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9 predictions for the wild NBA coaching carousel, starring Tom Thibodeau

Who's in, who's out and who's getting Tom Thibodeau? We examine the ins and outs of the coaching season.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Let's be clear: It's bad when anyone, including NBA head coaches, lose their job despite working hard and doing their best. And there's no question that every head coach in the NBA works hard and does their best. It just doesn't always work out.

Here at SB Nation, we don't root for any NBA coach to lose his job. But the annual churn is happening anyway, and it's an important part of the league's fabric. To ignore it would be negligent.

So, while we hope everyone currently employed in the NBA lands firmly on their feet, we do need to talk about who might see some turmoil in the next few days as the regular season ends and this year's NBA coaching carousel begins. We've listed 13 teams with varying degrees of likelihood for tumult in the coaching ranks. With some nuance, we've always predicted what will happen in each case.

If you are a current NBA head coach or married to one, you may want to stop here. Instead of reading this piece, might I recommend 30 minutes of looped drum fill from Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"?


Odds the coach returns: It sounds like the Lakers are considering keeping Byron Scott in place. Scott has not seen on-court results and has clashed with some of his young prospects, notably D'Angelo Russell. But Scott has another guaranteed year on his deal and he is a former Laker. I think the stench of the past two seasons mixed with Jim Buss' imperative to be more competitive next season will be too much for Scott to overcome. Call it 75-25 he's gone.

Attractiveness of the job: On the one hand, this is the Lakers! The franchise is in an incredible financial position, has a couple of nice young pieces and could very well land a top free agent. It may also have a top-three pick in this draft. If you're looking for a team with a chance to repeat what the Cavaliers did in 2014 -- bottom to the top with one signing and one trade -- there are few better candidates than LA. On the other hand, the Lakers have struck out repeatedly in free agency the last few years, could lose their pick and have a really low talent level, overall.

Candidates: You can guarantee the Lakers will chase Luke Walton if Scott is let go. Walton's going to have his pick of teams, though. Will the allure of LA and a revival of Showtime be enough? Vinny Del Negro has a good record with young teams and could be worth a look. Scott Brooks might be another name worth consideration. Mark Jackson seems less likely than the others, but he's based in LA, so he could certainly insert himself into the discussion.

Prediction: The Lakers go all out for Walton and get him on some massive, Kerrian deal like five years, $28 million.


Odds the coach returns: So, so low. George Karl has alienated everyone in the franchise, through some fault of his own and some fault of DeMarcus Cousins and some fault of Vlade Divac and some fault of Vivek Ranadive. But there's just no way to bring him back without blowing up the rest of the franchise.

Attractiveness of the job: I mean, you get to coach DeMarcus Cousins in his prime, for better or worse. This could also turn into a full rebuild real quick if the Kings end up trading Cousins. The Kings are well known to be fully dysfunctional. But even competence is celebrated way out of proportion. It's a mixed bag, although most of it is bad.

Candidates: Tom Thibodeau will be considered a candidate if it's the last thing I do. Mark Jackson's going to be a very popular name. Del Negro, Jeff Hornacek, Walton and Corliss Williamson will be mentioned. Dark horse sleeper: Becky Hammon. Never underestimate this franchise's interest in winning a news cycle. Ime Udoka is another option.

Word of caution: Don't believe the John Calipari rumors that will inevitably crop up. The franchise just recommitted to Divac, and Calipari is going to want personnel control if he returns to the NBA.

Prediction: Jackson, setting up the most bitter NorCal rivalry this side of Cal-Stanford.


Odds the coach returns: Slim. J.B. Bickerstaff hasn't gotten much more in the way of results than Kevin McHale, especially where it counts (defense, and specifically transition defense). This roster has been checked out from Day 1, and only some superb talent and fits of effort has gotten them to within striking distance of the playoffs. Bickerstaff may well be a good NBA coach, but the idea that the Rockets run it back with him seems unlikely.

Attractiveness of the job: High! This team went to the Western Conference Finals a year ago. It has James Harden, a top-three NBA scorer. The roster will likely turn over quite a bit, which could help solve some of the culture issues. Of the likely openings, for my money, this is the most attractive options.

Candidates: I bet Jackson wants this job, too. Thibodeau was an assistant coach here for a while and is noted as a defensive genius. I actually think the innovative Daryl Morey could get clever with this and consider David Blatt, a college coach like Sean Miller or Jay Wright, an up-and-comer like Chris Finch or Nick Nurse, or someone else out of the proverbial box. It appears Jason Terry plans to retire. That'd be an interesting candidacy.

Prediction: I have no idea who ends up here, but my prediction is someone totally unexpected.


Odds the coach returns: Earl Watson doesn't have a great record since taking over for Jeff Hornacek, but he's gotten the players to buy in and he has a million fans (self included). He needs some assistants with experience and chops, but he can handle the motivation and culture-setting just fine. I think that because of this, he'll actually keep his job with one of those three-year deals with a team option on the third.

Attractiveness of the job: If Watson is gone, this is not a bad opening at all. The Suns have some good young talent, draft picks, a couple of vets (including Tyson Chandler) and no Markieff Morris. This job became way more attractive the second the Suns traded Morris.

Candidates: Outside of Watson, Walton and Steve Nash have been mentioned. Nash is not happening and Walton seems unlikely. Del Negro, who worked for Robert Sarver before coaching the Bulls, is an interesting candidate, but might be considered too similar to Hornacek. Mike D'Antoni has been mentioned. GM Ryan McDonough's Boston roots could result in Jay Larranaga getting a shot. (Maybe a good shot. I'm talking myself into predicting this.)

Prediction: I think the Suns will stick with Watson ... and if they don't, another club will hire him as a head coach. If Watson's gone, Larranaga gets the nods. (See, it worked.)


Odds the coach returns: This seems somehow more unlikely than Byron Scott in LA, but there are reports that Phil Jackson might keep Kurt Rambis around. While he's been in difficult spots, Rambis has shown nothing as an NBA head coach that makes me want more. I'm not entirely sure why Jackson might feel differently.

Attractiveness of the job: Really high pressure, the most idiosyncratic general manager in basketball (which is saying something) and a fairly low overall talent base outside of Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. What's not to love?

Candidates: Mark Jackson is a candidate everywhere! But he starred for the Knicks and grew up in New York City, so it means an extra lot. Brian Shaw will be mentioned, and Walton (the heir to Kerr, who Jackson really wanted two years ago) is a legit candidate if his old coach can woo him with money and glamour. Patrick Ewing should get real consideration.

Prediction: Shaw, and more persistent rumors about Jackson either taking over or fleeing for LA.


Odds the coach returns: Sam Mitchell was probably the right coach for this team given the circumstances. Really, given the challenges of the club, he's done an admirable job in many ways. But it's unlikely he's the right coach to go forward.

Attractiveness of the job: Huge. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, a couple other nice young players, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Garnett and another lottery pick. Dreamy. This is the job of a lifetime.

Candidates: You just know a KG rumor is going to hit at some point in the next few weeks. I think if you hire Thibodeau this team makes the playoffs in 2017 and competes for a title by 2019. Scott Brooks is an intriguing candidate here given his role in the rise of the Thunder. Laugh all you want, but I think Mike Brown could do a really good job here, too. Watson and Udoka are interesting options if Minnesota wants to go with a young former player. An experienced assistant like Larranaga or Kenny Atkinson could be in play. Or how about Sam Cassell? Mike D'Antoni is an intriguing option.

Prediction: Nope, Dave Joerger is the guy. Of course, he's under contract already, which means we need to talk about ...


Odds the coach returns: Under no circumstance should Dave Joerger's job be in peril. But nothing about Memphis is normal right now (or ever, frankly). The rumor mill indicated Joerger almost got fired early this season, and despite having wild success in the face of the craziest injury challenges seen in recent memory, we know Robert Pera is an odd duck and the franchise is in a weird state of flux.

Attractiveness of the job: Less than you'd think, primarily because Marc Gasol is a big (read: heavy) dude coming off a broken foot. That's a bad, bad omen. Mike Conley is a free agent and Memphis doesn't have obvious prospects for a talent upgrade.

Candidates: Watson could be an option, and Williamson might find an audience here, too. You wonder if it's too soon for Darren Erman to get a shot as a head coach. Beyond those names, all the usual suspects apply.

Prediction: A college coach. Maybe Sean Miller.


Odds the coach returns: I'm sorry, but the Randy Wittman era has to be over. Has to be.

Attractiveness of the job: They have John Wall and cap space, plus a fair amount of young talent. This is a good job.

Candidates: Thibodeau should be the No. 1 candidate for this job -- Wall would thrive in a system like the one Thibs coached in Chicago, and Washington could use the defensive accountability. Del Negro might give Wizards fans the shakes, but he'd make sense on paper (also, oddly, due to his work with the Bulls). Jay Wright is also a potential fit here. Hell, Tony Bennett, too!

Prediction: Thibodeau.


Odds the coach returns: No.

Attractiveness of the job: No.

Candidates: Ooh, this is going to be a fun one precisely because the interests of ownership (a big splash) matches the interests of management (Spurs family circle, baby). So Ettore Messina and Becky Hammon? You are Candidates 1A and 1B. Let's throw in David Blatt (who has a relationship with Mikhail Prokhorov), too.

Prediction: I'm going to go out on a limb and predict Hammon even though I think Blatt will land it. See how I just predicted two names for one job? Can't go wrong.

Special cases

There are up to four more teams that could see turnover: the Pelicans, the Bulls, the Raptors and the Cavaliers.

For Alvin Gentry in New Orleans, it would take Dell Demps getting canned (plausible) and the new GM immediately deciding or demanding to hire his own coach. Either way, Gentry is immediately a candidate to be the first coach fired next season, so Erman might not want to leave since he'll be in line to be interim head coach in that case.

Fred Hoiberg isn't getting fired ... but we need to mention him here because that franchise is straight-up bizarre and the weird situation with Hoiberg and Jimmy Butler is mighty uncomfortable.

Dwane Casey only gets fired if Toronto utterly implodes early in the postseason. In that case, the Raptors become an immediate high-desirability opening and Casey becomes a top candidate for all younger-end teams needing tough love. (Hi, Sacramento.)

If the Cavaliers don't make the finals (barring a LeBron injury or something), Tyronn Lue might be toast. In which case, Cleveland is a job that everyone both wants and wants nothing to do with. It wouldn't matter, though, because Mark Jackson would be hired in a snap, even if he's already signed a contract with someone else. Klutch Sports makes things happen.

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Sick Burn: Mark Jackson comment directed at former assistant coach

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