Which First-Year NBA Head Coach Is Under Most Pressure in 2013-14?
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If you don’t recognize certain head coaches prowling the sidelines during the 2013-14 NBA season, you won’t be alone.
Nearly one-third of the head coaches in the NBA—nine, to be exact—will be first-timers this year.
Many of those coaches will walk into rebuilding situations in which the expectations couldn't be much lower. A few others, however, will be expected to field a championship-contending team during their rookie campaigns.
If those teams with championship aspirations get off to a slow start, it won’t be long before their coaches find themselves on the hot seat.
From coaches under the least amount of pressure to those feeling the most, let’s see where each of the nine first-timers stack up heading into 2013-14.
9. Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers
Brett Brown was the last of the first-time head coaches hired during the 2013 offseason, and he’s the one who walks into the least desirable situation.
Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie tore the Sixers' roster apart in the offseason, trading All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for a rookie coming off ACL surgery (Nerlens Noel) and a 2014 top-five-protected first-round pick. By doing so, he effectively made the Sixers the front-runners in the "Riggin' for Wiggins" race.
With those enormously low expectations, Brown will face the least pressure of any first-time head coach in 2013-14. Racking up 60-plus losses won’t necessarily be a reflection of Brown's coaching acumen, considering how much of a train wreck his roster appears to be.
The Sixers' success in 2013-14 won’t be defined by wins and losses; it'll be based upon how much their young players improve. If Noel and fellow rookie Michael Carter-Williams make major strides between now and next April, Brown will have achieved his primary objective this season.
Brown and the Sixers recognize that this rebuild won't be an overnight process, hence his four-year guaranteed contract. This season will be about laying the foundation of a championship contender, despite what the win-loss totals might suggest.
8. Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
If the Philadelphia 76ers weren't so blatantly tanking, the Phoenix Suns would be seen as the favorites to finish the 2013-14 season with the NBA's worst record.
That places very little pressure on the shoulders of first-year coach Jeff Hornacek, who inherits a roster that badly needs help on both ends of the court.
In 2012-13, the Suns ranked 29th in the league in offensive efficiency, averaging only 101.2 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference. They weren't much better defensively, allowing opponents to score 108.1 points per 100 possessions (23rd in the league).
The Suns finished the 2012-13 season ranked sixth in the NBA in 15- to 19-foot field-goal attempts, but Hornacek doesn't want to repeat that feat. In August, he told Grantland's Zach Lowe that the team must "get away" from long two-point jumpers in favor of three-pointers or shot attempts closer to the basket.
No one's exactly expecting the Suns to be a 2014 playoff team, but Hornacek still must help the squad improve either on offense or defense this season. That's about the extent of the pressure he'll face during his rookie year in Phoenix.
7. Mike Malone, Sacramento Kings
Could the Sacramento Kings finally be on the precipice of escaping dysfunction?
New owner Vivek Ranadive did his part earlier this year by ensuring the Kings wouldn't leave Sacramento. It's now up to new head coach Mike Malone to transform the team's on-the-court culture.
Sacramento ranked 29th in the league in defensive efficiency during the 2012-13 season, allowing opponents to average 111.4 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball Reference. The defensive-minded Malone can't allow a repeat of that feat if he hopes to restore the Kings to respectability any time soon.
With DeMarcus Cousins freshly inked to a four-year maximum contract, the Kings have their franchise cornerstone in place. Malone must begin building a foundation around Cousins, particularly on the defensive end, to restore the Kings to their early 2000s glory.
Like Philadelphia and Phoenix, not much is expected from Sacramento in 2013-14. Malone will face slightly more pressure than Brett Brown and Jeff Hornacek, just by virtue of the Kings not being in full-rebuild mode, but it's not exactly playoff-or-bust for the rookie coach.
6. Steve Clifford, Charlotte Bobcats
Steve Clifford is facing a trifecta of trouble in his first year as the head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats.
The team has been a doormat for years, but faces higher expectations in 2013-14 due to the signing of high-profile free agent Al Jefferson.
To make matters worse, the Bobcats fired previous coach Mike Dunlap after only one year on the job. Dunlap's no-nonsense style grated on some of the team's veteran players, according to the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell, which could have Clifford walking on thin ice this season.
And it's not like the Bobcats exactly lit the world on fire in 2012-13. They were the league's worst team in terms of defensive efficiency (111.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) and ranked 28th in offensive efficiency (101.5 points per 100 possessions), per Basketball Reference.
The conjunction of those three factors put a decent amount of pressure on Clifford during his rookie season. The 'Cats need to make legitimate strides on at least one side of the ball or Clifford could start feeling the burn of the hot seat before long.
5. Brian Shaw, Denver Nuggets
After years of being bypassed for other candidates during head coaching searches, Brian Shaw finally earned a shot with the Denver Nuggets during the 2013 offseason.
He'll be tasked with sorting through the smoldering wreckage that the Nuggets devolved into over the past six months.
Former head coach George Karl guided the 2012-13 Nuggets to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, where they were promptly upset by the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors. Earlier-than-expected playoff exits had become far too common under Karl's watch in Denver, which led to his untimely demise.
For Shaw, he walks into the job knowing that the team canned the 2013 Coach of the Year due to his playoff shortcomings. No amount of personal accolades will mask a continuation of the Nuggets' postseason failures.
Had Shaw been inheriting the same roster that Karl guided to 57 last year, the pressure would be ratcheted up for Shaw. But since the Nuggets won't have a playoff-or-bust mentality during the 2013-14 season, the rookie coach will have time to acclimate himself to Denver before facing the weight of high expectations.
4. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
New Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is the first coach featured here facing legitimate 2014 playoff expectations.
Once Josh Smith fled Atlanta during the 2013 offseason, the Hawks largely flew under the radar. The signing of Paul Millsap, however, could go down as one of the best unheralded deals of the summer.
Millsap, Al Horford and Jeff Teague aren't going to be confused for the Miami Heat's Big Three, but they should be a solid enough core to get Atlanta back into the playoffs. Miami, Indiana, Chicago, New York and Brooklyn all appear to be playoff locks in the East, but the final three spots remain wide open.
Having served as an assistant to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for the past 17 years, Budenholzer should have little trouble commanding respect from his new team. His championship pedigree gives him the cachet to immediately demand accountability from his players, despite being new to the head coaching position.
Budenholzer's offseason arrest for driving under the influence shouldn't impact him on the court, but he can't afford another off-court mistake like that. He'll already be under enough pressure to make the playoffs as it is.
3. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
Brad Stevens stunned the collegiate and professional basketball worlds by leaving Butler to join the Boston Celtics during the 2013 offseason. It was one of the summer's biggest high-risk, high-reward moves.
Over the past two decades, college coaches who jumped ship to the NBA don't have the greatest track record, as noted by CBSsports.com's Matt Norlander. Because of that, Stevens will be one of the most highly scrutinized first-year coaches in 2013-14.
At Butler, Stevens experienced unprecedented success for a mid-major coach. He guided the Bulldogs to two straight NCAA Finals games, which earned him the reputation of being the golden boy of college coaches.
The NBA is an entirely different beast, though. And this year's Celtics squad could prove especially challenging, as the team enters its inevitable rebuilding phase after a half-decade's worth of championship contention.
To Stevens' credit, he's diving into this opportunity with the mindset of a sponge, soaking up all the information he can possible gather. Given his recent history at Butler, it's crazy to count him out prematurely, but there's no denying that he's entering one of the most difficult situations of any first-year head coach.
2. David Joerger, Memphis Grizzlies
Only two first-year head coaches should have legitimate championship aspirations in 2014, and David Joerger is one of them.
Once Russell Westbrook went down with an injury during the 2013 playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies took advantage. They made a surprise appearance in the Western Conference finals, but were felled in four straight games by the more-experienced San Antonio Spurs.
That banner year wasn't enough to earn Lionel Hollins a contract extension, though, as the team parted ways with him following the season. The writing was on the wall for that decision, even despite the unexpected playoff success, as Hollins butted heads with upper management throughout the year.
Joerger, the Grizzlies' former defensive coordinator, shouldn't struggle much with his transition to head coach this year. He's helped the Grizz establish one of the toughest defenses in the league, so there's no reason to think he'll get away from the team's "grit-and-grind" mentality.
However, the team's playoff success in 2013 could contribute to heightened expectations this season. Knowing that teams' title windows often close sooner than expected, the pressure will be on Joerger to keep the Grizzlies in championship-contention mode.
1. Jason Kidd, Brooklyn Nets
No first-year head coach will be under more pressure than Jason Kidd in 2013-14.
Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov didn't rack up a $85 million-plus luxury-tax bill this season just for a second-round playoff appearance. With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the fold, it's championship-or-bust for Brooklyn in 2014.
Those expectations could prove crushing to Kidd, who faces a gauntlet just to earn a berth in the NBA Finals. Making it to the Eastern Conference finals alone will require getting past at least one of Miami, Indiana or Chicago, in all likelihood.
That'd be a tall task for any coach, but Kidd's complete lack of any coaching experience further stacks the odds against him. He wisely hired Lawrence Frank, his former coach with the Nets, to help him understand the day-to-day intricacies of coaching.
It's too early to count out the Nets as legitimate championship contenders, but they can't be considered favorites heading into the season. A slow start could test the patience of Prokhorov, who stated back in 2010 that he expected the Nets to win "at least" one championship within the next five years.