A confederacy of dunces

I’d like to think it’s just a passing phase, that someday soon the millions of NBA fans across the country will be able to rely on some kind of stability. But as for right now, there’s no getting around it: Nobody in the NBA knows what the hell he’s doing.

Well, maybe a few somebodies do. But not many. For whatever reason, the NBA has become a league full of organizations without any sense of direction and lacking the basic capability to formulate a long-term plan for the franchise.

Has desperation permanently set in across the league? Because it seems that just about every team is in a constant state of flux. There is not a single Eastern Conference head coach who was with his current team before 2004, and the majority of teams in the East have undergone a coaching change within the last calendar year. Even in the West, the only coaches with any significant tenure are Utah’s Jerry Sloan, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Sacramento’s Rick Adelman. Everywhere else, there’s been an almost constant stream of change over the past few seasons.

It’s not just limited to hirings and firings-just about every decision made by owners and general managers dictates, at worst, a complete lack of understanding as to how to build a competitive team and, at best, startling impatience that hinders the team’s ability to build a cohesive group.

Consider last week’s Celtics-Timberwolves trade. In essence, Boston sent Ricky Davis and Mark Blount to Minnesota for Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi. The trade makes absolutely no sense from the Celtics’ end. Not only has Davis matured exponentially over the last year or so to become a legitimate No. 2 option, but Szczerbiak is a glorified jump-shooter who couldn’t guard me. Let’s not even start on the Kandiman.

So now, let’s recap the illustrious front-office career of Boston GM Danny Ainge. He took over, traded Antoine Walker and then brought in Davis. The following season, he brought Walker back and the Celtics made the playoffs. Then he hired Doc Rivers. Then he got rid of Walker again. And then he traded Davis. In other words, in almost three years on the job, he has accomplished exactly nothing. He’s running around in circles and dragging the entire Celtic fan base along with him.

With the exception of the Detroit Pistons-and possibly Miami and Indiana-everyone seems confused about this whole “running a professional basketball team” thing.

The guiltiest and most notorious perpetrator is, of course, the Knicks’ GM Isiah Thomas, who in about two years has done the near-impossible by taking a franchise almost ruined by past regimes and ruining it almost past the point of believability.

Put together an exorbitantly overpriced roster full of players who have no idea how to play team basketball? Check. Handicap the salary cap for years to come? Check. Further disillusion one of the biggest fan bases in pro sports? Check. Continue not to learn from past mistakes? Check.

With the exception of a few nice draft picks, Thomas hasn’t done a single thing with the Knicks that has actually worked out. Nothing. In fact, he’s taken them from a low-level playoff team to one of the worst teams in basketball.

It’s not just that he hasn’t succeeded. Plenty of people haven’t succeeded. It’s that whenever Thomas does make a move or set a plan of attack in motion, he never has the patience to see it through. In two years, he’s completely overhauled the roster almost twice.

He played on championship teams-does he not remember how important chemistry was to the formula? And does he really believe Larry Brown is going to be there long enough for Thomas to right the ship? (That’s assuming, of course, that Thomas has the ability to right the ship, which he doesn’t, so it’s a moot point. But I digress.)

This is an almost league-wide trend, and it is gradually obliterating whatever competitive balance the league had. Are Joe Dumars and Popovich (who is also San Antonio’s executive vice president of basketball operations) really that much smarter than everyone else?

These days, the pressure of mainstream professional sports has changed the way teams and players develop and not just in the NBA. NFL coaches don’t stay put as long as they used to. They get burned out.

But the NBA has gotten ridiculous. Job security no longer exists, not necessarily because coaches aren’t doing a good job, but because their bosses won’t give them the opportunity to succeed-or, worse, their bosses are inept at their own jobs and rely on the coach as the fall guy.

Is it really that difficult to put together a successful NBA team? People have been doing it for years-why the sudden desperation and indecision? Can none of these GMs just take a step back and realize they will never succeed at the rate they’re going?

Well, the answer is an easy one: No. At least not yet. And until that happens, teams like the Pistons and Spurs will continue to be there in June, year in and year out, while the rest of the league flounders under its own misdirection.

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