7 NBA Coaches Already on the Hot Seat
Training camps for the 2012-2013 NBA season have barely gotten rolling, but that doesn't mean there aren't any issues yet.
A few teams feature coaches who will be working for their jobs immediately, the minute the first opening tips of their seasons are thrown in the air.
Offseason moves bring expectations, particularly to teams that finished strong the previous season (see the Sixers), are perennial contenders (see the Lakers) or don't know exactly who they are altogether (see the Clippers).
There's a truckload of pressure on all NBA head coaches, just some more than others. So with that, let's take a look at a few who will be feeling the heat to get wins fast, early and often this season, starting immediately.
7. Scott Skiles, Milwaukee
The fiery Skiles is about to embark on his fifth season at the helm in America's dairyland, and he has one winning record, one playoff appearance and one quick, first-round exit to show for it.
The Bucks encapsulate the idea of the NBA's middle-of-the-road, small-market team. They are never considered a free-agent destination, and therefore, have to win by drafting smart, making shrewd trades, staying healthy and playing hard.
This team has done all of those things during Skiles' tenure but never all at once or consistently enough. Their last No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Bogut, showed flashes of being great but was injured so many times for so long that the Bucks eventually just gave up on him and shipped him off to Golden State.
Their best player, Brandon Jennings, has superstar potential but is still growing and learning how to play properly, given his age (19) when he was drafted. And the other star they imported in exchange for Bogut, tiny shooting guard Monta Ellis, can score a ton but doesn't defend and has never been interested in being a distributor despite being only 6'3".
The bottom line in Milwaukee is that Skiles is a taskmaster, a disciplinarian who can be very hard on his players.
That style cost him his jobs in both Phoenix and Chicago, and given the Bucks' middling record and lack of postseason experience under his watch, the players may soon start to wonder whether or not being yelled and screamed at is worth it anymore if they aren't going anywhere because of it.
There's talent and depth on the Bucks' roster, maybe enough to make a run at a low, Eastern Conference seed.
The question is: Will Skiles be around long enough to see it through?
6. Avery Johnson, Brooklyn
Johnson has coached a couple of pretty lousy rosters in his two years with the Nets. But now that they've finally made the move to Brooklyn and reinforced the stable of players around Deron Williams (whose return to the franchise they had to sweat out), the expectations for him to lead his team to the playoffs will be fairly high.
Johnson's career arc as a head coach has been rather strange. He went 143-39 in his first two-plus seasons as the main man in Dallas, including a trip to the finals. But after the Mavs' win total fell off by 16 in his third full year and they lost in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season, he was unceremoniously shown the door.
Following two years in TV, he resurfaced in New Jersey but failed to crack 25 wins in either of his two seasons there. If he can't win this year, with the Nets sparkling new arena and roster, one may be forced to wonder if he ever will.
It stands to reason that, unless the upcoming season resembles some sort of grisly train wreck, Johnson will get at least another year to guide the Nets back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Still, given all the resources piled into this team and its new digs, that may not be such a certainty.
5. Lionel Hollins, Memphis
This one may sound a bit funny, but the Grizzlies are one of the potential favorites out West now, which means if they stumble, Hollins will be the one to get blamed.
It's not fair if it goes down that way. Hollins is the most successful coach in the history of this franchise, whether his career record says so or not. Under his watch, Memphis famously upset the mighty Spurs in the first round as a No. 8 seed in 2011, then gave Oklahoma City a great, seven-game run in the Western semis before bowing out.
The Grizz slipped a bit last season but still made the playoffs and barely lost an excellent, could-have-gone-either-way first-rounder to the Clippers in seven games once again.
Yet, there seem to be issues with their roster. The 2011 run came with highest paid player Rudy Gay on the sidelines with an injury, allowing Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to take the reins and lead the team to the cusp of a conference final.
With Gay back last season, he and Randolph failed to mesh, both wanting to be the go-to guy after Randolph came back from an injury in the second half of the season. Gasol stayed steady as the third wheel, but the roster still feels a little bit mismatched.
There aren't a lot of shooters here; Gay is much more of a slasher, and point guard Mike Conley is not the man for the job. Also, Memphis lost O.J. Mayo to free agency and didn't do anything to replace him.
This team would be best served moving Gay with getting more perimeter strength in return as the best case scenario. That way, any chemistry problems between he and Randolph could be avoided, and Memphis can go back to what worked so well in 2011.
That's easier said than done, though, especially considering Gay's enormous contract. So, Hollins will be the one left to keep trying to make it work, and in an ultra-competitive Western Conference to boot.
If he has trouble with that, he could be the first to go.
4. Mike Woodson, New York
The Knicks have assembled a retirement home league team as opposed to an NBA one, and it will coast Woodson his job sooner or later.
Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, and now, maybe even Rasheed Wallace are on board with the terminally mismatched Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire is an attempt to get the Knicks their second playoff game win since 2001.
Hopefully, the training staff will have plenty of oxygen on hand along with the Gatorade during timeouts.
We kid, sort of. But, the bottom line with the Knicks is that they are so unbelievably mismanaged, thanks to their owner, that a culture of losing has permeated the franchise from the top down. There is talent on the roster, plenty of it. The Knicks have reached the playoffs in each of the past two years primarily because of it.
But talent alone will only take a team so far. Running the ship the right way is a necessity, and the Knicks have been incapable of doing that for pretty much the entire James Dolan era.
So, the minute a five- or six-game losing streak happens and Anthony starts blaming everyone but himself and Stoudemire's uninsurable knees start getting cranky, Woodson's backside will wind up on the proverbial line.
That is, if it's not there already.
3. Doug Collins, Philadelphia
This will be Collins' third year at the helm of the Sixers. It's his fourth head-coaching job in the NBA.
None of the previous three have lasted more than three seasons.
See where we're going with this?
Like Skiles, Collins is a brow-beating taskmaster, a guy who pushes and pushes and pushes until his players simply can't take it any longer and tune him out.
This style usually works for Collins for two years (team improves dramatically from year one to year two), then fails him when the team slips just a bit from year two to year three while players stop listening to the constant harping.
This means that if Collins lasts another year beyond this one in the City of Brotherly Love, it will be completely new territory for him.
The odds are not in his favor. Philly really came on late last year and in the playoffs, have a couple of young, budding backcourt stars in Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner and acquired Andrew Bynum in the Dwight Howard deal, immediately giving them the best center in the East.
Thus, the expectations will be soaring, and the pressure will be on. Collins' in-your-face approach will likely become even tougher to bear under these circumstances. And if Bynum responds to him at all, he'll be the first coach to achieve it, including Phil Jackson.
Collins did a masterful job last season and came off so well in the playoffs, it's hard to imagine that he will take such a dramatic step back this year.
But if history is any guide, he'll do just that.
2. Vinny Del Negro, L.A. Clippers
Del Negro's job was seemingly on the line all year last season, but he somehow kept it and managed to oversee a trip to the Western semis.
The Clippers did pick up the $2 million option on his deal for this season but didn't extend him, effectively making him a lame duck.
Add to that the fact that Chris Paul is also in the last year of his deal and hasn't shown any inclination to sign a new one, as of yet, and the pressure to win gets ratcheted up that much higher for L.A.'s other team.
The Clippers are loaded. Paul is arguably the NBA's best point guard. Blake Griffin is a budding superstar. Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill and Jamal Crawford are all skilled, experienced veterans who provide excellent depth and don't need the ball. DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe are young, talented and improving.
Even Lamar Odom is along for the ride, and since he gets to live on the beach and be a reality TV star again, maybe he'll actually try.
The point is that this could be it for the Clippers. They'll still have Griffin after this season, but who else? Paul is nowhere near a definite to return.
And neither is Del Negro.
1. Mike Brown, L.A. Lakers
Brown was put in a pretty tough position in replacing Jackson last year.
Then, when he barely got out of the first round of the playoffs, his job status felt even more perilous than for the majority of the regular season.
So, the Lakers went out and got him Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, basically telling him, "go out and win, now," in the process.
Those two newcomers, along with Pau Gasol (who astonishingly stayed a Laker despite all the wheeling and dealing), Metta World Peace and the great Kobe Bryant, form a nucleus that looks like it has what will be necessary to potentially knock off the Thunder and keep the Spurs, Nuggets, Clippers and the rest of the Western contenders at bay.
But what if that doesn't happen? What if the new parts fail to mesh? What if the Lakers don't earn home court in the playoffs? What if they get bounced in the first round? What if Howard hates Brown and uses that as a reason/excuse to become a free agent next summer? What if Kobe gets frustrated?
The answer to all of those questions is probably, Brown will get the ax.
If the Lakers win, being Mike Brown will be an awesome thing.
If they don't, being Mike Brown will be being unemployed.