As we’re all aware, Eddie Jordan has been a recurring name in our discussions of potential next coaches. The prevailing question seems to be how do we determine his overall value as a coach? Out of my own curiosity, I wanted to go back and dig deeper.
We know he has a career coaching winning percentage of .444, but statistics are the devil. Sorry to all the mathletes out there, but I’m just not a stats guy. Stats can prove points and disprove points, but far too often we see the same stat being tweaked to both prove and disprove the same point in the same argument.
I prefer to look at the big picture, and the circumstances that led to the stats. Someday statistics may be able to fully encapsulate the game of basketball, but that day has not yet come. People smarter than I am are valiantly working towards that day, and I am not dismissing stats. Stats are great in the right hands. But those right hands are not mine. So this will not be a statistical analysis. This will not be about showing you statistical anomalies. I will refer to stats only when necessary.
With that being said, let’s look at some stats! Here is each year of Eddie Jordan’s experience as a head coach:
These are the numbers. Plain and simple. They are facts. I cannot dispute these. But under what conditions were these numbers achieved? That is far more important, and that's what I'm going to review today.
Let start with Jordan’s Kings teams. Jordan took over for the last 15 games of 96-97 season, hardly an ideal situation. He won 6 of those last 15 games with a team led by Mitch Richmond, Olden Polynice, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Corliss Williamson, Tyus Edney, and Brian Grant. I remember these days fondly, mostly because I was too young and naïve to realize just how bad this roster was. These 15 games are not going to be a major factor in Jordan’s overall winning percentage, so let’s move on.
1997-98 saw much of the same roster. Brian Grant was gone, Lawrence Funderburke was in, and we had just drafted Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Despite this roster clearly having been destined for greatness, Jordan only won 27 games. I want to ask you all an honest question. If you took this past season’s roster and put it side by side with the 97-98 roster, which do you think would win more games? Obviously we don’t currently have the benefit of 10 years of hindsight to evaluate this past season’s roster, but in my mind it seems like 27 wins with the 97-98 roster was actually pretty impressive.
Jordan waited 5 seasons before his next head coaching opportunity, with Washington. Jordan took a young Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Kwame Brown to 25 wins. An unimpressive record to be sure, but again he wasn’t really working with a lot of talent. Arenas was only in his second season, which we should all keep in mind when questioning Jordan’s abilities to develop younger players (Arenas went from Gilbert Who? to Gilbert You-Know-Who). As several other teams have shown us, Jordan cannot be blamed for Kwame Brown (or at least Eddie Jordan can’t).
The following year, in the 04-05 season, the Wizards added Antawn Jamison. Not a lot of other significant roster changes (other than Arenas’ continued development), and yet the Wizards won 45 games and went to the playoffs. A season winning percentage of .549, and playoff winning percentage of .400.
The next season saw the arrival of Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels, but a decrease in wins (42). But they still made the playoffs, but resulted in a first-round exit. Win percentage for the season came in at .512.
06-07 was another season with another almost identical roster. The Wizards were a team standing still. DeShawn Stevenson was added, but would anyone in their right mind say “Here Coach, DeShawn Stevenson is the piece that’s gonna put you over the top”? And yet, the team went 41-41, and made the playoffs again. This time they were swept in the first round.
Now at this point you’re probably recognizing that the Wizards were on a downhill slide. As I pointed out, they weren’t adding significant contributors, but you’ve probably also noticed that they weren’t losing major contributors. So why the slide? Well, recall what was happening in the Eastern Conference during this time period. The East had emerged from being a perennial laughingstock and some strong East teams were emerging. The Wizards were swept by the eventual Eastern Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, signifying the full arrival of LeBron. During these seasons the East saw the arrival of the Pistons, the emergence of LeBron and the Cavs, the rise of the Heat with Shaq and Wade. In short, the East was becoming a tougher place to play.
2007-08 saw Gilbert Arenas play only 13 games due to his knee injuries. Jordan still led the Wizards to 43 wins and yet another playoff appearance. Butler and Jamison are very good players, but they’ve never been considered elite stars. We often debate where Kevin Martin belongs in discussion among elite stars, and he not yet an elite star. He might be someday, he may never be, but right now he isn’t elite. Perhaps this next season, fully healthy, he might emerge. Or perhaps we’re able to draft a player who becomes an elite star. But either way, Jordan has shown an ability to take less-than-elite teams into the playoffs.
Jordan was dismissed this past season after a 1-10 start, again without Arenas. Had the team given up on Jordan? Had the owners simply had enough? I can't answer these questions. But again, those 10 losses aren't going to cause major changes in Jordan's overall career winning percentage.
Finally getting to my point
Now from all of this, each person is going to draw their own conclusions. I’ve never been terribly impressed with the Wizards roster, but others may not share my view. Some may think that Jordan underutilized the roster he had at his disposal. Obviously any coach is going to have to deal with injuries as they happen. Any coach is going to deal with the changing landscape of his team’s conference and competition. Perhaps these are Jordan’s pitfalls. But at the very least, we just need to make sure that we understand the context of any statistic we’re going to rely on. The real debate should not be “He only has a .444 career winning percentage.” The debate should be what caused the winning percentage. What strengths were demonstrated? What weaknesses were witnessed? That, my friends, is where our focus must be for Eddie Jordan, as well as any other potential head coach.