Same Old Front Office Mentality Keeping the Magic from Turning the Corner

By Vincent Frank
Sep 29, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan talks with media during media day at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic hired Scott Skiles to become the franchise’s 12th head coach since its inception back in 1989.

In a vacuum, the hiring of Skiles isn’t necessarily that bad. Adding a former player with extensive previous head-coaching experience can’t be seen as a bad thing for a young squad. After all, Skiles did take his teams to the playoffs in six of his 13 years as a NBA head coach.

Wait. Six of his 13 years as a head coach.

That’s less than a 50 percent success rate in a league that sees more than half of its teams make the playoffs on an annual basis. Skiles was also fired in two of his three stints prior to taking over in Orlando on Friday. The Phoenix Suns showed him the door midway through the 2001-02 season after the team started 26-25. Fast forward to 2007-08, and the Chicago Bulls also sent Skiles to the unemployment line after a disastrous 9-16 season.

Overall, Skiles boasts a 443-433 record and has failed to lead a single team past the conference finals since his first gig with Phoenix late last millennium.

By today’s NBA standards, he’s the definition of a retread.

Orlando fired Jacque Vaughn during this past regular season after he started the campaign with 15 wins in the team’s first 52 games. He was replaced by assistant James Borrego, who led the Magic to a 10-20 record to close out the campaign.

While the results didn’t show up in the win column, Borrego’s stint was defined by better all-around play and an understanding that Orlando’s young talent needed some seasoning. Borrego also served under Gregg Popovich as an assistant coach from 2003-10.

Why not give this guy an opportunity to prove that he can help lead the Magic out of the doldrums? At the very least, he’s a fresh face around the head coaching circles—not an average retread.

This is the issue most cellar-dwelling clubs find themselves in. They don’t think outside the box. Instead, they refuse to create an original philosophy when it comes to hiring head coaches. And it’s something that just hasn’t worked out in the past.

Take last offseason as an example. Neither David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors had previous head coaching experience in the association. For Cleveland, the decision to bring Blatt over from overseas was about as original as it gets. That is until we realize Kerr hadn’t even been an assistant coach in the NBA prior to Golden State hiring him.

Where are these two teams today? I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.

Of the 15 head coaches that have been hired on a full-time basis over the past two seasons, six had previous head coaching experience. Of those six, three made the playoffs this season. Of the nine that didn’t have previous head coaching experience, five earned playoff spots. It doesn’t seem like a big difference, but this stat spits in the face of the idea that first-year head coaches can’t succeed in the NBA. Blatt and Kerr are two extreme examples of this.

Besides experience running a NBA team, what does Skiles bring to the table that a younger, less-experienced head coach wouldn’t have? That’s the question Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has to answer for himself, especially considering Skiles is taking over a team that has five key players who weren’t even born when he made his debut as a player back in 1986.

While this hiring may end up being successful, past history suggests it will end up backfiring. If so, the Magic will be back on the market looking for a new head coach within a couple years.

Photo: USA Today Sports