Vinny Del Negro is on the hot seat, despite leading the Los Angeles Clippers to their first-ever division title. Who else's job could be in jeopardy?
Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! The end of the 2012-13 NBA regular season is right around the corner.
You know what that means? The league's coaching carousel is soon to start a-spinnin' once more! Step right up and see if your favorite team will be opening up a sweet courtside seat!
To be sure, the impending round of layoffs figures to be less vicious than usual. Four midseason coaching changes—Mike Brown, Scott Skiles, Alvin Gentry and Avery Johnson parting ways with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Phoenix Suns and the Brooklyn Nets respectively—should help to soften the blow to the bread line at season's end.
In theory, anyway. There's still a slew of coaches who are perfectly primed to have their bums burned on the proverbial coaching hot seat this spring. Let's have a look at some of the ones in the most trouble and the cases for and against each keeping his job into next season.
The Case for Byron Scott:
It'd have been tough enough for Byron Scott to squeeze a winning record out of a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that checks in as the fifth-youngest in the NBA and whose players sport an average of less than four years of pro experience even if all of those players had remained relatively healthy.
But only two of the Cavs' principal players have featured in every game this season, and those two—Tristan Thompson and Alonzo Gee—are hardly the ones on whose health Cleveland's future hinges. Kyrie Irving's missed 23 games on account of myriad injuries, Dion Waiters has been absent on 19 occasions and Anderson Varejao's been done for the season since December.
The former two constitute the bright promise of the Cavs' future, while the latter is a veteran anchor whose productivity up front may well have rendered him a valuable trade asset had he not fallen victim to a blood clot in his lung.
As unsightly as Cleveland's record has been under Byron Scott, keep in mind that he had to deal with the immediate aftermath of LeBron James' Decision. Going forward, his experience in handling and developing superstar point guards (i.e. Jason Kidd and Chris Paul) may well prove pivotal in the careers of Irving and Waiters.
The Case Against Byron Scott:
Injuries or no, a record of 64-160 (and the .286 winning percentage that comes with it) is hardly job-retaining material. Neither is a defense that's ranked among the bottom five in the NBA since Byron arrived. It's all well and good that Kyrie and Dion can pile up points together, but their play on the other end of the floor has been atrocious more often than not.
Granted, that's hardly unusual for young guards. Irving and Waiters will most likely improve in that regard as they learn and adapt to the NBA game.
Whether Scott is the right man to teach them is another question entirely.
Scott has a history of grating on his players and wearing out his welcome wherever he's been. He guided the New Jersey Nets to consecutive NBA Finals and the New Orleans Hornets to the brink of the Western Conference Finals, but he benefitted tremendously from the weakness of the East with the former and underachieved in relation to regular-season success with the latter.
The Case for Lawrence Frank:
Like Scott, his predecessor in New Jersey, Lawrence Frank has been a victim of circumstance in his new gig. The Detroit Pistons hired him after dismissing John Kuester, who oversaw the team's troubling descent into the depths of mediocrity that it now occupies.
If there's a single culprit for the basketball cesspool that the Pistons have become, it's general manager Joe Dumars. The Hall of Famer and franchise legend has torpedoed Detroit's fortunes with a slew of head-scratching signings (i.e. Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Rodney Stuckey) and at least one terrible trade (Arron Afflalo, Walter Sharpe and cash for a second-round pick).
Frank, then, has essentially been enlisted as the latest scapegoat enlisted to mop up the mess that Joe D. seems to prolong with each passing year.
The Case Against Lawrence Frank:
Not that he's done a particularly bang-up job of mopping. The Pistons are 51-93 (.354 winning percentage) since Frank took over, and they've been even worse than that in the early going of each campaign. Detroit stumbled to a 4-20 start last year and dropped eight games in a row to tip off 2012-13.
And in a league where "What have you done for me lately?" reigns supreme among the coaching ranks, Frank's four straight playoff appearances with the New Jersey Nets have lost their luster in the six years since then.
The Case for Mike Dunlap:
Is there any worst first NBA head-coaching gig than that of the Charlotte Bobcats?
Mike Dunlap should know. He took over for Paul Silas after the former Charlotte Hornets coach oversaw arguably the most abysmal season in NBA history, as the 'Cats clawed their way to a record of 7-59.
Dunlap's squad matched that total by late November, by way of a promising 7-5 start.
Along the way, Dunlap has overseen the promising development of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson as an honest-to-goodness starting backcourt, along with the encouraging play of rookie forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. With those three at the core, Charlotte may yet have a bright basketball future ahead—one of which Michael Jordan can be proud.
The Case Against Mike Dunlap:
Improved or no, the 'Cats still own the worst record in the NBA at 18-59. They're also 29th in offensive efficiency and dead last in defensive efficiency.
Which is to say, Charlotte, while not as terrible as before, remains terrible. Dunlap's tiff with Ben Gordon—and the front office's inability to move him prior to the trade deadline—also doesn't bode well for the coach's future in the Queen City.
Neither does the continued allowance of 7-footer Byron Mullens to launch four three-pointers a game...and hit them at a 31.7-percent clip.
Dunlap was a perplexing hire to begin with, and he has yet to vindicate the organization's decision-makers for taking a chance on him. That may come in time—just not soon enough to get 'Cats fans back into the seats at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The Case for Dwane Casey:
Two words: Bryan Colangelo.
The Toronto Raptors head honcho has a long history of rewarding mediocrity with lavish contracts and overloading the roster with similarly skilled players. Case in point: Colangelo spent the eighth pick in the 2012 NBA draft on a wing (Terrence Ross) in what many at the time considered a "reach."
Then, just four months later, he gave another wing (DeMar DeRozan) a four-year, $38 million extension, when he could've just as well waited to offer him less as a restricted free agent this summer.
This, after throwing wads of cash at Landry Fields in an ill-fated attempt to lure Steve Nash north of the border.
There's only so much lemonade that any coach, including Dwane Casey, can make, especially when the lemons picked by the general manager are rotten, yet to ripen and/or actually limes.
The Case Against Dwane Casey:
Whatever you think of the roster at Dwane Casey's disposal, there's no doubting that he hasn't done much with it. The Raptors are 52-91 (.364 winning percentage) since Casey took over in 2011, despite his team playing in the weak Eastern Conference.
His reluctance to feature Toronto's talented rookies for much of the 2012-13 season casts serious doubt on Casey's fitness for the job. Jonas Valanciunas has finally started to get some more serious playing time, despite starting for most of the season. Terrence Ross, a gifted swingman and the reigning dunk champion, remains buried on the bench.
Also, this recent piece by Grantland's Zach Lowe would seem to suggest that Dwane isn't entirely on board with the Raptors' deep dive into the advanced statistics revolution in the NBA.
The Case for Keith Smart:
When it comes to toxic situations, Keith Smart's with the Sacramento Kings might be without equal in the NBA today.
Following up a failed coach? Check. Smart took over in Sacramento after Paul Westphal was fired just seven games into the 2011-12 season.
Terrible ownership? Check. The Maloofs have been bleeding the Kings dry for years and are finally on the verge of selling the team.
Speaking of which...transition in ownership and/or location? Check. The Kings might be in Seattle by this time next year. Even if the franchise stays in Sacramento, Smart will have been saddled with the lame duck years of the Maloof regime.
Bad front-office management? Check. General manager Geoff Petrie, once regarded as one of the top executives in the league, has long since left the club, to say the least. How else would you explain his decision this past summer to sign Aaron Brooks when the Kings' roster was already replete with gunners?
A roster full of bad apples? Check...unless, for whatever reason, you think Smart's at fault for the stagnation seen from DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans.
And yet, through all of that, Smart actually has Sacramento playing some solid ball. Over the last month, the Kings have racked up wins against the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, with "moral victories" opposite the Denver Nuggets, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Not to mention a double-overtime loss to the Miami Heat during their 27-game winning streak.
The Case Against Keith Smart:
As hard as Smart has tried to get through to DeMarcus Cousins, his efforts clearly haven't worked. Boogie leads the NBA with 14 technical fouls and is second with four ejections this season.
Also, the Kings are 47-89 (.346 winning percentage) on his watch. Also also, he didn't have much of a track record prior to his rise in Sacramento, aside from a 36-46 season at the helm of the Golden State Warriors in 2010-11.
Also also also, whoever winds up winning the rights to the Kings is probably going to want to clean house, starting with GM Geoff Petrie and moving on down to the bench, right around where Smart usually sits.
The Case for Lindsey Hunter:
Lindsey Hunter has basically done for the Phoenix Suns this season what Smart did for the Kings last season.
That is, fall on a grenade in the middle of a lost season. Hunter took over the Suns' operation after a "mutual parting of ways" between the team and ex-head coach Alvin Gentry.
Phoenix already paid a significant price in picking Hunter over Elston Turner, a more experienced assistant and budding head coach; Turner and fellow understudy Dan Majerle both left the team shortly after Hunter was hired.
As such, it would behoove the Suns to see their choice through to fruition, whatever that may be. Hunter lacks experience as a coach, but he comes equipped with a strong background in player development. He spent two-and-a-half years as a player development assistant for the Chicago Bulls before moving on to a similar role with the Phoenix Suns in August of 2012.
The Suns could certainly use someone with Hunter's expertise leading their operation. They figure to stink for a while and will need a coach like Hunter to teach the pro game to the scores of talented youngsters who will inevitably be passing through the Valley of the Sun in the years to come.
The Case Against Lindsey Hunter:
Lindsey's record (10-26, .278 winning percentage) and lack of head-coaching experience speak for themselves. As do the joint reactions of Elston Turner and Dan Majerle to Hunter's hiring.
The Case for Jim Boylan:
Do you see a pattern developing here? Coach gets hired by a poorly run organization with all manner of problems from the ownership box to the front office to the roster on the floor. Said organization continues to be poorly run and makes bad decisions as a result. Coach gets scapegoated for the team's failures and lands on the hot seat as a result.
Jim Boylan hasn't fallen victim to such shenanigans just yet, and he might not now that his Milwaukee Bucks are bound for the playoffs.
Boylan's rise, following the departure of Scott Skiles back in January, has been a boon to a number of Milwaukee's key players, including Ersan Ilyasova and Monta Ellis. Ilyasova started playing like the $45-million man the Bucks expected him to be almost immediately after Skiles skipped town, while Ellis has begun to shoot and score more efficiently now that Boylan has shown greater trust in the combo guard.
The Case Against Jim Boylan:
Not that everyone's taken so well to Boylan's coaching. Boylan's favoritism toward Brandon Jennings has only further widened the rift between the point guard and the franchise that drafted him.
And though the Bucks are playoff-bound, they're on track to be so with a sub-.500 record, including a mark of 21-23 under Boylan. Milwaukee would need nothing short of a miracle to turn its standing as the eighth seed in the East into anything more than a speedy exit at the hands of the Miami Heat.
The Case for P.J. Carlesimo:
The Brooklyn Nets are 30-18 since PJ Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson. That's been good enough to land the Nets among the top four in the Eastern Conference after five straight years in the NBA draft lottery.
Deron Williams is finally playing like an All-Star again. Brook Lopez has played that well all season, to the point where he earned his first-ever trip to the All-Star Game.
The Case against P.J. Carlesimo:
He still has the "interim" tag attached to his title. He still coaches by way of incessant screaming. He's nowhere near the sort of flashy, high-profile coach that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov would likely prefer to lead his expensive assault on the Big Apple's basketball loyalties.
As far as the players are concerned, Williams' recent improvement is probably more attributable to his improved health, as is Lopez's. If anything, Brook's early-season absence on account of a foot injury may well have cost Avery Johnson his job.
In addition to the crippling conflict between Johnson and D-Will, of course.
Whether it's realistic or not, the NBA title is the ultimate goal for this roster, and Carlesimo hardly strikes one as the guy best equipped to lead Brooklyn to that promised land.
The Case for Doug Collins:
Doug Collins took a young Philadelphia 76ers squad back to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons as the head coach in the City of Brotherly Love. Last year, he had the Sixers within a game of the Eastern Conference Finals as an eight seed.
He's also overseen Jrue Holiday's blossoming into an All-Star and Thaddeus Young's development into a solid sidekick up front.
Moreover, Collins is beloved in Philly, or rather as beloved as he'll ever be in any major city. He spent the entirety of his eight-year NBA career with the Sixers, during which he made four All-Star appearances.
The Case Against Doug Collins:
Then again, this season has been miserable enough for both Collins and the Sixers to suggest that they should probably part ways.
Aside from the 31-45 record and a year of bottom-five offensive production, there was this embarrassing post-game presser following a 14-point loss to the Orlando Magic in February. In that press conference, Collins complained about how Philly's fortunes had been undone by Andrew Bynum's inability to play and the package of Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless and a future first-round pick that the Sixers sent out to bring Bynum to Philly.
Which is true, except Collins went about making a scene of it as if he played no part in the trade.
Trouble is, Collins did have a strong hand in pushing that deal through, and though the reasoning behind it made perfect sense at the time, he can't simply run from it and make believe he had nothing to do with it now that the situation has soured.
If that weren't enough, Collins has a long-established history of wearing out his welcome wherever he's been. In fact, he's never been a head coach anywhere for more than three seasons at a time.
And wouldn't you know it? He'll be finishing up Year 3 in Philly in just over a week.
The Case for Larry Drew:
Larry Drew's picked up right where Mike Woodson, his predecessor, left off. He's guided the Atlanta Hawks to three straight postseason appearances, including a first-round series win over Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic in 2011.
Better yet, Drew has the Hawks back in the mix for the fourth or fifth seed this season, even after seeing general manager Danny Ferry ship Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets for salary-cap flotsam this past summer and losing Lou Williams to a torn ACL partway through the 2012-13 season.
The Case Against Larry Drew:
The Hawks have been churning out forgettable playoff results since 2008, and Drew hasn't exactly changed that for the better. Atlanta has fallen off a bit since a strong 20-10 start, and the team still struggles to fill Philips Arena from night to night.
Drew and his staff haven't exactly maximized their hand, either. Most notably, they've allowed Josh Smith to continue to launch long-range jumpers (particularly those just inside the three-point line), despite his minuscule success rate on such shots.
And his aptitude for scoring in the post when afforded the opportunity to do so.
The most damning thing for Drew, though, may well be that he wasn't hired by the current GM. That being the case, don't expect Danny Ferry to hesitate if he feels that cutting ties with Larry Drew would be in the best interest of the organization.
The Case for Lionel Hollins:
As with Drew in Atlanta, Lionel Hollins has now taken the Memphis Grizzlies to three straight playoff appearances. But, unlike Drew's Hawks, the Grizz had been to three straight postseasons only once before in their history.
That previous streak saw nary a win in a playoff game for Memphis. As for Hollins, he won his very first playoff game and playoff series with the Grizz, both of which also doubled as franchise firsts. He has his team back in the hunt for a top-four spot in the West and playing better ball than ever.
Without Rudy Gay, no less, who'd led the Grizz in scoring before he was traded to the Toronto Raptors in late January.
Hollins has lent his team a distinct identity, built around the sort of defense and toughness that characterized their coach during his playing days in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Case Against Lionel Hollins:
Despite his success, Hollins isn't exactly beloved within the organization. He criticized the team's new ownership and management both publicly and privately after the Rudy Gay trade.
He's also been none too shy to share his opinions about the growing use of advanced statistics in the NBA—a trend in which the Grizzlies are now fully invested, with former ESPN stats guru John Hollinger at the fore.
Beyond that, Hollins has been reluctant to fully incorporate Ed Davis, who was the most enticing chip acquired in the Rudy deal, he has close ties to the franchise's previous regimes, he isn't exactly a proponent of what one might characterize as "beautiful basketball," he oversaw a squad that squandered not one, but two pivotal home playoff games in a series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last year and he isn't signed with Memphis beyond this season.
Other than that, Hollins would appear to be in great shape with the Grizz.
The Case for Vinny Del Negro:
Vinny Del Negro, too, has played an integral part making franchise history with another former doormat. Prior to Del Negro's arrival, the Los Angeles Clippers had never won a division title or even so much as 50 games in a given season.
They've pulled off both of those feats in 2012-13, just a year after VDN led the Clips to just their third playoff series victory in franchise history. That series included two road wins, one of which came in Game 7 in Memphis.
If LA continues to win and the Grizz falter down the stretch, Del Negro may well add another "franchise first" to his resume: the Clips' first-ever slice of home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Not bad for a guy who was brought in as a bargain-basement hire.
The Case Against Vinny Del Negro:
Of course, you could just as easily heap the lion's share of the credit for the Clippers' rise to respectability on the efforts of Chris Paul. LA went 32-50 in VDN's inaugural season and quickly flipped to 40-26 in his second, with CP3 aboard as the point guard.
Paul has been critical of Del Negro in the past, and he has been joined in that regard by some of the Clips' other principals this season, including Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, according to TJ Simers of The Los Angeles Times. Del Negro's long been derided as something of an empty suit, surrounded by the somewhat facetious assumption that Chris Paul takes care of the team's coaching duties.
Chances are, Del Negro will be shown the door if Paul doesn't approve of the coach's retention. Both coach and player will be out of contract at season's end, though the Clippers figure to put on a full-court press to keep Paul in LA.
As for VDN? Not so much.