NBA Coaches Opening 2013-14 Season Squarely on the Hot Seat
Fans are rightfully excited for the start of the 2013-14 NBA season, but coaches are forced to take a more cautious approach.
For them, there is no such thing as job security. The chopping block is always well within their sights.
Just ask 2012-13 Coach of the Year George Karl. He led the Denver Nuggets to an NBA franchise-best 57 wins last season before being ousted in June.
Or former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. After coaching the Grizzlies to a 56-win regular season and a berth in the 2013 Western Conference Finals, Hollins was not given a new contract.
Despite their achievements, both coaches are still searching for their next job.
Contrary to popular belief, winning isn't always enough.
Coaches are judged on how and when they win games. And how the young talent is (or isn't) coming along in its development. Or whether the players are working toward a common goal or more interested in chasing their individual pursuits.
Some coaches feel the heat more than others. And for the seven unlucky names on this list, their temperatures are already racing up the thermometer.
Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors
If the simple fact that you are retaining your current position is deemed newsworthy, that's never a good sign.
Neither is being a lame-duck coach working for a front office that had no involvement in your initial hire.
But that's precisely the hand that Toronto Raptors front man Dwane Casey has been forced to play for the 2013-14 season.
He has some intriguing pieces at his disposal (notably Rudy Gay and Jonas Valanciunas), but nothing that gives this team a realistic ceiling far beyond a first-round exit. Would that be enough to convince new general manager Masai Ujiri that Casey's the best man to oversee his plans for the Raptors future?
With his contract set to expire at season's end, Casey has to coach this team to win now. But putting too much focus on his veterans at the expense of the team's budding stars (Valanciunas and Terrence Ross) could spell his demise regardless of where this team is standing next April.
Casey isn't only auditioning to keep his current gig. He's also building his resume in case he's forced to sell his coaching skills to rival executives next summer.
Tyrone Corbin, Utah Jazz
Tyrone Corbin's run at the helm of a playoff contender didn't quite work out as planned.
During two-plus seasons, he's guided the Utah Jazz to an unimpressive 87-89 (.494) mark. He has one postseason appearance on his coaching resume and zero playoff wins.
Now he'll be forced to try his hands as a developmental coach.
The Jazz rid themselves of nearly all of their proven talent this summer (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Randy Foye and Mo Williams) and got nothing in return outside of expiring contracts and draft picks.
This is clearly a franchise in transition with a coach that wasn't hired to oversee a large-scale rebuilding effort.
Without an All-Star campaign from either Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Trey Burke or Enes Kanter, Corbin will have a tough time finding something to hang his hat on at the negotiating table. His contract will end whenever Utah's season does.
The Jazz could stand to add more talent, and the potential to find a missing piece in the loaded 2014 draft class is great. But Corbin's coaching career can't take the damage of a lost season, and Utah executives will be careful to keep their rising stars from getting too comfortable with losing.
Corbin's high-wire act won't be getting the same coverage that Nik Wallenda's did, but the potential for disaster is just as great.
Mike D'Antoni, Los Angeles Lakers
There are toxic situations and then there is whatever is going on in the Los Angeles Lakers world.
And Mike D'Antoni finds himself stuck in the middle of this uncomfortably public power struggle.
D'Antoni has the backing of general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss. But he wasn't the first choice of superstar Kobe Bryant, and his hire "devastated" Jeanie Buss, Jim's sister and coaching icon Phil Jackson's fiance, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times.
Hired 10 games into the 2012-13 season, D'Antoni led L.A. to a 40-32 mark in his debut. He tried to force his small-ball system onto his oversized roster, and the results were predictably nightmarish.
Chants of "We Want Phil" became just as common as celebrity sightings inside the Staples Center. An unimpressive offseason (no offense to Chris Kaman, but he's not Dwight Howard) will have done nothing to quiet that sentiment.
With Bryant possibly sidelined until December by his torn Achilles, D'Antoni is running short on proven producers. Steve Nash (39 years old) and Pau Gasol (who D'Antoni never really figured out how to use) will be tasked with leading this roster.
The Lakers were perhaps the only team that would have picked D'Antoni over Jackson last season. Unless D'Antoni delivers an unlikely strong postseason showing in 2014, he'll be losing whatever support he has in L.A.
Jason Kidd, Brooklyn Nets
Maybe this was the moment that it all set in for new Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd.
Joining the coaching ranks as quickly as he did—his playing career only ended in May—was going to be an incredibly tough challenge in any situation.
While he understands the nuances of the game, he faces a plethora of new hurdles to climb. He'll now be creating and implementing game plans rather than simply studying them. He'll need to convince his former peers—some nearly the same age as him—that he's no longer one of them. Harsh words and cutting criticisms are now his to make; he can't be a peacemaker any longer.
But his pressure to deliver a championship to his franchise goes nearly unrivaled among his fellow coaches.
Billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov has set a new standard for (reckless?) NBA spending. He's expecting an immediate return on his nine-figure investment in this roster, and nothing short of a championship will suffice.
Kidd has so many different egos to balance inside of that locker room and a finite number of offensive chances to appease them all.
And remember, stumbles aren't allowed in Brooklyn. Avery Johnson was the 2012-13 Coach of the Month in November and out of work before the end of December.
Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers
Terry Stotts should get a free pass for his first season as head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers.
He kept the team in playoff contention for the majority of 2012-13, despite getting the least amount of production from his second team in the NBA (18.5 points per game, via HoopsStats.com).
But the training wheels are officially off for Stotts.
Portland's front office addressed that woeful reserve core and may have done enough to turn the franchise's biggest liability into an asset. Veterans Dorell Wright and Mo Williams arrive with proven NBA talent, and the ceilings are not yet set for up-and-comers Thomas Robinson, Will Barton and C.J. McCollum.
Armed with the weapons to properly complement his champagne starting five, Stotts will be expected to deliver a playoff berth with this revamped roster.
The Western Conference is getting increasingly top heavy, with teams like the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors making significant additions this summer.
But the back end of the playoff picture is as fuzzy as ever.
As long as those swirling trade winds around All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge don't rock the organization's foundation, the playoffs should be an expectation, not a goal. In Stotts' case, they are a necessity.
Monty Williams, New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans sure know how to redefine the direction of a franchise, don't they?
After stumbling through a pair of losing seasons after Chris Paul's exit in 2011, the organization has rid itself of all reminders of the past. There's a new team name, new logo and a new pair of prolific scorers in Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans.
This is what Monty Williams has been waiting for—the opportunity to find a ticket back to the big dance.
But it won't come easily.
Between Holiday, Evans and Eric Gordon, New Orleans has three perimeter players who do their best work with the ball in their hands. That's not to mention the touches that Williams will need to find for 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis, stretch 4 Ryan Anderson and 2012 lottery pick Austin Rivers.
His player development skills earned him a four-year contract extension last summer. But he needs to find a coaching identity; New Orleans wasn't a good offensive (105.7 points per 100 possessions, 16th in the league) or defensive (110.1 points allowed per 100 possessions, 28th) team in 2012-13.
Williams has his money—now he has the pieces to help him earn it.
Randy Wittman, Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards's recent performance doesn't hint at playoff contention (117-277 since 2008-09), but their bank account suggests otherwise.
They enter the 2013-14 season with the 13th-highest payroll in the league, via HoopsHype.com. And that doesn't include the money they still owe to Andray Blatche (amnestied in 2012) or John Wall's new max contract, which won't kick in until 2014-15.
With young stars (Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter) and veterans (Nene, Emeka Okafor, Martell Webster), Washington has the potential to climb the Eastern Conference standings and the experience to stick around up there.
Now, the year has already taken a turn for the worse. Okafor and reserve Chris Singleton have both made appearances on the injury report before the official ones have even been dispersed.
But the expectation to see improvement won't shrink even if Wittman's rotation already has. Not with potential playoff berths opening up with the house-cleaning efforts of the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks this summer.
Wittman has one year left on his current contract. If he doesn't keep this team in contention and further the development of Washington's young trio, he'll be lucky to see his deal through to the end.