Saturday, November 22, 2008

Carlesimo's Termination: One Fan's Perspective

Sam Presti, Vice-President and General Manager of the Thunder, has fired head coach P.J. Carlesimo. In some ways, this is a sad story for Spurs fans. It comes across like a rift in the extended family, like listening to two uncles argue over Thanksgiving turkey.

The Thunder are trying to build an organization in the image of the Spurs---with owner Clay Bennet, GM Presti, and now former coach Carlesimo possessing strong ties to San Antonio. As a Spurs fan, I cheer for their transplants, whether in Cleveland, Oklahoma, Portland, Dallas, or, in a way, Phoenix. Although, it should be noted, Bennett's shoddy handling of the Sonics move is something of a "family embarrassment." Nevertheless, I want San Antonio branch-outs to succeed because it reflects well on the Spurs, it's good for their teams, and it's good for the league.

When Bennett first hired Presti there were rumors that the two disagreed about which coach to hire, with Bennett lobbying for P.J. Carlesimo. My heart went out to the coach who had done a good job coaching the Trailblazers from '94-'97 and who later spent 5 years as an adroit assistant under Gregg Popovich. He deserved another head coaching opportunity, but could never shake the shadow of having been assaulted by Latrell Sprewell. Weird, that.

Yet despite my desire to see Carlesimo land another head coaching gig, when rumors of Presti's lack of confidence surfaced, I had really hoped P.J. wouldn't take the Sonics job. I wanted something good for Carlesimo the way one empathizes with those who've been dealt a bad hand, but not because I had an unshakable trust in his coaching ability. Sam Presti, on the other hand, is something of a wonder-child. I've never held the slightest doubt that he would do anything less than kick ass and takes names as a GM. He's one of those guys who just gets it. If he thought Carlesimo was a bad fit, he probably was. From the moment Carlesimo was hired, there seemed only one sad, inevitable conclusion could follow.

Now that Carlesimo is gone, Presti will get to hire his man. The Thunder will improve. And P.J. Carlesimo will become a footnote to this discouraging period of Sonics/Thunder history. The Spurs fans shake their heads, wishing it could have ended better. The Thunder fans shake their heads, asking why it hadn't ended sooner. Everyone goes on their way.

P.J. Carlesimo is 59. I suspect this was his last head coaching job. He has a notoriously hot temperament and will, despite the years and jobs in between, continue to stand in the shadow of the Sprewell incident. Top-flight college programs are not going to call--the team he just left was largely college-aged, and he never connected with them. One can only hope he lands a job as an assistant.

That's my hope.

I have no way of knowing, but I would wager a large sum that one of the first to people to speak with Carlesimo following his termination was Popovich. That's what fathers do. They care for their own.

I recently read an article about Monty Williams, former Spurs player and assistant coach. Williams is several years removed from San Antonio, but the article revealed that he and Pop still talk, and frequently. In a similar manner, after being fired by Mark Cuban, Avery Johnson participated in an ESPN radio interview. He was asked if he had spoke with anyone after receiving his pink slip. His response, paraphrasing from memory, was "well, of course, Popovich." Carlesimo is closer to Pop than Kelvin Sampson, and even he was the recipient of San Antonio's patriarchal embrace after losing his job with Indiana.

But here's the thing: I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Pop and Presti have spoke too. It would be more surprising to learn that they had not spoke. So you see, Carlesimo's firing really does feel like a rift in the family, however necessary. It's a great taxonomic irony that San Antonio's coach is commonly referred to as Pop.

Many Spur fans are questioning whether or not Carlesimo will rejoin their bench. The truth is, I wouldn't be surprised. Of course they may not need another coach, but that is something to which they would not have given a moment's thought prior to extending an invitation.

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