As we all know by now, the Bobcats have decided not to retain Mike Dunlap as head coach for the 2013-2014 season.
Normally, it would not be a big deal for a 21-win team to let go of their coach, but they fired the coach after just one season and it marks their fourth coach in five years, which is not a good look for the organization, but more on that later. As Ben noted earlier, Dunlap succeeded in getting the Bobcats to put forth a consistent effort on a regular basis, but stuck with his zone defense -- which is most commonly employed by veteran teams with diminished athletic ability for stretches, not young teams -- far too often.
They say it typically takes two or three years to find out what a coach can bring to a team because of the time to incorporate a system, and since Dunlap was a first-time NBA coach, he was going to have a steeper learning curve having come from the college ranks. In this grace period, the front office will usually try to bring in players that fit the coach's vision for the team that play to their system's strengths. As for Dunlap, they brought in three players I would say fit his vision: MKG, Jeff Taylor and Ramon Sessions; otherwise the roster was largely the same as the previous season's. All of this is incredibly difficult to do in just a year's time.
Aside from trying to make the zone defense work too often, Dunlap's rotations were weird at times, like when he would seemingly bench Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for fourth quarters -- whether he was playing well or struggling -- in favor of players like Ben Gordon, who were not a part of the team's future. It was frustrating and made little sense, but things like that could have been improved upon. Looking back, it is actually somewhat impressive that the Bobcats were so successful with an offense that relied so much on their backcourt being able to score and having two or three good-but-not-great defenders on the team. Heck, they even rallied to 21 wins dealing with injuries like everyone else.
Dunlap was not fired because he could not get the the team to meet expectations. We knew the Bobcats would still be bad, though we did not expect them to be historically bad like they were last season. And they weren't historically bad, at all. In fact, tripling their win total and doubling their winning percentage while guys like Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo improved should likely be considered exceeding expectations. Judging by Rich Cho's email to Bobcats season ticket holders in which he said that Dunlap was let go to "ensure long-term success" it seems that Dunlap and the Bobcats may have just not seen eye-to-eye on the best way to achieve that, and if so, I can understand that.
But, here is what else I understand.
What do teams like the Spurs have that has helped them become a contender for fifteen years? Consistency and stability. Having Tim Duncan helps a lot, but they have done an incredible job establishing a stable organization that makes them appealing to players and coaches around the league.
Certainly going through four coaches in five years does not make this job appealing to top candidates. It came out last month that Bryan Shaw, whose name has been rumored for nearly every vacancy in the past two offseasons, turned down the Bobcats job because he wanted a chance at "an organization that has a plan going forward that's sustainable." Now, does letting go of Dunlap make that perception better or worse? It certainly doesn't seem to worsen it by any means. By letting go of Dunlap now the Bobcats are now able to, in theory, have the option of selecting from the best remaining candidates now rather than waiting until partway through next season, but that may not matter if those candidates feel like Shaw does.
This is also problematic because the Bobcats need a good coach to help their prospects develop further and available candidates have to feel that they will be given the time and have the job security to eventually build a winner in Charlotte.
Consistency and stability are also important in player development. Frequently changing coaches with young players slows their growth since they are having to re-learn a new system often and are unable to really get one thing down before having to learn something else. Think about this: the Bobcats' next coach will be Kemba's third coach in three years, far from ideal for a young player.
Changing things up so often not only makes an organization look unstable, but makes things more complicated for the players they already have here, not to mention trying to lure new players in.
Maybe Mike Dunlap was the wrong guy for the job all along and he was only brought on because he was the cheapest option of what was left, but now the Bobcats will begin yet another coaching search and the team's young talent will have to learn a whole new system again. The answer isn't to hang on to a failing coach too long either, but rarely is a year enough of a reason to let go of a coach when the team has improved.
With their next hire, the Bobcats need to find the coach that is going to be a long term option that will also be able to foster the growth of the young Bobcats into a playoff team again. Just a little bit of consistency and stability in Charlotte would go a long way.