NBA Head Coaches Most Likely To Get Fired This Offseason
Sportsbooks are not yet laying concrete odds on which other head coaches will be fired. These typically hit the open market at the end of the playoffs, around mid-June, and we’ve found Bovada to be the best source for these off-beat wagers in the past. For now prime yourself for the potential turnover with the rankings themselves as your guide. And remember: The Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns won’t be making this list because they’re already in the market for a new head honcho. The same goes for the Memphis Grizzlies who just recently hired J.B. Bickerstaff to man the sidelines.
7. Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets
Mike Malone could be on the hot seat after the Denver Nuggets failed to make the playoffs. They fell in disheartening fashion to the Minnesota Timberwolves during a rare play-in game to finish the regular season, which comes on the heels of a summer during which the team spent big in free agency on Paul Millsap to ensure its miniature postseason drought came to an end.
But the Nuggets’ season has been over for a while. If they were going to can Malone, they would have done it already. They likely saw 46 wins as adequate improvement—particularly after Paul Millsap missed more than half the year and Malone coached through a rotation light on wings.
Plus, Nikola Jokic is set for free agency either this summer or next, and Malone, despite inconsistent comments, is known to have a strong relationship with the star center. The Nuggets probably don’t want to rock the sideline boat until Jokic is good and locked up.
6. Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
Stan Van Gundy is more so in danger of having his team president duties stripped by the Detroit Pistons than anything else. He’s expected to have a series of pivotal meetings with owner Tom Gores over the coming weeks, during which time his future will be discussed and, perhaps, ultimately decided.
We’re betting he doesn’t get the ax. Maybe he walks away from the remaining year on his contract if they say he can only be head coach rather than a coach and president, but that wouldn’t qualify as a firing.
The real bet here is on the Pistons keeping him in the dual-role capacity, even if they bring in reinforcements to help him in the front office. (Some believe they’ve already done that given the presence of Arn Tellem.) After all, it was Van Gundy who greenlit the highly controversial Blake Griffin trade during the regular season. Teams don’t just give that kind of latitude to someone they’re planning to show out in a few months time. Van Gundy’s fate will likely be dealt with in the middle or at the end of next season.
5. Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers
Terry Stotts’ name breached the rumor mill immediately after the Portland Trail Blazers were swept by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the playoffs. This was both surprising and not at all shocking.
Capped-out squads like the Blazers always look to their coaches as scapegoats when things don’t go according to plan. Portland is bogged down by a lack of trade assets and doesn’t have the money to spend on impact talent. Making a change on the sidelines is about the only way they can instill meaningful adjustments without breaking up the CJ McCollum-Damian Lillard backcourt.
Except, getting rid of Stotts wouldn’t necessarily equate to meaningful change. He’s implemented a defensive system that, by and large, transcends the talent within it. The Blazers won’t just find that anywhere else. He also has the support of franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard and, most critically, overachieved with the hand he was dealt this season.
General manager Neil Olshey spent the team into oblivion during the summer of 2016 and couldn’t afford to make major alterations to the makeup in advance of 2017-18. Stotts led that group to a third-place finish in the Western Conference anyway. Even though a mere three-games separated them from the ninth-place Nuggets, that has to matter.
4. Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors
Dwane Casey is one of the three odds-on favorites to win Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 campaign. Putting him in this list at all, let alone in the top four, after his Toronto Raptors posted the Eastern Conference’s best record, reinvented their offensive identity and effectively developed youthful pieces both on the bench and in the starting lineup feels like treason of the highest basketball order.
Maybe it is. But, also, maybe it’s not.
The Raptors have a little bit of the Blazers in them. Though they managed to futz and fiddle with the roster last summer, their primal nucleus of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas runs the risk of growing stale. If they flame out of the postseason after falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round without putting up a convincing fight, team president Masai Ujiri could be compelled to take the sideline leadership in a different direction.
Again: That’s not a guarantee. But the Raptors will need to jump through a ton of hoops just to avoid the luxury tax next year. If this season doesn’t end as planned, subbing in a new head coach is about the only way they can shake things up in noticeable fashion.
3. Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
Things are about to get interesting for the Oklahoma City Thunder. They bowed out in the first round of the playoffs at the mercy of the Utah Jazz when many had them pegged as a legitimate contender. Paul George now enters free agency (player option) with a sour taste in his mouth, while Carmelo Anthony has repeatedly said he won’t consider coming off the bench next season if he’s still in Oklahoma City.
Head coach Billy Donovan is not at fault for the Thunder’s demise. Not entirely. He could have elevated their ceiling by moving Melo to the bench or cutting his playing time earlier in the year, but that’s not something he would’ve been just able to do. He and the Thunder were toeing a delicate line as it was by asking Anthony to play power forward and assume more of a catch-and-shoot role.
Still, if George makes a more innovative offensive system a stipulation of his return, the Thunder could look to ditch Donovan after two years for a head honcho with a stronger systemic track record. His job isn’t even safe if George elects to sign elsewhere. The Thunder will be thrust into, at the very least, a quasi-rebuild and could determine they need a fresh start at the clipboard position.
One thing to consider that could potentially mean Donovan is ranked too high: Oklahoma City has been here before. People lamented the absence of a system offense when Scott Brooks was in charge. Those same calls permeate the public discourse with Donovan. But there’s no guarantee he nor anyone else can revamp the offense so long as Russell Westbrook is the point guard. He is a fantastic singular talent. He just doesn’t have the chops to succeed off the ball in volume. The Thunder have to know this by now, and to punish yet another head coach for it would profile as flawed thinking.
2. Tyronn Lue, Cleveland Cavaliers
It’s tempting to put Tyronn Lue in the top spot. There are so many scenarios in which we could envision someone else taking the reins of the Cavaliers next season.
Cleveland could exit the playoffs before the NBA Finals and be coaxed into making a change regardless of what LeBron James (player option) does in free agency. They could get hammered in the NBA Finals and still feel the same way. LeBron could make a new head coach a precondition of his return. He could leave, and the Cavaliers could decide they need a fresh face to lead them into what would be an extensive rebuild.
Any way you slice it, Lue’s job feels like it’s in jeopardy. He has one championship on his resume, in 2016, but the only way he turns this into a non-issue is if the Cavaliers win another one under his watch. And anyone who has watched them over the past few months knows that’s beyond unlikely as currently constructed.
1. Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
Doc Rivers has one year left on his deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. While this past season was arguably one of his best jobs ever—he guided a squad riddled by turnover and injuries to the fringes of the playoff conversation—he’s already been stripped of his presidential duties. That seldom bodes well for a coach’s future with the franchise.
Free agency will probably go a long way toward informing Rivers’ future. The Clippers extended Lou Williams toward the end of the regular season, implying they’re not about to steer into a rebuild after losing four of their five starters from the 2016-17 crusade. But, in reality, nothing has been decided. Williams’ deal will be super movable once his trade restriction lifts in August, and the Clippers aren’t a surefire playoff team next year even if they keep this core intact.
DeAndre Jordan (player option) is expected to reach free agency. Avery Bradley is ticketed for the open market as well. If the Clippers opt to let both of them walk, they’ll find themselves in the thick of a rebuild many thought they were trying to avoid. And though Rivers showed this season he’s capable of spearheading an upstart-like squad, he’s thus far shirked rebuilds at previous stops in Orlando and Boston. It’s unlikely he’d want to stick out a protracted process in Los Angeles.
What’s more, it’s also unlikely the Clippers would want him to be responsible for their long-term future if they decide a full-tilt reset is the way to go.
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