was a previous season in which Jacques Vaughn was the head coach… a much greater level of improvement is expected when you replace a man of such colossal ineptitude.
Why then has Skiles’ resignation taken every by surprise? I guess it comes down to the fact that it was only his first year in charge of the Magic and that he hadn’t really done anything wrong. There were grumbles from Magic fans early on, myself included, about the short leash he had with some of the younger players such as Gordon and Hezonja. By the end of the season however, Gordon was a cemented starter and Hezonja was getting a consistent amount of good minutes. Furthermore, as Fournier’s tweet demonstrates, he had hardly lost the dressing room. Sure, he wasn’t the most charismatic coach in the league, but he seemed reasonably well liked and at the very least, respected.
This is why the decision is a strange one. It is extremely rare that you will find a coach jumping before they are pushed, and it isn’t as though Orlando is a sinking ship, this core of players is only going to get better. It is part of every head coach’s makeup; they have to truly believe that they are only one capable of taking a team to the precipice, the very edge of their talent. There are roughly 7.125 billion people alive on planet earth today, only one of them was surprised when Byron Scott was fired as the Lakers coach. (Can you guess who it was?)
Byron Scott evidently still shocked by his dismissal
Skiles claims that he made the decision completely independently, stating that “After much thought and careful consideration, I and I alone, have come to the conclusion that I am not the right head coach for this team”. I find this extremely difficult to believe. Maybe that’s just me. Yesterday I bought a box of 20 bitesize chocolate brownies and as I ate them all, in a single sitting, counted only 18. There’s a reason I don’t believe everything I read. Another reason is, well, how do I put this succinctly? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. That right there, readers, is a visual representation of A LOT OF MONEY. A lot of money Skiles is leaving on the table by resigning of his own accord only 1 year into a 4 year contract. (This is another reason Head Coaches rarely jump, they get paid what can only be described as ‘a fuck-ton of money’).
There are two things at play here, either a) Skiles is a man of genuine integrity (I won’t rule it out, but come on) or b) there has been an irreconcilable difference between him and the board. Rumours are already circulating that this conflict revolves around their beliefs in Elfrid Payton, the hypnotically floppy-haired Point Guard who can pass like a dream but shoots as though he’s playing Quidditch. This is a problem in the NBA as defenders will begin to treat you like Russell Westbrook treats Drake and this creates all sorts of problems for your half-court offense, particularly with a roster bereft of efficient outside shooters like the Orlando Magic. Whether or not he can cement himself as a key piece of the Magic’s future is a coin toss at the moment, and is something that continually splits Magic fans down the middle. It would be no surprise if Skiles had seen enough of Payton, didn’t see it working out, and want to trade him for other pieces. It would also be no surprise if Hennigan wanted to keep faith in a 10th overall pick he had traded for only two years ago.
Whether or not Payton is in fact the divisive issue, or indeed whether GM Rob Hennigan had any part in the resignation at all, it remains clear that the timing couldn’t be better for the Magic. Last year when they appointed Skiles the standard of available coaches on the market left more to be desired than when you buy a box of 20 brownies but only end up with 18. This time around there is almost a surplus of competent coaches with the likes of Frank Vogel, David Blatt, Ettore Messina, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Kevin McHale all being linked to some of the vacant positions in the league. It’s like the hook-a-duck game at the fairground: You see a duck you like, you try and hook it, and then you turn it over and hope it’s not Vinny Del Negro.
My point is that it would be extremely difficult for the Magic to mess this up. There is competition, yes, the Knicks, Rockets, Pacers and Grizzlies who are all looking for their own new appointment. Yet I firmly believe that the Magic are most appealing. Despite not having a player on the level of James Harden or Paul George, they have no real roster issues such as Houston’s chemistry or the Knicks complete lack of an acceptable point guard. There are also young. Really young. This is a team that with the right coach, plus $30 million in cap room this summer and a lottery pick, could improve a drastic amount in a very short space of time. Would you rather scrape the playoffs with one those other four teams, get bounced in the first round and fired after one season, or do it with the Magic, get praised by the media, and earn the right to ride Aaron Gordon until he grows old, finally leaves Florida and flies off into the sunset?
This actually happened.
Mark Jackson was fired by the Golden State Warriors after turning a historically awful team into a good one. Steve Kerr, after biding his time and fine-tuning his coaching philosophies and vast encyclopedia of plays, entered the world of coaching and immediately turned a good team into a great one*. He will, quite rightly, be immortalized forever as the man who brought Golden State its first title, after years and years of misery, and will never have to buy a drink in the Bay Area again; History will likely forget Jackson’s contributions. It’s funny how opportunity works; Kerr saw his and never looked back and Tom Thibodeau has sniffed his own out in Minnesota. Given the timing of Skiles’ decision and the glut of coaching options available, it certainly feels like a jigsaw is falling into place for the Orlando Magic. Let’s hope they choose a good duck.
*this may be an understatement.