NBA Coaches Who Will Start Season on the Hot Seat
NBA head coaches hold one of the most volatile occupations in all of sports. Their job is only made tougher when starting a new season on the coaching hot seat.
As we saw in June this year, no coach has complete immunity. The Denver Nuggets fired George Karl despite the fact that he led them to 58 wins, the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and won the NBA Coach of the Year award.
The Nuggets, however, suffered a debilitating loss in the first round of the playoffs against the Golden State Warriors because Karl wasn’t able to adjust his coaching philosophy. Now he’s out of a job despite his success during the regular season.
So, who are the other coaches who could follow Karl out the door in the early stages of the 2013-14 season?
Using a Scoville scale heat chart to create a hot seat ranking system, I’ll use the spiciness of various peppers to describe exactly how hot NBA coaches’ hot seats are entering the season. The hotter the pepper, the hotter the seat.
5. Jason Kidd, Brooklyn Nets
Although Jason Kidd may be a surprise candidate on this list, his sheer lack of coaching experience made hiring him a gamble from the outset for the Brooklyn Nets.
Bringing J-Kidd on board as a head coach immediately after he retired as a player was a move that raised eyebrows. So far, at least in the early stages, the decision hasn’t paid off in Brooklyn.
The future Hall of Famer was suspended two games by the league for pleading guilty to DWI-related charges, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN. Kidd will miss the Nets' season opener on Oct. 30 against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the home opener on Nov. 1 against the defending champion Miami Heat.
Needless to say, that’s not the best way for Kidd to start his coaching career.
In addition to his suspension, Kidd has already had a disagreement with one of his key players. According to Barbara Barker of Newsday, newly acquired Nets forward Kevin Garnett wasn’t pleased with the prospect of sitting out games in back-to-back scenarios.
Speaking about his conversation with his new coach, Garnett said, “It didn’t go too well. I’m just being honest.”
I just don’t want to be told anything. Hopefully, I’ve earned the right to have an opinion in something that I’m doing. But more importantly, seriously, from a chemistry standpoint, it’s important for me to be out there with everybody, and I think it’ll speed up the chemistry process a little quicker.
Garnett certainly has a point with regards to team chemistry. Brooklyn’s starting five have never played together, so it will be a process throughout the season to develop into a cohesive unit. As a future Hall of Famer himself, KG has earned the right to decide whether or not he’s set to play.
Kidd’s seat isn’t the hottest out there, but it has the potential to heat up in a hurry if the Nets don’t succeed in the early going.
Of Brooklyn’s first 15 games, only four are against teams that made the playoffs a season ago. If the Nets fail to take advantage of that easy schedule, Kidd will undoubtedly feel the heat from management.
Scoville Scale Hot Seat: Jalapeño Pepper (2,500-5,000 Scoville Units)
4. Monty Williams, New Orleans Pelicans
After three seasons as head coach of the New Orleans Hornets (now the New Orleans Pelicans), Monty Williams has a record of 94-136.
Williams led New Orleans to a 46-36 record in 2010-11, but the team lost in the first round of playoffs. In 148 regular season games since the Paul trade, Williams’ teams have lost 68 percent of their games.
Now that the new-look Pelicans have high expectations with the additions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, Williams will likely have a short leash.
There are a lot of moving parts within the Pelicans' rotation. Can Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis coexist next to one another? Will bringing Evans off the bench work? Will New Orleans get any production out of the small forward spot?
There are a lot of questions facing this team. Many expect it to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, so if the Pelicans fail to jell as a unit, Williams' job will be in jeopardy.
Scoville Scale Hot Seat: Serrano Chile (5,000-15,000 Scoville Units)
3. Randy Wittman, Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards started the 2012-13 season at 0-12, losing three overtime games in the process under head coach Randy Wittman.
While losing overtime games hints that Washington was competing, it also shows that it failed to execute in crunch time, which reflects poorly on the coaching staff.
Before the Wiz got John Wall back from injury, they had fallen to a stunning 5-28 record. I understand that Wall is the engine that makes the Wizards run, but 5-28 is downright putrid, no matter what roster you have. (Miraculously, though, two of the five wins came against the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.)
Wittman’s seat was scorching hot before Wall got back last season. Although the Wizards performed much better with their star point guard, the 24-25 record they had with him wasn’t great either.
Additionally, the Wizards finished their season on a six-game losing skid against worthy opponents. Five of those six losses came against Eastern Conference playoff teams. If Washington isn’t capable of competing with good teams within the conference, it won’t earn a playoff berth in 2014.
There are high expectations now that Wall is back healthy to start the season. If the Wizards continue to struggle, a coaching change may help them get into the playoff picture.
As a closing thought, Wittman’s career coaching record is 147-291 for a winning percentage of .336. He’s never coached a team that has finished .500 or better.
Scoville Scale Hot Seat: Cayenne Pepper (30,000-50,000 Scoville Units)
2. Tyrone Corbin, Utah Jazz
As Tyrone Corbin enters the final year of his contract with the Utah Jazz, a contract extension has been deemed “unlikely,” according to Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said that Corbin has performed well under the current circumstances, per Oram’s article, but declined to comment on the coach’s contract status. Needless to say, that’s not a good sign for Corbin’s job stability.
At this juncture, the only thing that Corbin has working in his favor is a lack of team expectations. The Jazz embraced a full-blown rebuild by letting Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams leave via free agency. As a result, earning a playoff berth in the loaded Western Conference has become a pipe dream for the Jazz.
Utah will move forward by promoting a plethora of young players to bigger roles. Included in that group are Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and rookie Trey Burke.
Those youngsters are the future of Jazz basketball. If Utah’s front office doesn’t think that Corbin is a part of the long-term outlook to teach those guys, the logical decision moving forward is to find a replacement for him.
Essentially, we could see the exact scenario that played out for the Phoenix Suns a year ago.
Alvin Gentry entered last season coaching a Phoenix team with low expectations after Steve Nash left for the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite earning a vote of confidence from owner Robert Sarver in December, according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, Gentry was fired and replaced with interim coach Lindsey Hunter a month later.
Don’t be surprised if an interim coach finishes the season for the Jazz.
Scoville Scale Hot Seat: Habanero Pepper (100,000-350,000 Scoville Units)
1. Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors
No coaching hot seat in the NBA is burning up quite like that of Dwane Casey’s in Toronto.
As Ryan McNeill of Yahoo! Sports writes, “There are few situations worse for a head coach than to enter the last year of his contract with a general manager in control that didn’t hire him and to have a roster filled with question marks. But that’s exactly the situation Dwane Casey finds himself in this season.”
The combination of entering the final year of his current deal, having a roster full of uncertainty and coaching under a new general manager in Masai Ujiri, who is looking to turn the team’s fortunes around, is not good news for Casey.
Essentially, he's in a similar situation to Tyrone Corbin, except the Toronto Raptors have much higher expectations from their fanbase in the less-competitive Eastern Conference.
As currently constructed, though, the Raptors' roster is a borderline playoff team. In other words, they’re in NBA no man’s land. You don’t want to finish the regular season as an eighth seed or at the back end of the draft lottery.
Don’t be surprised if Ujiri, last season’s Executive of the Year, blows up his roster by trading Rudy Gay, as he did Andrea Bargnani during the summer.
Although Casey has been given a chance to earn a new contract under a new GM, I’m simply not convinced that the situation favors him. If Casey and Ujiri have differing philosophies at any point during the season, then the head coach will be the odd man out.
Scoville Scale Hot Seat: Ghost Pepper (855,000-2,100,000 Scoville Units)