It’s Getting Hot in Here: Which NBA Head Honchos of Coaching for Their Job?
Odds on head coach firings come via Bovada unless otherwise noted. Check these lines again before placing a bet, as they’ll most definitely move as we inch toward the offseason. Also be wary of sportsbooks removing these options from play, as they tend to do from time to time.
Notable Exclusions: Interim Head Coaches
Jay Triano, Phoenix Suns
Jay Triano probably won’t be the head coach of the Phoenix Suns next year. The organization hired his predecessor, Earl Watson, from an interim capacity, but it received a ton of flak for not staging a more thorough search.
Expect the Suns to scour around the moon and back for a splashier name, if only to make it easier for them to win the introductory press conference and optics battle.
J.B. Bickerstaff, Memphis Grizzlies
It’s tough to say whether J.B. Bickerstaff is more than a placeholder for the Memphis Grizzlies. Odds are, though, they’ll go in a different direction.
Despite them tracking toward top-seven lottery odds, the Grizzlies have thus far resisted a full-blown teardown. They believe they are a playoff squad at full strength and will most likely look to instill a bigger, more experienced name who better aligns with next season’s postseason aspirations.
Joe Prunty, Milwaukee Bucks
Joe Prunty is a shoo-in to be replaced by the Milwaukee Bucks next season. They haven’t exactly been off to the races since he took over for Jason Kidd, and he also doesn’t seem like the type who chases many head-coaching vacancies.
More than anything, many people fancy the Bucks as a lower-end version of the Golden State Warriors from four years ago. The reigning champs didn’t become the raging fireball they are now until they subbed in current head coach Steve Kerr for Mark Jackson. The Bucks believe they already have the talent to contend for a title, thanks in large part to Giannis Antetokounmpo becoming a top-five star, and will be on the prowl for a more impactful and established addition.
As a quick aside: Don’t be surprised if David Fizdale, who was fired early into his second season as the Grizzlies’ sideline wanderer, ends up in Milwaukee for the 2018-19 campaign.
Probably Safe…As Of Now
Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers (+1000)
There remains a lot to like about the Philadelphia 76ers. But there’s an equal amount of things not to like.
They’re better than they’ve been in years, but they’re not guaranteed to make the playoffs. They have yet to prove they can cobble together quality lineups that don’t include Joel Embiid, and their wing rotation is flimsy as a thrice-repaired glass vase.
None of which is on Brett Brown—hence why he’s considered safe. The Sixers cannot reasonably expect for him to guide them further than seventh or eighth place in the East when they’re desperate for wing depth and, once again, have seen their top pick, in Markelle Fultz, miss most of the year. Brown’s seat shouldn’t get hot until sometime next season, if it gets hot at all.
Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors (+1500)
It almost feels disrespectful to include Dwane Casey in this tier. The Toronto Raptors entered the All-Star break with the Eastern Conference’s best record and join the Warriors as the only two teams that rank inside the top five of both points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions.
At the same time, this squad still needs to show it won’t flame out in the playoffs. And in the event it does, Casey’s job could roll. He’s a Coach of the Year candidate at this moment, but the Raptors will be up against the luxury tax next season, seemingly unable to make any major roster tweaks. That could compel them to tinker wherever they have the means to do so, an approach that typically begins with changing head coaches.
Dave Joerger, Sacramento Kings (+750)
A lot of people were calling for Dave Joerger’s job at the beginning of the year. But while the Sacramento Kings are awful, contending for both the NBA’s worst offensive and defensive ratings, they’re built to be awful. He cannot be given the ax for failing to overachieve.
Besides which, the biggest issue with him was his minutes distribution. He handed out too much playing time to the Kings’ veterans, usually at the expense of more youthful players who manned the same position. Not only is that wart largely the front office’s fault for acquiring too many vets, but Joerger has since implemented a rest-and-relaxation protocol that involves sitting the older heads some nights. He’s likely fine until the start of next season, if not through all of 2018-19.
Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets (+1500)
The Denver Nuggets could be this summer’s Raptors. It will cost them a fortune to keep the current nucleus together. Gary Harris’ extension is kicking in; both Will Barton and Wilson Chandler (player option) are slated for free agency; and they’re expected to max out franchise centerpiece Nikola Jokic.
Keeping even one of Barton or Chandler after re-signing Jokic will force the Nuggets to flirt with luxury-tax payments. That’s quite the investment in a roster still unfit to snag a top-four playoff seed. If they’re going to commit that chunk of change, they could look to rejigger the coaching situation.
Then again, Mike Malone has a strong relationship with Jokic. That alone should be enough to keep him in the saddle for at least another year. Plus, the Nuggets, for all this talk about their playoff chances, are still developing young talent. Jamal Murray, their starting point guard, is only a sophomore. These situations take time to perfect.
Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers (+500)
Doc Rivers’ case is difficult to predict. Plenty of pundits didn’t anticipate he would survive this year, the Los Angeles Clippers’ first without Chris Paul.
Those gut feelings seemed even more accurate once the team traded Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons, a move that intimated a rebuild. And though the Clippers may still go that route over the summer, they elected to hold onto vets like Avery Bradley, DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams at the trade deadline. They may be content to try treading water in the Western Conference, near the bottom of the playoff picture, for at least another year.
Even if they’re ready to hit reset, Rivers might be allowed to stick around. He’s not known for his work with younger players or during rebuilds, but he’s helped the Clippers overachieve this year relative to their talent level. In fact, this might be his best coaching job ever, considering the circumstances. Los Angeles, for that reason, will probably give him the option of starting next year on the sidelines if he’s willing to be part of a gradual rebuild.
Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers (+1500)
Terry Stotts is getting the Dwane Casey treatment—sans the convincing win-loss record.
On the one hand, the Portland Trail Blazers could find themselves paying the luxury tax next season to preserve a core that isn’t even assured a playoff spot. That financial inflexibility could prompt them to make some changes on the sidelines.
On the other hand, Stotts’ players are fiercely loyal to him—including franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard. The Blazers also haven’t blessed him with a ton of talent. They’re overpaying Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard, three guys who wouldn’t crack the rotation on many other teams.
As long as Portland sneaks into the postseason, Stotts’ job security shouldn’t become an issue until 2018-19 or later.
The Hottest Seats
Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks may wind up with the NBA’s worst record this season, but that’s not what would do in Mike Budenholzer.
His hot seat is twofold: First and foremost, he’s not the coaching pick for the Hawks’ current front-office regime. They inherited him. And not only that, but they actually absorbed his duties as team president in the process. That’s always a red flag.
Budenholzer’s minutes distribution takes care of the rest. He isn’t hesitant to play youngsters like John Collins and Taurean Prince, but he maintains a soft spot for veterans like Kent Bazemore and Dewayne Dedmon. Unless he’s under a mandate from the suits upstairs to prioritize playing-time balance, his dependence on older heads will be cited as a factor in any potential dismissal.
Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets (+600)
Steve Clifford is a coaching favorite around the NBA—which is good, because he might soon be out of a job.
The Charlotte Hornets are on track to miss the playoffs for the third time in four years. This stretch, mind you, is by no means on Clifford alone. It’s more so on the Hornets front office for devoting so much money to an obviously mediocre roster.
And yet, Clifford cannot be deemed safe until the Hornets show a willingness to rebuild. Judging by their inaction at the trade deadline, however, they’re not yet ready to give up on this core. With zero money to spend on free agents this summer and basically no desirable trade assets, they essentially have one play if they’re not going to start over: swap out the people in charge, starting with general manager Rich Cho and ending with Clifford.
Alvin Gentry, New Orleans Pelicans (+275)
Alvin Gentry hasn’t received the fairest shake with the New Orleans Pelicans. This is his third-year at the helm, and he hasn’t yet gotten an opportunity to coach a roster that’s both healthy and assembled in the image of his high-octane offense.
That indubitably won’t matter. The Pelicans, like many of the other teams on this list, don’t have a lot of options when it comes to re-shaping their future. Whether or not they re-sign DeMarcus Cousins this summer, they’re not projected to have cap space. And with Anthony Davis slated for free agency in 2020 (player option), they’ll be feeling the pressure to sell him on a long-term marriage—especially if they, as many predict, miss the playoffs this season.
Any substantial change the Pelicans make more likely than not will involve canning Gentry. Again: Such a move won’t be entirely fair. But if they fail to clinch a postseason berth, his departure profiles as inevitable.
Jeff Hornacek, New York Knicks (+300)
With the New York Knicks not projected to have much cap space this summer, getting rid of Jeff Hornacek for a more inventive clipboard-carrier makes a ton of sense. He hasn’t helped the team firm up an enticing offensive identity, and his misuse of rookie Frank Ntilikina and All-Star Kristaps Porzingis is maddening.
Ah, yes: Porzingis. He’s the key to all this. The Knicks could definitely use some fresh eyes to take a look at his on-court role. Problem is, he won’t be on the court again until at least next Christmas following his ACL injury.
Hornacek has one year left on his current contract. Firing him after this season when the team won’t be going anywhere in 2018-19 anyway rings extremely hollow. A new coach won’t help Porzingis get healthy in a more expeditious fashion. Even if the Knicks inevitably pivot from his services, they might wait until the middle of next year to do so.
Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons (+500)
Detroit’s acquisition of Blake Griffin reeked of coach-president Stan Van Gundy trying to save his job. And, technically, he may have succeeded.
No, the Pistons aren’t on course to make the playoffs. They’ll most likely sit out the postseason for a second consecutive year—and the eighth time over the last nine crusades. And given how they’ll be hard-pressed to avoid the luxury tax next season, owner Tom Gores may show no mercy to Van Gundy.
But Gores doesn’t approve the Griffin trade if he’s only giving Van Gundy a partial season to validate himself. Working in a superstar like Griffin usually takes the kind of time only an offseason and training camp can provide.
Van Gundy is nevertheless far from safe, because the Pistons’ outlook is that fragile. Still, he’s also a strong candidate to eschew the bulk of the heat until sometime next season.
Frank Vogel, Orlando Magic (+550)
Frank Vogel has the most hopeless case of anyone on this list.
He wasn’t hired by the Orlando Magic’s current front-office group, and unlike Budenholzer’s case with Atlanta, this regime is already trying to distance itself from the last one. Elfrid Payton has already been traded, and no one quite knows whether the Magic will re-sign Aaron Gordon in restricted free agency.
If those in charge are expressing this much indifference and ambiguity toward key draft picks from the previous front office, retaining Vogel won’t rank too high on their list of priorities. Things would be different if the Magic were rolling along, like they were at the beginning of the season. But they’re not. They have a bottom-five record and an unimpressive amount of cap space available this summer.
The real shock, at this point, would be seeing Vogel on the sidelines next year.
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