NBA Coaches on the Hot Seat at 2012-13 Quarter-Season Mark
Normally, the NBA coaching hot seat is barely warm around the 20-game mark of the season. But the 2012-13 campaign has been anything but normal, especially for head coaches.
The Los Angeles Lakers ensured as much when they pink-slipped Mike Brown on November 9th, just five games into the season—the third-fastest firing in NBA history.
If the typically steady-handed Lakers were so quick to pull the trigger, then surely no coach with an axe swinging anywhere nearby could consider himself or his job safe.
These five sideline stalkers, in particular, had better keep their heads on a swivel and their teams on the straight and narrow, lest they wind up on the breadline before season's end.
5. Scott Skiles
Scott Skiles is safe—for now.
His Milwaukee Bucks are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference after racking up an impressive 97-88 win over the Brooklyn Nets at the shiny, new Barclays Center on Sunday.
But the shorthanded Indiana Pacers aren't far behind, and the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, not the Bucks, are the leaders in the disheveled Central Division. Skiles has his squad playing decently well on the defensive end and at an offensive pace that suits the backcourt combo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
Except, those two have combined to hit just over 40 percent of their field goals. For every positive development (the play of Mike Dunleavy Jr., the growth of Larry Sanders as a shot-swatting force and the like), there seems to be at least one negative one (Dunleavy's knee injury, Ersan Ilyasova's no-show) to counterbalance it.
Hence, the Bucks are treading water at 10-9. Skiles might just be spared the axe if his team can hang on to a playoff spot in the East. If not, ownership figures to wait until the end of the season to make a change.
Either way, Skiles, like so many in Milwaukee, is essentially a lame duck and may well not be asked back as a result. With the coach, the GM (John Hammond), the inconsistent stars (Jennings and Ellis) and a host of other players probably bound for the open market, the 2013 offseason will be as good a time as any for Bucks ownership to get serious about an honest-to-goodness rebuilding project.
Of which Skiles wouldn't likely be a part.
4. Dwane Casey
Year two with the Toronto Raptors has hardly gone according to plan for Dwane Casey.
His Raps are a woeful 4-17 through 21 games, including three losing streaks of four or more games. Moreover, Casey, a coach known for his defensive acumen, is overseeing a squad that currently ranks 29th in the league in defensive efficiency.
Not that his roster would suggest better results.
Former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani can't seem to hit the broadside of a barn with any consistency. Kyle Lowry has been a revelation, but he missed six games due to injury in the early going. Rookies Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross have shown promise, but the latter remains stuck behind DeMar DeRozan, to whom general manager Bryan Colangelo awarded a four-year, $40 million extension at the end of October.
What's more, if the Raptors wind up between fourth and 14th in the 2013 NBA draft order, their pick will belong to the Oklahoma City Thunder by way of the Houston Rockets. If it does, expect Colangelo to land on the chopping block and for Casey, whom he hired in June of 2011, to get a long, ominous look from the new ownership group.
According to Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, the Raptors' role on the trade market may well be Casey's saving grace. Colangelo wasn't particularly complimentary of Casey during a recent on-air interview with Toronto's broadcast team, though his comments have since been interpreted as thinly-veiled attempts to light a fire under his poorly-performing players.
And, if nothing else, Casey is under contract for next season, while Colangelo's expires at the end of 2012-13.
3. Keith Smart
Like Casey, Keith Smart is in the midst of just the second season with the Sacramento Kings and is stuck with a poorly constructed roster that he had little say in.
By all accounts—including those of Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today—Smart has the attention of his players, some of whom—most notably DeMarcus Cousins—sport reputations as notoriously inattentive listeners.
The Kings' 7-12 mark isn't entirely damning, though it's difficult to envision this team doing much better than securing another spot in the lottery. The team at Smart's disposal is an odd assortment of gunners and underperforming bigs compiled by once-highly regarded team president Geoff Petrie.
Cousins' confidence has waxed and waned, reigning All-Rookie performer Isaiah Thomas has fallen out of favor—a strange turn, considering that Smart played with his namesake at Indiana—and there simply isn't enough orange to satiate the shooting appetites of Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Aaron Brooks and Thomas.
And, as you might've guessed, this group doesn't exactly defend like gangbusters.
It's tough to be too hard on Smart for his team's struggles. The Maloofs have driven this franchise into the ground, and the constant concern over a potential move has only unsettled the situation further for all involved.
Smart will likely be fine for at least another year on account of the ownership's frugality. They've already picked up Smart's option for 2013-14 and seem loath to make what would be the franchise's fifth coaching change since parting ways with Rick Adelman in 2006.
But if a change is made at the top, don't be surprised if Smart gets the most dreaded of calls.
2. Lawrence Frank
There's a bit of a trend building here, if you hadn't noticed—coaches on the hot seat and the at-risk general managers who hired them.
The same case applies to the Detroit Pistons with Lawrence Frank and Joe Dumars.
This is only Frank's second season in the Motor City, and though his Pistons have played better of late—7-7 over their last 14 games—it doesn't reflect well on the coach that his team has been so slow out of the gate. The Pistons were a paltry 0-8 to begin 2012-13 after a regrettable 4-20 start in 2011-12.
Not exactly good news for a guy who won his first 13 games once upon a time with the New Jersey Nets—an NBA record for a rookie coach.
The young corps of Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Kyle Singler and 2012 draftee Andre Drummond have shown encouraging signs, albeit in fits and spurts. The same can't quite be said of Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko and Austin Daye, all of whom have had their minutes yanked away on account of poor play.
The ups and downs thus far can be none too comforting for Frank. He is the fourth coach Dumars has hired since Larry Brown led the Pistons to an NBA title in 2003. Furthermore, nobody's managed to hang on to the job in Detroit for more than three seasons since the late, great Chuck Daly stepped aside in 1992.
Frank's firing might not be Joe D's call to make, though. If anything, it will be the new ownership group, led by private equity mogul Tom Gores, that does away with Dumars before dropping the hammer on his most recent hire.
Even though, according to Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, Frank was backed enthusiastically by Gores when the coach was first hired prior to last season.
1. Randy Wittman
The basketball world rolled its collective eyes when the Washington Wizards announced in June that they would be removing the "interim" tag from Randy Wittman's title.
The fact that Wittman, the former head man of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Minnesota Timberwolves, actually improved his career winning percentage by guiding the Wizards to an 18-31 mark last season was telling enough.
To be fair, he too has been the victim of circumstance to some extent.
Star point guard John Wall has yet to play a game this season and might not until the calendar turns to 2013. Nene has missed all but seven contests so far. Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, for whom the Wiz essentially mortgaged their future this past summer, have been underwhelming at best and injured at worst.
The team leader in scoring? The ever-erratic Jordan Crawford.
There is only so much any man could do with the proverbial pile of garbage that general manager Ernie Grunfeld has bestowed upon Wittman. Sure, Washington would be better than 2-15 with Wall at the point, but how much better, really?
Sooner or later, team owner Ted Leonsis will act on Grunfeld's many failures—of which Wittman's retention is but one—and make wholesale changes from the top down. Leonsis' willingness to do so will likely depend on how palatable he finds the prospects of paying multiple coaches. Per Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, the Wizards are still sending checks to Flip Saunders after firing him 17 games into the 2011-12 season and, as such, might not be so amenable to doing the same to keep yet another coach away from the team.