Which NBA Coaches Will Have the Toughest Job Next Season?
There aren't many tougher jobs in sports than being the head coach of an NBA team.
Unless you're part of the truly elite fraternity of signal-callers, your job is in a constant state of insecurity. Coaches are fired with reckless abandon, especially as the signings get more and more risky.
Of the 30 head coaches during the 2012-13 season, 13 weren't permitted to return to their previous team.
That list includes guys like George Karl, who won Coach of the Year, Lionel Hollins, Doc Rivers, Byron Scott and Larry Drew.
That alone should tell you what a high-pressure job it is. And yet, there are still a select group of coaches whose situations make their jobs even tougher.
Seven of them stand out this year, and only four are joining the ranks of NBA head coaches for the first time.
Rick Adelman, Minnesota Timberwolves
It's playoffs or bust for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Rick Adelman will be a convenient scapegoat if Kevin Love and Co. fail to meet their goals.
Great things were expected last season, but the injury bug took its toll.
Everyone seemed to miss time: Kevin Love with his hand injuries, Ricky Rubio with his ACL, Andrei Kirilenko with his back, etc.
The 'Wolves only played 82 games, but the excuses were valid. They were simply plagued by bad luck and didn't have enough depth to compete once the injuries piled up.
There are no excuses this year. Go big or go home.
Love is back, and he's eager to shake that reputation of being a stat machine who doesn't actually win games.
He doesn't just want to make the playoffs for the first time in his career; he needs to.
Perhaps even more importantly, Minnesota needs him to do so, or else the trade rumors will start popping up with alarming frequency.
After the acquisitions of Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer, Minnesota actually has legitimate NBA-caliber shooting guards to play with. No more shifting point guards over in the lineup and giving up size, as K-Mart and Brewer bring an intriguing mix of offensive and defensive prowess to the table.
But it's all about putting it together now, and that's always a difficult process—especially in the stacked Western Conference.
Minnesota should be awfully disappointed with anything other than a playoff berth in 2013-14.
Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers
Brett Brown's first year as the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers isn't necessarily about winning games, and that could make it rather difficult for him to survive.
The Sixers just don't have enough current talent to work with, and Brown has to establish his own system after deciding to leave the San Antonio Spurs. If he doesn't do just that and develop advocates in the locker room, he could be viewed as a one-year holdover.
Despite his four-year contract, the Sixers' management could easily fire him and bring in a more established coach once they have more promising options.
Brown is expected to give young players like Michael Carter-Williams significant playing time. He has to balance excitement and realism about Nerlens Noel's eventual return from his ACL injury. He must figure out what to do with players like Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner.
But more than anything else, he must determine how he can turn potentially competing for the worst win-loss record in the NBA into a positive for his résumé. Without any other comparable experience to being a head coach at the sport's highest level, that could be quite the tough task.
For all his experience running the show with the Australia national team and from earning under Gregg Popovich, Brown is still new to this position, and he's not being thrown into a situation conducive to much success.
Mike D'Antoni, Los Angeles Lakers
Nothing that the Los Angeles Lakers are doing this offseason points toward playing for anything but the 2013-14 season. And that spells trouble for Mike D'Antoni.
The Lakers have preserved their financial flexibility for the 2014 offseason, and they haven't made anything even resembling a long-term commitment to the current head coach.
The roster is built to maximize chances at the postseason this year, but nothing more.
D'Antoni hasn't exactly been popular ever since he was first hired by the Lake Show, and that hasn't changed following a disappointing 2012-13 campaign. While he was able to steer a reeling team into the playoffs after a strong second half, the year was still a massive disappointment.
Now, D'Antoni is left coaching a lackluster team while dealing with a fanbase that always has remarkably-high expectations. There's no such thing as a "rebuilding year" in L.A., as "restocking" is usually the more applicable word.
Even when he's not dealing with the inevitable lack of support outside the organization, D'Antoni has his fair share of challenges.
He'll have to manage Kobe Bryant's minutes as he returns from an Achilles injury, convince Nick Young that passing is legal in basketball and maximize a relatively minimal amount of talent.
It won't be seven seconds or less before he's fired, but D'Antoni will be on the hot seat throughout the year.
David Joerger, Memphis Grizzlies
It's always tough for a new head coach to take the reins for a contending team, and that certainly applies to David Joerger and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Joerger is an unfamiliar name in most NBA circles, largely because he's only served as an assistant coach for the Grizz since 2007. He's been a head coach, but only with obscure, low-level teams like the Dakota Wizards (IBA, CBA and D-League stints), Cedar Rapids River Raiders (USBL) and Sioux Falls Skyforce (CBA).
But that's not the most problematic part.
The new head coach is a fantastic defensive coach, and that's not exactly what Memphis needs. He's already improved the defense significantly while serving as an assistant to Lionel Hollins, but offensive strides are necessary now.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Grizzlies scored 104.9 points per 100 possessions during the 2012-13 campaign while using a roster that is largely similar to the current version. That left them as the No. 17 offensive team.
On defense, Memphis was suffocating. Only the Indiana Pacers allowed fewer points than the Grizzlies' 100.3 points per 100 possessions.
The defense is fine, but it's the offense that needs to improve if this franchise is to take the next step. Already burdened with high expectations, Memphis has to make it to the NBA Finals to avoid a roster shakeup that is looking not just likely, but necessary.
Roster shakeups aren't typically limited to the players themselves.
Jason Kidd, Brooklyn Nets
I wish Jason Kidd nothing but the best, and I strongly believe that he'll succeed as a head coach in the long run.
However, this wasn't the time for him to become the clipboard holder for the Brooklyn Nets.
Brooklyn experienced massive change during the offseason—acquiring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko—to make the transition from a low-level playoff team to a strong contender in the Eastern Conference. Mikhail Prokhorov has championship aspirations, and he wasn't willing to wait for them to materialize over the course of a few seasons.
That said, they need their minutes managed so that the aging players can avoid injuries and stay fresh for the most important part of the season. They also need to build chemistry, especially with so many new key contributors on the roster.
An established head coach would have been a better choice for the 2013-14 season, particularly because the title window—while wide open right now—is about to slam shut. Pierce and Garnett only have so many quality seasons left in the tank, after all.
The Nets couldn't afford to gamble on the sidelines, and that's exactly what happened (although the gamble happened before the roster upgrades). Now Kidd is going to be thrust into a high-pressure situation right off the bat.
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
Coaching the Boston Celtics is always a difficult task.
The C's are one of the NBA's premier franchises, and the expectations are inevitably much higher than they are for other organizations. Even in a mini-rebuilding year, Boston isn't exactly allowed to completely tank.
Add in a notoriously difficult locker room guy like Rajon Rondo and a first-year coach like Brad Stevens, and you could be looking at a tough situation.
Stevens is attempting to make the difficult college-to-NBA transition that so many of his predecessors have failed to complete successfully. His hiring came out of left field, and now he's the youngest head coach in the Association.
With a six-year contract, Stevens looks like he's going to be calling the shots in Boston for a long time. It would be tough to justifying keeping him on the payroll and off the sidelines without giving him at least a few years to bring his analytical talents and people skills into Beantown.
However, that doesn't make his job any easier.
Year one is going to be difficult, especially if the Celtics remain precariously balanced between competing and rebuilding.
Mike Woodson, New York Knicks
It's time for the New York Knicks to make some serious noise in the playoffs, especially since Carmelo Anthony can opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent after the 2013-14 season.
A lot of the pressure will rest on Mike Woodson's shoulders.
Injuries held back the Knicks in 2012-13, and the roster remains quite injury-prone. However, there's a great deal of coachable talent present; especially if Woodson can help Iman Shumpert make the step he's expected to take by converting him into a viable two-way player.
New York advanced out of the first round for the first time since 2000, but that's not good enough over a decade later.
If the Knicks don't at least make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, someone will need to become the scapegoat.
Woodson may not deserve that—especially since he's done a fantastic job building a turnover-averse defensive mentality in Madison Square Garden—but the coach is usually the one put on the chopping block.
You may see even more sweat on his shiny head in 2013-14.