Randy Wittman's job isn't exactly secure right now.
If the last few months are any indication, there are more NBA head coaches likely to be fired in 2013.
It might not always be fair, but front offices seem to be getting more and more eager to pull the trigger on coaching changes. Winning’s at a premium in this league, and that could be trouble for some of the coaches whose teams currently sit at the bottom of the standings.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ Mike Brown was the first casualty. Avery Johnson, Scott Skiles and Alvin Gentry joined the unemployment line soon after. So who’s next?
All stats accurate as of 1/21/13.
The Bobcats are struggling, but Dunlap should be in okay shape.
2012-13 record: 10-31
As crazy as it sounds considering that the Charlotte Bobcats are 3-26 since starting the year 7-5, Mike Dunlap has a decent chance of keeping his job.
He merits mentioning because the Bobcats have been so awful lately, but he’s in the best shape of any coach on this list.
Yes, the Bobcats just might be the worst team in the league, but that’s not on Dunlap. The Bobcats are simply out-talented by every team in the NBA.
Rich Cho, the Bobcats general manager, knows about patience. He was a part of the Oklahoma City Thunder front office when they were going through their growing pains. Last year, TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott wrote about the time Cho interviewed with the Bobcats, saying:
In other words, Cho was asking, were they willing to lose? "Are you willing," Cho remembers asking, "to take a step back to take two steps forward?" Cho says the room answered, unanimously, "yes."
The Bobcats front office understands that losing is part of the process, and the team's poor record alone doesn’t merit Dunlap’s firing. The Bobcats play hard night-in and night-out and you can’t ask for much more than that.
By virtue of the Bobcats' dreadful record, Dunlap makes this list, but he's much safer than some of the names coming up.
To be really safe, Scott's Cavs might need a few more wins.
2012-13 record: 10-32
Byron Scott is pretty much in the same boat that Mike Dunlap is.
Like Dunlap, Scott’s record makes him a potential candidate to be fired. However, that's not as likely as it is for some other coaches thanks to the sheer nature of the rebuilding job Scott was handed.
It’s impossible to overstate how much LeBron James meant to the Cleveland Cavaliers from an organizational standpoint. That future of the franchise was built around LeBron. It’s not easy to rebuild after that.
The Cavs are outclassed by almost every team in the league, especially now that Anderson Varejao is out for the rest of the season. It would be pretty unfair to put the blame on the shoulders of Scott.
By all accounts, Scott has a great relationship with star guard Kyrie Irving, and the Cavs are still playing hard under him. The Cavaliers are a young team, and as long as they’re competing, Scott should be okay.
Of course, stranger moves have been made before, so it would be best if the Cavs pick up a few more wins to help make Scott’s case.
For whatever reason, Frank really doesn't like to lean on his rookie center.
2012-13 record: 15-25
The Detroit Pistons have actually been playing semi-decent ball as of late, going 15-17 after starting the year 0-8.
Lawrence Frank deserves some credit for that, as well as for molding the Pistons into at least an above-average defensive team (they rank 14th in Defensive Rating per Basketball Reference).
There's really only one reason for the Pistons to consider cutting ties with Frank: his stubborn insistence on not playing Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe together.
Even if you’re not factoring in Monroe, Drummond needs to see the floor more. The big man gets fewer than 20 minutes per game, yet is leading all rookies with a Player Efficiency Rating of 22.85 (per ESPN). He’s also throwing up 13 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks per 36 minutes (via Basketball Reference).
The guy can play.
Drummond’s lack of floor time is puzzling, but it’s the lack of minutes he gets with Monroe that’s really strange.
Drummond and Monroe have logged just over 170 minutes together this season (per NBA.com), an average of under five minutes per game. They haven’t exactly set the world on fire in those minutes (a net plus-five), but they haven’t been terrible by any means.
Drummond and Monroe are the Pistons’ frontcourt of the future. If all goes well, they’ll be playing together for the next 10 years. So shouldn’t they learn how to do it? It’s not as if the Pistons are knee-deep in the playoff race. Let the kids play together.
Maybe Frank doesn’t like the fact that Drummond isn’t a great practice player, or he has some trepidation about Monroe’s ability to defend power forwards. Who knows?
The one thing that’s clear is that Monroe and Drummond need to play more. They’re the future of the Pistons, and until Frank realizes that, his seat will be a little warm.
Casey's Raptors have failed to live up to their preseason expectations.
2012-13 record: 15-26
Dwane Casey’s seat has cooled off a bit now that the Toronto Raptors are starting to rebound after a dismal 4-19 start. But he’s not out of the woods yet.
The Raptors entered the season dreaming of a potential playoff spot, which makes this year (to this point) a resounding disappointment. Honestly though, few of the Raptors’ woes are Casey’s fault.
The team was rocked by early injuries to Kyle Lowry, Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas, and it’s not exactly Casey’s fault that (even when healthy) Bargnani has slowly morphed into one of the least-efficient scorers in the league.
Still though, someone always has to shoulder the blame when a team with relatively high expectations isn’t getting the job done, and Casey is the most likely candidate.
Earlier in the year, when the Raptors were just 4-16, general manager Bryan Colangelo said (via TheStar.com’s Doug Smith):
I don’t believe this is a talent issue. I think it’s a lack of focus, attention to detail, consistency of competing. We’ve shown flashes of very good basketball, just not good enough to pull out games when we need to pull them out.
Phrases like “lack of focus” and “consistency of competing” tend to be a not-so-subtle jab at the team’s coach.
Again, now that the Raptors are starting to perform more in line with their preseason expectations, Casey’s job is looking more secure. But, fair or not, if things again start to go south in Toronto, Casey may be shown the door.
Keith Smart may have some new owners to impress.
2012-13 record: 16-26
The Sacramento Kings have perhaps the most cobbled-together, ill-fitting roster in the league, so it’s tough to blame Keith Smart for his inability to generate wins with the group.
Still though, Smart has made more than his share of puzzling moves this season, one of which was his decision to give veteran guard Aaron Brooks the starting job over Isaiah Thomas earlier in the year.
NBCSports.com’s Aaron Bruski reported:
On a team that has lacked ball movement in recent years, one would think that a playmaking point guard with charisma on and off the court would be a high priority. But the window to develop Thomas last season was lost, and separate from the Kings’ off the court struggles, the window to create a cohesive team approach is rapidly closing this season and Kings players are frustrated with it.
Thomas has thoroughly outplayed Brooks this entire season, and he clearly has his team’s support on this one. He’s been starting throughout January, so it seems like Smart’s starting to get the picture, but you have to wonder if it’s too-little, too-late with this team.
DeMarcus Cousins also poses a big problem for Smart.
Smart was given an extension, in part, because of his strong relationship with the mercurial big man. But Cousins has already been suspended three times for his behavior this year, the last of which came because of a heated argument with Smart.
It’s looking like the Kings have some new owners now, so Smart has a new group to impress. He’s going to have to do a pretty stellar job to convince them that he’s their man.
The Wizards have been an absolute mess on the court.
2012-13 record: 9-30
It's not just the Washington Wizards' record that spells trouble for Randy Wittman's future with the team. The real issue is just the way that they look on the court.
Over the past year, the Wizards have made a painstaking effort to surround John Wall with real, experienced basketball players. They shipped out talented, but immature players like Nick Young and JaVale McGee and replaced them with vets like Nene and Emeka Okafor.
The idea was to change the culture around Wall. The team sacrificed financial flexibility in order to build around Wall and finally resemble a real basketball team. It was a gamble, but a reasonable one.
The problem is that the Wizards still look like a disorganized mess on the basketball court. They're starting to look slightly better now that Wall is back from injury, but that's mostly just because he's a talented player.
Wall's early absence alone doesn't account for the fact that the Wizards don't have any offensive or defensive direction. They're genuinely hard to watch sometimes, and that certainly isn't what Washington was going for when they made those earlier deals.
According to the Washington Post's Mike Wise, Wizards general manager Ted Leonsis said in training camp:
We would all find it unacceptable if we finished with the second- or third-worst record in the NBA this year. That would be a failure and the failure would start with me.
Well, the Wizards don't have the second- or third-worst record in the NBA. They have the worst record in the NBA. Which means that something will have to change.
The one thing that could save Wittman's job? The Wizards have big wins against the Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.
A couple more upsets like that, combined with at least some semblance of on-court improvement, would give Wittman an outside chance of saving his job. But it's a longshot.
Mike D'Antoni will need to make some magic to save this season and his job.
2012-13 record: 14-19
The Los Angeles Lakers will more than likely let Mike D'Antoni ride out the rest of the season. But barring some kind of miracle turnaround, it's hard to imagine that the two won't part ways at some point in 2013.
The Lakers basically have too many problems to count right now.
Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard don't fit well together at all. Steve Nash (the very reason that D'Antoni was hired) has been thrust to the side offensively. The offense too often degenerates into the Kobe Bryant show.
Defensive breakdowns are routine. Aging stars are getting too many minutes. A style of basketball that relies on speed and outside shooting is being forced upon a team whose biggest weakness is its lack of speed and outside shooting.
Finally, there's the fact that 41 games into the season, and six games under .500, the Lakers still play like they expect every game to be handed to them. A team that needs to be scratching and clawing for every win instead plays every game like it's an exhibition.
Many of the Lakers' problems boil down to personnel, and D'Antoni certainly can't be blamed for that.
But prior to the season, some people (Metta World Peace) were talking about the Lakers winning 73 games. That's how high the expectations were for this team.
Ultimately, D'Antoni's going to shoulder most of the blame for what's shaping up to be the most disappointing season in Lakers history. And that will almost inevitably lead to a coaching change.