(Player) Evaluation: Eddie Jordan

Previously:

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Pradamaster: Our final 2007/08 evaluation takes a look at our head coach, and while we don't have the same individual numbers available to make our evaluation easier, there's still a lot on which to stand.  

There's no doubt that winning 43 games without your best player and while missing your second-best player for much of the season reflects extremely well on the head coach.  In case we needed more evidence that the Princeton offense worked with this club, we got it every time Roger Mason played, every time Antawn Jamison posted up and every time Caron Butler was running pick and roll.  That the offense could somehow remain in the top half of the league even without the explosive Gilbert Arenas is a testament to Jordan, plain and simple.  He got his guys to play hard, execute the offense correctly and stay focused on the goal ahead.

Jordan also deserves credit for burying the hatchet with Brendan Haywood.  As annoying as Haywood was at times in the 2006/07 season, Jordan only compounded the problem by resorting to remedial tactics instead of treating Haywood like a human being.  Instead of meeting with Haywood to talk out his problems, Jordan benched him like Haywood was a little child.  That Haywood was seemingly acting the part is irrelevant; you don't treat grown professionals that way.  It's no accident that Haywood stopped performing well and was a complete non-factor by the end of the season.  

This time around, though, Jordan did right.  He met with Haywood before the season, which accomplished two divergent things.  Jordan was showing Haywood how important he is to the team by taking time to meet with him, but he was also firm, saying that Haywood's starting job was not guaranteed.  That encouraged Haywood to work harder, and the result was a career year.  Just as Jordan deserved the blame for Haywood's awful 2006/07 season, so to does he deserve the credit for Haywood's breakout 2007/08 campaign.

There were other improvements as well.  The defense, prior to the end of January, made headway, as Jordan relinquished control to Randy Ayers.  The young guys, prior to the end of the season, all showed improvements, as Jordan did a wonderful job of providing confidence while not unconditionally handing them minutes.   

And yet, by the end of the year, we were reminded of Eddie's shortcomings, the ones that often cause him to be the scapegoat for our problems.  When push came to shove, Eddie benched his young guys for the playoff run, deciding instead to roll the dice with his veterans.  The end result was a tired Caron Butler, a tired Antonio Daniels, a tired Antawn Jamison, etc.  He was also outcoached in the playoff series against Cleveland, though not as egregiously as the year before.  He couldn't adjust the offense to give his top guns the open space they needed in a short series, and that, more than any defensive problems, cost the Wizards the series.

I'm also a little worried about how Jordan is going to handle a deep bench.  If everyone remains healthy, we're poised to be as deep in talent as we've ever been.  Besides the top eight of Gil, DeShawn, Caron, Antawn, Brendan, AD, Songaila and Blatche, there's the return of Etan Thomas and the expected maturation of Nick Young, Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov.  There are at least ten guys on that list that deserve minutes.  How will Jordan manage all of that?  What happens to Brendan now that Etan is back?  Will Jordan play Gilbert too many minutes at the start, as he did last year?  Prior history doesn't provide a good omen, but then again, Jordan's never had this deep of a club, so we don't really know what will happen. 

In the end, Jordan's strong performance in 2007/08 bought him an extra year in my eyes, but I'll be watching him closely this season.  With all the key guys on this team under contract for at least two years, if things go wrong this season, it'll be Jordan that should be shown the door, despite all the things he's brought to this franchise.

JakeTheSnake: Before I say anything about Eddie's job, I think it's important to note that if I were Ernie Grunfeld, i would've tried to make a move to bring in Avery Johnson because I think he's a somewhat better coach overall, and the areas in which he's strongest are the areas where the Wizards need the most help.  But that's just me.

With that said, I'm not upset that Eddie is coming back.  Whenever the debate comes up about whether or not a coach should get the axe, there's a few things that I look at in order to form a personal opinion about whether or not I think they've done enough to keep their job.
  1. Can you point to at least one specific area of the game or a specific player that has benefitted from the coach's teachings?
  2. Does the coach still have a hold of the team?
  3. Has the team shown signs of progression over the coach's tenure?

In my mind, if I can say yes to all three of those questions than they've done enough to keep their job.  So let's take a look at each question and see how he fares.

1. Can you point to at least one specific area of the game or a specific player that has benefitted from the coach's teachings?

Absolutely.  In Eddie's time here, he's transformed the Wizards into one of the best offenses in the NBA.  He's helped turn Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison into All-Star calibur players.  He transformed DeShawn Stevenson from a borderline NBA player into a solid starter.  And he helped Larry Hughes and Jared Jeffries earn waaaaaay too much money.

2. Does the coach still have a hold of the team?

You could point to Gilbert making his comeback without telling Eddie, Gilbert shutting down without telling Eddie, and/or the team's general wackiness as evidence that he doesn't have a hold of the team, but I think that's reading a little too much   There's some silliness sure, but if you look past the funny haircuts and the paintball fights, you'll find a team that brought it game in and game out last year.  KDKD put it best after Washington's upset of New Orleans:

With Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler on the bench, it seems like a cop out thing to throw what feels like a platitude out there - hell, it probably is a bit of a cop out, but I gave up years ago - but I'll be a Turkish gravedigger if the Washington Wizards aren't the hardest-working team in the NBA.

These guys really care. They're not out to pad their stats with 45 Gilberon Butnas points sitting on the pine, they're not giving up on the season or looking for excuses, and they're not working within the confines of an offensive system that is easy to pick up. And yet, night after night, the team tries to move its feet defensively and work to execute coach Eddie Jordan's offense.

That's not the kind of thing you see from a team that's tuned out their coach, so Eddie gets an unequivocal yes here as well.

3. Has the team shown signs of progression over the coach's tenure?


Obviously, this has been the big question since the off-season began.  Certainly, there's a case to be made that the team is stuck as an eternal one-and-done. And if we're talking about progression, it has to be brought up that Jordan's best record and only second-round appearance came in his first season.  Strictly looking at the bottom-line, the case that the Wizards haven't progressed under Jordan is an easy one to make.  But as I'm sure we've all heard, the easiest choice isn't always the best and the best choice isn't always the easiest.

Strictly evaluating Jordan on his win-loss record and not taking into account the effect of injuries and how the team has performed in spite of those injuries is to miss a big part of the puzzle.  Granted, we can't continue to give mulligans if injuries keep piling up, but at this point I'm not ready to say that Eddie should be fired.  He's performed well given the hands that he's been dealt the last few years and he's brought this team success that it hasn't seen in 20 years.  To me, that's enough to say yes to question of whether or not they've progressed under his reign and it's enough for me to say that I'd like to see him back for another year.

Truthaboutit: It's not exactly easy to do an in-depth evaluation of a coach. We don't have the benefit of individual stats (I suppose team stats can suffice), we aren't privy to in game strategy which will affect the ultimate outcome, and we are unable to witness a coach in action when a bulk of his work is done, behind the scenes. Nonetheless, here goes...

The issues with Eddie Jordan seem to fall into a triumvirate of beef: defensive inefficiencies, substitution patterns, and him being a "players coach."

Let's go ahead and throw out this "players coach" critique. This is the NBA, we know that players run the show. They should at least be mature enough to police themselves (I know, that's asking a ton). Very few coaches get away with being a hard ass -- Jerry Sloan and Scott Skiles come to mind, perhaps Rick Carlisle ... Greg Popavich if you're reaching. Jordan might as well be a man of the players because it doesn't really behoove him to act otherwise. That's not to say that he can't show some tough love at times, or even go the 'Phil Jackson Well-Placed Media Sarcastic Remark' route when need be.

Yes, Eddie Jordan needs to play his starters less in hopes of maintaining prolonged health. Last year's bench was the deepest of his tenure with the Wiz. However, the injury to Arenas caused Jordan to prematurely dip into the reserves. On top of that, has the bench exactly set themselves up to be trustworthy and dependable? I'm iffy on that subject. In an ideal world, the coaching staff has been working hard on developing the young players in order to make it easier on themselves. That being said, we need to see a high level of commitment from the "future big three" to complete the process.

Defense: Whether you think it actually improved this past season, or that it didn't improve at all, or that there were some signs of improvement ... we can all conclude that the Wizards are still climbing up the mountain in terms of stopping opponents from scoring. The philosophy brought on board by Randy Ayers seems to be a step in the right direction. Now, we need the players to continue to buy into the program, and the coaches to continue to analyze the system. As a fan, I can't exactly tell you what this project entails, but I do know that it starts are the top ... are you listening Gilbert?

Ultimately, my judgment of a coach comes down to one thing: Wins. Eddie Jordan has brought a winning attitude back to the franchise. He's made the team relevant resulting from this current four year playoff run. Many have called for Jordan to be on the cutting block in recent times. I am far from being among this group, and have actually been one of Jordan's staunch defenders. However, I will admit that professional teams do get to the point, no matter how great a coach is, that if they're not advancing (past the second round of the playoffs for example) then it may be time to part ways.

But c'mon, let's give Jordan a fair shake ... .yep, I'm playing the injury/health card. Plus, give the guy credit, you don't think he knows that his coaching, along with the team, needs to improve? I mean, he certainly isn't going to stay the course, at least I hope he's not.

Sure there are issues, but name me a team that doesn't have issues. Jordan seems to resonate with the players, and has made basketball in Washington exciting again. Might as well hop on board, enjoy the ride, and hope for the best ... at least for the next two years.

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