clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

3 NBA coaches on the hottest seats

New, comments

Most head coaches look safe heading into the 2014-15 season. But this is the NBA. There's always someone a blink away from a pink slip. Here are the three top candidates this time around.

Scott Halleran

If history is any indication, no NBA head coach should feel secure in their position. The turnover rate is incredible; only four head coaches have been in their jobs since the 2009-10 season. Every coach in the Pacific Division has been with their club one season or less. A head coach (Mo Cheeks) was fired 50 games into his first season with a team last year. It's no longer rare to see coaches fired after one season at the helm (Larry Drew, Mike Dunlap, Mike Brown TWICE), and rumors always circulate about even more quick hooks (as in the Dave Joerger saga last year). And I always feel the need to remind the public that George Karl won the 2013 NBA Coach of the Year award and then got fired with a year left on his contract.

All that said, most coaches look relatively safe heading into this NBA season. That's a lot like pointing out each shark circling below and then telling you, "Oh, the water's fine." But that's the truth: only two coaches enter the season with real legitimate shots of getting canned midseason, and one in particular faces his fate in May and June. Let's run through the three coaches on the obvious hot seat.

Kevin McHale, Rockets

There were a number of surprise firings at the end of last season (Drew, Mark Jackson, Mike Brown, Mike D'Antoni kinda, almost Joerger, Jason Kidd sorta), but McHale wasn't among them despite a disappointing finish to the season and a long-held belief that GM Daryl Morey would prefer a more malleable, stats-oriented chief on the sidelines. Perhaps the Rockets want more McHale time for Dwight Howard and a glimpse at what sort of improvements the defense will see after James Harden's effort on that end was thoroughly mocked all summer.

But the way the Rockets flamed out in the playoffs was memorable, and not in a good way for McHale. Houston has two of the 10 most valuable players in the league, and it got beaten by a Blazers team few picked to even make the playoffs. With the talent assembled, I'm not sure Morey can afford to be patient if Houston doesn't look more refined early on. For a GM who moves players around like he's playing speed chess, his continued belief in McHale is jarring. (In addition, Morey had a bad offseason, and firing McHale would deflect some of that negative attention. It's gross, but it's also how the game is played.)

This isn't to say McHale is a bad coach, or that Morey can find someone better midseason. He does have a stable of coaching prospects ... including Chris Finch, who is a former D-League coach of the year for Houston's affiliate and is on McHale's staff. But if it's not going to work, it's not going to work. McHale's had a chance.

One more factor working against McHale's favor: he's in the last year of his contract. It would cost the Rockets basically nothing to let him go.

Monty Williams, Pelicans

Unlike the McHale situation, I'm not surprised the Pelicans kept Monty Williams in the offseason. His team is young, he's young, and he has a solid reputation as a coach. But New Orleans is dead-set on making the playoffs sooner rather than later, and if Williams can't crack the Pelicans' roster early this season and get the team aimed toward the top eight, an early dismissal could be in store.

Williams has led the Pelicans since 2010, giving him four seasons at the helm. One of those was with Chris Paul at the point; the other three have been pretty awful. Injuries really ruined last season for New Orleans, but it's worth noting that at no point did the Pelicans look like a playoff threat. That needs to change, or Williams will be feeling the heat.

In particular he has a puzzle in the backcourt to figure out, with Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans all needing the ball. This is a GM-induced problem -- Dell Demps added Evans, a true guard, when small forward was a bigger need -- but Williams didn't show he had any sort of solution when all three were healthy at points of last season.

With Ryan Anderson back, Omer Asik in the fold and Anthony Davis poised for an All-NBA season, all eyes will be on how Williams manages his talent. This team is a playoff contender on paper. If Williams can't do it, I think Demps will try someone else in the lead chair.

It's worth noting that Williams does have one more season after 2014-15 under contract. Randy Ayers is likely the best replacement option on the Pelicans bench.


Monty Williams, Photo credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Scott Brooks, Thunder

It would take real catastrophe for the Thunder to fire Scott Brooks midseason. Title contenders only take that step when things truly go off the rails. But if OKC again falls short of the Finals -- or perhaps the championship -- Brooks just might be in trouble.

Keeping your job as an NBA head coach is two parts luck, one part beating expectations. The Thunder haven't beat expectations for three years. Part of that has been ill-timed injuries (Russell Westbrook in 2013, Serge Ibaka in 2014). But every coach deals with injuries. Brooks' teams don't seem to deal with that adversity well, despite having Kevin Freaking Durant at the height of his powers.

With the Durant 2016 pressure mounting, one of the final arrows in franchise management's quiver is to replace Brooks with someone who can get KD a ring in OKC. There are two seasons until Durant's contract expires, so assuming OKC doesn't replace Brooks during this season, there's one more opportunity to make the switch. GM Sam Presti has been gun-shy about replacing his coach so far, and deferred to what Brooks has done right. But if Presti wants to keep his job and his superstar in 2016, he might need to be the bad guy in 2015 and make a switch.


Scott Brooks, Photo credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Others worth watching

Randy Wittman, Wizards: Washington signed Wittman to a three-year extension after the team's first playoff run in ages. But with so much dough and energy invested into the roster, if things go sideways early, Wittman could feel some pressure. Remember: the new class of NBA management has shown a complete lack of regard for patience when it comes to coaches. Also remember that the common consensus is that Wittman is not a great coach.

Flip Saunders, Timberwolves: This is probably not going to be a fun year for Saunders. If it's particularly disastrous -- and the Wolves probably should be the worst team in the West -- Saunders might replace himself as coach at some point to focus on GMing a suddenly rebuilding team. There is really no reason a President of Basketball Operations of an obvious lottery team should be coaching during important scouting periods, like during NCAA conference play and the tournament. The good news is that if Saunders gives himself leave to focus on the front office at some point, assistants Sam Mitchell or Sidney Lowe can easily step in.

Michael Malone, Kings: Malone won't get fired by his GM -- if anything, Malone is one of the few NBA coaches who might have the power to get his GM canned. (And that might actually happen if this season is as bad as the last one.) That said, Kings management wants to be good by the time the new arena opens in two seasons. This is a big year along that path. An offseason change could come if Malone can't get the team to buy in to his expectations and perform. Malone has DeMarcus Cousins on his side, yes, but too much losing can turn a relationship sour in a snap.

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies: His boss, Robert Pera, has not yet proven himself to be sane. So ...

David Blatt, Cavaliers: Expectations could not be higher. The last time LeBron was around, Cavaliers management stuck with Mike Brown for a long time. If things aren't clicking ... well, stranger things have happened in the NBA. Hot young coaching prospect Tyronn Lue and Larry Drew are on the Cavs' bench.

Byron Scott, Lakers: The Lakers have suddenly become the most trigger-happy club in the league. And Scott has not exactly proven himself in recent years. How, again, did he get hired for this job?

Jason Kidd, Bucks: Never underestimate the ability of Jason Kidd to self-destruct.

Erik Spoelstra, Heat: Never ever ever trust Pat Riley. Ever.

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls: The Bulls are, bar none, the strangest franchise in the NBA.

Every Coach, Every Team: We could probably construct a scenario in which even Gregg Popovich gets himself fired. Like Renly's Ghost in the Battle of the Blackwater, David Stern would need to be involved in spirit if not fact.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NBA NEWSLETTER

Get news, links and Ziller's #hottakes in your inbox every weekday morning.