With Scott Skiles and the Milwaukee Bucks parting ways Monday night, three coaches have been fired thus far in 2012-2013: Before Skiles, we saw Mike Brown axed after starting 1-4 with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Avery Johnson fired after a 3-10 December.
Three coaches being fired in the early going isn't particularly unusual, but what is surprising is that all three teams are squads in playoff contention. The Lakers were everybody's preseason NBA Finals pick, hence the disappointment with the poor start, but the Nets and Bucks both found themselves sitting at .500 when a coaching change was made.
Is it normal for teams to want to switch things up with a team potentially headed for the postseason? Not particularly. Here's a look at every team that's fired their coach in the last five seasons, heading back to the last time Scott Skiles lost his job in the middle of the year.
- Chicago Bulls (Scott Skiles) 9-16
- Oklahoma City Thunder (P.J. Carlesimo) 1-12
- Washington Wizards (Eddie Jordan) 1-10
- Toronto Raptors (Sam Mitchell) 8-9
- Minnesota Timberwolves (Randy Wittman) 4-15
- Philadelphia 76ers (Maurice Cheeks) 9-14
- Sacramento Kings (Reggie Theus) 6-18
- Memphis Grizzlies (Marc Iavaroni) 11-30
- Phoenix Suns (Terry Porter) 28-23
- Indiana Pacers (Jim O'Brien): 17-27
- Sacramento Kings (Paul Westphal): 2-5
- Washington Wizards (Flip Saunders) 2-15
- Portland Trail Blazers (Nate McMillan) 20-23
- Los Angeles Lakers (Mike Brown) 1-4
- Brooklyn Nets (Avery Johnson) 14-14
- Milwaukee Bucks (Scott Skiles) 16-16
Of the 18 firings, only three have come with teams at .500 or better: the two this year, and Terry Porter four years ago with the Phoenix Suns, fired without being allowed to finish his first season in charge of Phoenix. Teams firing their coaches had a combined record of 143-273, good for an ugly .343 winning percentage.
So typically, a coach has to perform poorly to get fired mid-season. But how did their teams perform after they decided to make the switch? Here are their records post-firing:
- Chicago Bulls (Jim Boylan) 16-24
- Oklahoma City Thunder (Scott Brooks): 22-47
- Washington Wizards (Ed Tapscott): 18-53
- Toronto Raptors (Jay Triano): 25-40
- Minnesota Timberwolves (Kevin McHale): 20-43
- Philadelphia 76ers (Tony DiLeo): 32-27
- Sacramento Kings (Kenny Natt): 11-47
- Memphis Grizzlies (Johnny Davis, Lionel Hollins) 13-28
- Phoenix Suns (Alvin Gentry): 18-13
- Indiana Pacers (Frank Vogel): 20-18
- Sacramento Kings (Keith Smart) 20-39
- Washington Wizards (Randy Wittman) 18-31
- Portland Trail Blazers (Kaleb Canales) 8-15
The good news is that almost every team that fires its coach improves over the course of the season. These teams went 287-515 - still not pretty, but .357 is a better winning percentage than the .343 before firings. Unsurprisingly, bad teams tend to remain bad after firing their coach, but they do have a slight uptick in play. As for the one team that was okay before firing their the Suns team that was above .500 when they fired Porter, they remained above .500, in fact improving their winning percentage slightly under Alvin Gentry. They'd manage to miss the playoffs, though finishing 46-36 in a brutal Western Conference.
Only three teams did worse: the 2008-09 Toronto Raptors, who fired Sam Mitchell after an 8-9 start and proceeded to lose 25 of their last 40 games under Jay Triano, the Sacramento Kings, who went from a .250 winning percentage under Reggie Theus to .189 under Kenny Natt in 2008-09, and the Portland Trail Blazers last year, who started out 20-23 under Nate McMillan but won only eight of their final 23. Two teams went from below .500 under their first coach to rally and make the playoffs under their second, the 2008-09 Sixers under Tony DiLeo and the Pacers two years ago with Frank Vogel, who obviously made an impression, getting a contract extension yesterday.
So there isn't much of a sample size in the NBA of the last few years to see what will happen to the Nets and Bucks teams that went in new directions after firing their head coach, but the evidence shows their decisions were somewhat out of the ordinary.