Six NBA coaches who could be on the hot seat
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
Budenholzer is one of the longest-tenured coaches on this list, and that may only be magnifying the staleness that Atlanta feels right now. It has all been downhill since Budenholzer led the Hawks to the most surprising 60-win season in the history of the observable universe in 2014-15 as his core slowly exploded at the seams until nothing was left. Now Atlanta is rotting to the tune of a 6-20 record, and it seems the only thing they have left to play for is Marvin Bagley. Independent of the cadaverous roster, Budenholzer’s own performance hasn’t been reassuring. His once-acclaimed Spurs-ian motion offense has devolved into Dennis Schroder holding the ball and missing ten-plus shots a night while Kent Bazemore aimlessly throws around his athleticism from the wing. The young Hawks haven’t been developing too well either, with the exception of rookie John Collins, who came out of Wake Forest ready to play. Budenholzer vacated his position as president of basketball operations this offseason, and that means he’s now being evaluated exclusively for his head coaching ability. That should probably be concerning for him. And speaking of a similar case…
Alvin Gentry, New Orleans Pelicans
Gentry has now had almost an entire year to construct a winning ecosystem around arguably the two best big men in the game right now in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Yet it is still the same old story for the Pelicans, who seem doomed to writhe around in sub-.500 waters for all eternity. Granted, it doesn’t help that New Orleans is the NBA’s infirmary — they have suffered enough injuries during Gentry’s three-season tenure to make the robbers from Home Alone cringe. But with at least three Western Conference playoff teams from last season (the Clippers, the Grizzlies, and the Jazz) almost certain to miss the dance this season, the Pelicans still have yet to seize the day. I will leave you with one final stat about Gentry’s time in New Orleans. His record with the team pre-DeMarcus Cousins trade? 53-86 (.381). His record post-Cousins trade? 24-27 (.471). Not exactly too encouraging, my friends.
Frank Vogel, Orlando Magic
After sailing high up in space among the comets through the first few weeks of the season, Orlando has come plummeting back to earth at warp speed. They now sit at 11-17 as the memories of their 8-4 start have faded faster than a Back To The Future photograph. Is it time to start pointing fingers, knocking over water pitchers, and running away? Not quite. But some fundamental questions exist about whether a defense-first coach like Vogel can succeed with a roster lacking the offensive firepower to compensate on the other end. The Magic are stuck in the NBA’s bottom half in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and that’s despite huge individual improvements from franchise cornerstones Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic on top of quality two-way free agent adds like Jonathon Simmons. At some point, something’s gotta give.
Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards
The Wizards had dreams of flying first class on the Eastern Conference plane this year, but it’s been back to coach for them through these first couple months of the season. A lot can be blamed on the knee injury that has kept John Wall out since late November, yet 14-12 feels very underwhelming for a team with this kind of talent. Part of the problem may be their record in close games — they already have seven losses by five points or fewer, which calls into question Brooks’ late-game management. They have also been struggling to find consistency on D, clenching their jaws shut on a top offense like Milwaukee and holding them below 90 points one night, then allowing 116 points to a plodder like Utah several nights later. The window to strike is now with Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter all in or near their primes, so the Wiz may have to think long and hard about if Brooks is the guy who gives them the best chance of scaling the mountain, even if he was just hired 20 months ago.
Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
The man who succeeded Brooks in OKC may find himself meeting a similar fate if the status quo persists. Donovan has made like Burger King and let Russell Westbrook have it his way … for better or for worse. That’s fine if your ultimate goal is to force-feed triple-doubles and MVP awards into the Brodie’s eager mouth like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. But it doesn’t work as well if you’re trying to compete for a championship and build a winning culture off the backs of not just Westbrook but two other stars in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony as well. There’s no reason for Westbrook to be hoisting up 12 threes a night (and missing 11 of them). There’s no reason for him to be a total zero off the ball, twiddling his thumbs 35 feet away from the basket when the play isn’t drawn up for him. And there’s even less reason for Donovan to be enabling that style of play. True, OKC boasts an elite defense, and Billy D deserves credit for that. But until he starts teaching some accountability on the other end, whether it’s Westbrook or Alex Abrines for that matter, the 12-14 Thunder will continue to sputter. Questions about his job security will haunt Donovan’s dreams like a Kevin Durant tweet.