The 2016-17 NBA season was a time of peace on earth and goodwill towards head coaches — not a single one was fired, marking the first time that had happened since at least Millard Fillmore’s presidency. But the same cannot be said about the 2017-18 campaign, as Earl Watson and David Fizdale have already walked the plank less than two months in. Here are six more coaches whose seats are rapidly warming and could be in danger of following suit.
Doc Rivers, LA Clippers
A recent report suggested that Medicial Practicioner Rivers is likely safe for this season, citing the rash of injuries that have crippled his team in recent weeks. But the ice still seems to thinning underneath him with the Clippers relapsing into their futility of decades past. Their lack of effort and creativity made for a difficult watch even when Blake Griffin was still healthy, and Rivers’ rotations have largely resembled a dart throw otherwise. Welcome to the starting lineup, CJ Williams! Jawun Evans, come on down! And what’s more is that there’s hardly been a Clipper who has improved their play this season despite the increased opportunity with all the injuries and the exit of Chris Paul … except for maybe Lou Williams and Doc’s own son Austin. Now to be fair, the loss of the team’s best offensive player in Griffin and their best defensive player in Patrick Beverley will probably move Lord Steve Ballmer to show mercy on Rivers. But enthusiasm is quickly waning as “What’s up, Doc?” becomes more of a cry of exasperation than a Bugs Bunny catchphrase.
Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
Coaches are leaders. Coaches are mentors. Coaches are tacticians. Coaches are father figures. Coaches are communicators. Coaches are jokesters and woke-sters (in the cases of Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich). Coaches are meme material (in the case of Doc Rivers). Coaches are disciplinarians (in the cases of Rick Carlisle and Tom Thibodeau). Coaches are punchlines (in the case of Tyronn Lue). But most importantly, coaches are winners and results-getters. Here are the coaches who have best lived up to that billing so far this season.
Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
Don’t look now, but the Pistons are a top-four team in the league through 13 games. Here’s something even more remarkable: they currently sport both a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense. No other team in the East can say that, and only the Houston Rockets and our defending champions/dictators Golden State Warriors fall into that category out West. In fairness, Van Gundy has had the benefit of an improved roster: the addition of Avery Bradley, a more consistent and better all-around player than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the autumn miracle known as Tobias Harris’ awakening from the three-point line, to name a couple. But SVG’s strategical decisions deserve some love too.
He’s finally trusting Andre Drummond to play regular crunchtime minutes (perhaps due to that miraculous improvement from the free throw line). And though player development hasn’t been much of a strong suit for him in recent years, the Stan Man is getting fairly solid production from the likes of Stanley Johnson and rookie Luke Kennard. Yes, Detroit finally appears to be washing away the miasma of mediocrity that has haunted them throughout 2010s, so claim your spot on the Van Gundy bandwagon now before it gets full.
Jay Triano, Phoenix Suns
In the wake of the devastating injury to All-Star forward Gordon Hayward on opening night of the NBA season, Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is turning towards a fellow Eastern Conference coach who has been there before.
Speaking with reporters on Friday, Stevens said that he called Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel for advice on how to deal with Hayward’s recovery, per Chris Forsberg of ESPN.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens called Frank Vogel for advice on how to keep Gordon Hayward engaged during long recovery. pic.twitter.com/HEJar69xN2
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) October 20, 2017
Of course, Vogel knows what Stevens is going through, as he was head coach of the Indiana Pacers when Paul George suffered a broken leg in August 2014 during a USA Basketball scrimmage and missed almost the entire 2014-15 season. Hayward seems to be looking at a similarly lengthy recovery period, so Stevens could definitely learn a thing or two from his Eastern peer here.
With Lance Stephenson reuniting with the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, we may soon be getting another throwback to that 2013 era team.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reports that Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel would like Golden State Warriors big man David West, whom he coached on the Pacers for four seasons, to join his coaching staff upon retirement.
Also on cutting room floor of that Pacers column last week: Vogel really wants David West to join his coaching staff whenever West retires.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) March 29, 2017
The 36-year-old West is firmly in the ring-chasing phase of his NBA career and is only playing on a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, making retirement seem not that far off at all. Neither West nor Vogel saw their time in Indiana end on friendly terms, so it might be fun to see them band together again for some revenge of sorts on an up-and-coming Eastern Conference foe.
Frank Vogel made the playoffs in five of his six seasons as head coach of the Indiana Pacers, and many believed the team made a mistake by firing him. George Hill, who played for Vogel for five seasons, is among those people.
On Monday, Vogel will return to Indiana for the first time since he was let go when his Orlando Magic take on the Pacers. Hill, now with the Utah Jazz, expects his former coach to have mixed emotions.
“For him at the moment, his heart is probably burning,” Hill said, per Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. “Just the way that the organization treated him towards his exit was very unfair. I think the guy did a phenomenal job. I think he deserved a little bit more respect than what he got. But that’s how they handled it. Vogel took it like a man and moved on. I’m just happy that he had another opportunity to come in and change another program around.”
The Pacers and Magic are both 4-6, so it’s far too early to tell if the right decision was made. Vogel expects the return to be an “emotional” one.
“I’m sure it’ll be emotional,” he said. “[I have] a lot of strong ties there still, a lot of great memories. It’s endless. [I spent] nine years there. My daughters were basically raised there. I became a head coach in the NBA there. Some of my best basketball moments of my life were coaching the Pacers.”
The Pacers obviously believed Vogel could not get them over the hump after the team finished 45-37 last year and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Time will tell if Nate McMillan can do a better job.
Magic head coach Frank Vogel has a bold solution to the dilemma posed by the influx of bodies into the Orlando frontcourt this summer: start Aaron Gordon at the 3.
In the team’s introductory press conference for new signee Bismack Biyombo on Thursday, Vogel was asked how he plans to juggle his lineups for next season with Biyombo, Serge Ibaka, and Jeff Green all joining the mix down low this summer to go along with Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.
“With Serge probably starting at the 4, [Aaron] would probably start at the 3,” Vogel said. “But the way the league plays in today’s NBA, you have to the ability to play a guy like Aaron at the 4. A guy as versatile as Aaron is, what position he plays is a lot of times predicated on the players around him. Serge Ibaka’s not here, then he’s the 4 for us. Serge Ibaka’s here, he’s gonna play the 3, and we’re gonna be really long, and that’s exciting.”
The 20-year-old Gordon is known at this stage of his career as an elite dunker, but he’s a long, athletic defender who has both the foot speed and the strength to check multiple positions on the defensive end, including small forwards. Gordon is still developing his three-point shot (he connected at a 29.6 percent clip on 142 attempts from deep last season), so he could clog Orlando’s spacing from the small forward position should he not show vast improvement on his jumper. But starting him next to an elite floor-stretching big in Ibaka and a lights-out midrange shooter in Vucevic should be a workable fix for Orlando’s offense.
With his ability, as Vogel mentioned, to shift down to the 4 in certain matchups alongside Green or Biyombo, Gordon should be the pivot that unlocks all sorts of juicy lineup combinations for the Magic next season. And while Vogel ran somewhat imperfect rotations during his time with the Pacers, he looks to be up to the challenge of finding minutes for all of his talented new toys in Orlando next year.
Frank Vogel has been a popular name of late in the NBA coaching carousel, and the latest stop for him in the interviewing process was the Orlando Magic.
According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Vogel’s interview with Orlando on Monday went well to the point that he is a strong candidate for the job.
The Magic met with Frank Vogel on Monday, league sources tell @TheVertical. He's a strong candidate for Orlando's head coaching job.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) May 18, 2016
Woj also reports that Vogel has strong interest in the job.
Since being let go by the Indiana Pacers two weeks ago, Vogel has been connected to the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks jobs. He is said to be one of the top three candidates for the Knicks gig.
The Magic are in the market for a new head coach after Scott Skiles resigned last week. They haven’t had a winning record since Dwight Howard was traded following the 2011-2012 season.
The Magic have taken a few steps in the right direction, improving from 25 wins two seasons ago to 35 this season. They have a solid young core in players like Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic.
In addition to Vogel, the Magic have also interviewed Adrian Griffin for their head coaching position.