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Ranking every potential NBA coaching vacancy, from the Rockets to the Nets

There could be a lot of job openings this summer, but which ones should future NBA coaches actually want?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Only one NBA head coach has been fired this season, which is good, because coaches getting fired is bad. Bad as it may be, though, it is a fact of life in the league. The average head coaching tenure is about two seasons. Only one current head coach, Gregg Popovich, had his current job so much as 10 years ago. (Pop had it 20 years ago. He's really propping up the average tenure, to be honest.)

It seems unlikely that more coaches will be fired during this season unless things really go awry in a couple of cities. But depending on how the rest of the season and the playoffs shake out, we could see nine head coach openings in the offseason. And if things really go sideways (really, really sideways) there's another spot worth watching.

Some openings are more likely than others. Here's a chart with a highly scientific* projection of the likelihood of a team's head coach spot being open this offseason, along with a crude measure of the quality of the opening itself.

* Nope.

Coach Chart V3

A couple of factors go into the likelihood estimate, but the biggest one is common sense. Like, Byron Scott isn't coming back. Contract terms for current head coaches matter, too. The "quality of team" measure is a bit crude. It counts immediate potential as a plus (hence the currently mediocre Wizards being level with the actually good Raptors). The Wizards did beat the Raptors in the playoffs last season, and with the right coach, Washington could definitely be in the Toronto zone. Remember, the average NBA coaching tenure is brief, so having a few long-term prospects (like D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle) with little in the way of ready-to-produce talent is not a great incentive for a coach on a three-year deal.

Quibble all you like with the particulars of the chart. It's simply a tool with which to discuss the potential openings. Which we will do starting now, starting with the most likely openings.


This is the prize of the offseason, assuming something doesn't go completely haywire in the Great Lakes region. With James Harden and Dwight Howard, the roster boasts two legit stars -- one on offense, one on defense -- plus a good deal of role players and a well-respected front office. What's more, this is a reputation maker. The Rockets struggle because they are lazy and aloof. That appears to be changing a bit under interim J.B. Bickerstaff, enough that the Rockets won't replace him in-season. Next season is a different story.

Because of the particular personalities here, though, this is absolutely a terrible job for the mental health of whoever takes it. Harden loafs more than any MVP candidate I can remember and Howard -- who may not even stay in Houston, as he has a player option he can exercise to become a free agent -- looks like he's on the wrong side of 30. There's a lot of potential for success here because of the talent, and a bigger potential for ulcers because of the personalities.

Bickerstaff is likely going to lead the Rockets to the playoffs: they've already risen to No. 7 in the West. But after Kevin McHale took them to the conference finals, you'd imagine Bickerstaff would at least need to win a round to stay on next season. That's going to be real tough unless Houston can rise to the No. 5 seed and avoid Golden State, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. And even that may not be enough.


It would seem to be a lock that, along with saying goodbye to Kobe Bryant this summer, the Lakers will part ways with Byron Scott. It's not just that the Lakers are really awful again -- that's not exclusively or even primarily Scott's fault. It's that Scott isn't giving anyone in the public sphere confidence that he's developing the team's youth properly. He's cut the roles and minutes of Julius Randle (the second best player on the team, by the way) and D'Angelo Russell. He can't coax even an occasional strong defensive effort out of the team.

And he was just this bad in just these ways at his last gig in Cleveland. He's done as an NBA head coach once he loses this job.

Depending on what happens in the draft lottery and the draft itself, the Lakers probably have at least one more down year. Free agency could disrupt that, though it's not likely until 2017 and only if the team gets much better next season.

It just so happens that Luke Walton, who won rings in L.A. and is quite Hollywood, will be eager to prove he's better than a seat warmer. In my opinion, the only way Walton isn't the head coach of the Lakers next season is if Steve Kerr decides to abruptly retire due to the back issues he's suffered. That seems unlikely. Either way, Walton will be a head coach next season. 24-0 doesn't lie.


Sam Mitchell has drawn some familiar critiques in Minnesota after taking over the team in tragic, impossible conditions. Needless to say, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made by franchisee Glen Taylor in the wake of the loss of Flip Saunders. Mitchell has done some great work to keep the team together and motivated, and while he's an unlikely NBA head coach at this point, he could very well earn the job over the next few months.

That said, the Dave Joerger whispers are already kicking back up. The Wolves have tremendous potential that could take another year to ferment. It's a really good spot for whichever coach ends up there, including Mitchell if he's retained.


Randy Wittman is the No. 1 candidate to join McHale as a coach fired during this season. It's not terribly likely because Ted Leonsis is extremely reluctant to fire any coach or GM, and you wouldn't expect GM Ernie Grunfeld to push for Wittman's dismissal because that's not who Grunfeld is. But the calls of Wittman's dismissal are going to get louder if the Wizards continue to disappoint and fall further out of the playoff race.

Regardless, unless Washington makes a run to the East finals, Wittman's time may be up. Memories of Playoff Randy are fading fast. Plus, in an all-important twist, Wittman's contract is only partially guaranteed for 2016-17. It'll never be less expensive to cut bait than in the offseason. Whoever gets this job lands a superstar point guard in his prime, some other nice young pieces and a messy frontcourt that Grunfeld (or the team's next GM) will need to sort out.


A horribly unattractive job that may not be Lionel Hollins' beyond this season. Contractual matters are of no concern to the spendthrift Nets, but you imagine that implementing a more modern style and injecting some excitement will be primary concerns for a moribund, boring franchise. The Nets will be chasing free agents (on account of having sacrificed lots of future draft considerations) but it's going to be really difficult to attract high-level talent to Brooklyn given how little else is in the cupboard.

You almost wonder if Mikhail Prokhorov will go for a big PR splash hire, like Ettore Messina or Becky Hammon. (Both deserve an opportunity. Both deserve better than the Nets, though.) One way Prokhorov could really inflame the nonexistent New York rivalry would be to hire Patrick Ewing.


The Kings are as good as they've been since Reggie Theus stalked the sidelines. (Man, what a sentence.) George Karl seems to have truly connected with Rajon Rondo, and the coach and DeMarcus Cousins are at the very least keeping things civil. (I'm still not convinced they like each other.) But it's working well enough to keep Sacramento in the playoff hunt (one game out!) and the offense is humming.

That said, a failure to make the playoffs as the Kings head into a new building in 2016 is going to upset Vivek Ranadivé a great deal. He and his GM Vlade Divac believe they paid for enough talent to get them there, especially in a weaker West where 40 wins might win you a trip to the promised land (and a four-game obliteration by the Warriors). If the Kings fail to break their decade-long playoff drought, Karl could be shoved out.

It may seem unfair -- hell, it would be unfair -- but this is the Sacramento Kings we're talking about. They fired Michael Malone because his best player came down with meningitis. You think they won't can George Karl over not meeting absurdly unrealistic expectations? The talent is solid, though, and while coaching Cousins and perhaps Rondo (a 2016 free agent) will be a headache, it's a decent job to grab and hold for 18 months or so.


Joerger benched Zach Randolph five games ago and is working hard to revamp the Grizzlies on the fly. The result: two wins and three losses against a pretty tough slate. Tony Allen is out, Brandan Wright won't be back for a while and all the usual concerns remain a concern, with an added heap of What Is Wrong With Marc Gasol? That said, Memphis remains firmly in the playoff picture despite a (really) bad scoring margin, so you don't expect Robert Pera to cut bait in-season.

The offseason is a different story, though, and one gets the sense that wholesale changes to the franchise are in order. If Joerger is booted, an incoming coach will have a high-potential roster that's a little long in the tooth and a lot short on shooting. It's a weird position for management. Do you hire a modern coach who will try to update the team's attack, or do you hire a coach who better fits the roster and its limitations? In that sense, Joerger might be the best choice as a bridge to the grinding defense-first past of the team and the athletic, speedy future. But Pera doesn't seem wholly patient with the status quo, so we'll see.


The Raptors are pretty good most of the time and really, really bad some of the time. Dwane Casey is almost assuredly safe until the end of the season. He really needs to win a playoff series, though. If Toronto does boot Casey at the end of the season, they'd be eating just one year of salary thanks to a well-placed team option.

Remember that GM Masai Ujiri inherited Casey, and in fact never got the opportunity to hire his own coach in Denver, either. Ujiri isn't the type to fire a coach on a selfish whim, but finally being able to make your mark in that fashion has to be attractive for him. Plus, if Toronto can't win four playoff games with this pretty solid roster, it may be correct to presume they've gone as far as they can under Casey.


The Suns are a bizarre and disappointing team. Jeff Hornacek is a lame duck head coach. Phoenix has a fantastic backcourt and an interesting frontcourt. Hornacek has clashed with multiple players, though some of the drama was put on his shoulders due to front office moves (trading Marcus Morris, adding a third point guard in 2014).

It's a tough situation, and Hornacek is a good coach who has had success here. But if this flower of the desert doesn't blossom, Robert Sarver might demand a change.


This is a highly unlikely opening. The Cavaliers would have to fail to make the NBA Finals without LeBron suffering some horrible injury. That could happen. It's remote -- Vegas is giving Cleveland 73 percent odds on winning the East -- but it could happen. If it doesn't, you think David Blatt is sticking around?

I would love to see the job be open just to see how shameless candidates would be in sucking up to LeBron. Mark Jackson would be on ESPN broadcasts saying "Mama there goes that G.O.A.T."

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