NBA coaches make for such great scapegoats.
Get off to a poor start? The coach isn't motivating his team properly! Offense is failing to score at an elite level? The coach needs to draw up better plays! Defense isn't preventing points? The coach needs to commit to that end more in practice!
"Off with his head!" scream fans, eager to place the blame on someone other than one of their favorite players.
It's not always the coach's fault, but sometimes...it is.
That's the case for these five men, each of whom have spent the early portion of the 2013-14 season futilely pacing the sidelines as their weaknesses are exposed. All of them have struggled badly.
Does that mean they'll see the axe?
In some cases, it's possible. In others, probably not, as they're either high-profile guys who aren't going to be easily replaced in the middle of a season or young coaches struggling to learn on the job.
But regardless, they're all making mistakes on the sidelines.
Scott Brooks has come under fire in the past for his unwillingness to adapt to the situation. If we rewind all the way to 2011, it's not hard to remember how much scrutiny he faced for his hesitance to change rotations and lessen Kendrick Perkins' role against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
Well, that hasn't changed.
Brooks just doesn't realize that trying the same thing over and over without a different result is the definition of insanity. He's inflexible, refusing to bend. And what happens to things that don't bend?
What's truly concerning is Brooks' inability to keep the offense running smoothly while Russell Westbrook was out. He had weeks before the first game to ensure that the pressure on Kevin Durant was eased, at least a little bit.
That didn't happen.
Instead, the offense was frighteningly Durant-centric, and it backfired in a big way against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Oklahoma City Thunder dropped only 81 points, their lowest total since April 16, 2012.
Each time OKC strolled down the court, the team looked for Durant on the wing. There wasn't much movement to get him involved, and Brooks almost seemed content to let the scoring sensation do his thing, taking on double-teams and running isolation set after isolation set.
Westbrook's early return will mask the problems the Thunder have on the sidelines, but the first few games of the 2013-14 campaign exposed Brooks in a big way.
Let's focus on just a single game. A single half, even. One rife with strange decisions by Dwane Casey.
On Nov. 5, the Toronto Raptors lost by nine points to the Miami Heat, and they should have been able to pull out a victory against the defending champions. Without Chris Bosh in the lineup, they had a chance to assert themselves as a huge team and prove that LeBron James' 35 points, eight rebounds and eight assists were all for naught.
Going into the locker rooms for halftime at the Air Canada Centre, the Raptors were down two points. Jonas Valanciunas had played 17 minutes, asserting himself as a dominant force with 13 points and seven rebounds.
No one on the Miami roster was handling him very well.
So what happens in the second half? Valanciunas plays only 10 minutes, getting subbed out with 3:17 left in the third quarter and not returning until 3:58 remained in the fourth.
When he left, the Raptors were down six points. When he returned, the Miami lead had ballooned to 12 points.
Whether or not Tyler Hansbrough's pick-and-roll defense was superior (it was), the Raptors desperately needed offense and size, something that Casey never realized and tried to defend after the game.
During the next game, a loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, Casey inexplicably decided not to foul while down two points with the clock winding down. There wasn't even enough time to corral the loose ball after Gerald Henderson missed, and that was another loss.
Eric Koreen of the National Post has a great description of that sequence if you're interested in more detail.
Casey has been blissfully unaware of situations throughout the early portion of the season, and that's already cost a talented Toronto squad that could be making a playoff push by the time we've reached the stretch run of this season.
"We were content in just bringing the ball up and running plays. We only got nine fast-break points against a Spurs team that..Ty [Lawson] and Tony Parker, quickness wise, they cancel each other out, but I thought that we should be able to outrun some of their veteran players."
That's what Brian Shaw told DenverStiffs.com's Nate Timmons after his Denver Nuggets lost to the San Antonio Spurs, and that's been true for pretty much the entire season.
Denver is supposed to be taking advantage of the altitude in the Mile High City. If you run throughout the game, you have a sizable advantage in the fourth quarter. You're acclimated, and your opponent isn't.
Add in one of the quickest point guards in the NBA (Ty Lawson), some athletic wings and a great transition finisher (Kenneth Faried), and you should have a team that runs first, runs second and thinks third.
You know, kind of like how JaVale McGee plays.
But according to Basketball-Reference, the Nuggets have the No. 13 pace in the NBA. Hmmm.
The other concern? As a good friend of mine, Shashank Bharadwaj, put it, Shaw has been trying to fit players into his scheme rather than building a scheme to fit the players he's working with. It's resulted in the vast majority of the Denver roster looking uncomfortable.
Here's the situation: the new system, with a belief in solid defense and dependable offense in the half court, demands a type of player who excels in those areas.
This Nuggets roster was born to run, jump and dunk.
This new system needs players to dribble, pass and shoot.
Shaw is new to the ranks of head coaches, and it's far too soon to make a final judgement about him. But the early returns aren't promising.
Pedigree and player development can only get you so far.
Between the 1999-00 campaign and the current one, Randy Wittman has been the head coach for three different teams (the Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards) over the course of eight seasons.
With a career record of 148-294, Wittman has literally never had a winning season. His best year was his first, when he coached the Cavs to a 32-50 record.
And so far, 2013-14 has been par for the course.
The Wizards can't afford to get off to a slow start, even if they're trying to bring Marcin Gortat up to speed, teaching him the rotations and defensive assignments on the fly. Everything that the management has done—including the panic trade for Gortat—has been geared toward making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, and there are a lot of teams who want one of those final berths.
He hasn't gotten his guys to start playing like a team yet.
They force shots, they run too many isolation sets, and they're far too prone to defensive lapses that result from a lack of communication. Wittman may be a good defensive coach, but he hasn't been able to make that apparent this year, small sample size be damned.
At this point, it seems inevitable that Wittman will be the first coach fired during the 2013-14 season. Washington is in win-now mode, and George Karl and Lionel Hollins are both waiting for opportunities.
In the near future, it's quite possible that Wittman receives a phone call that leads to a few more obscenities. At least he won't be fined for these.
The head coach isn't the problem in the nation's capital. Problem is, he isn't the solution either.
Mike Woodson has started Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler in three games so far, and the New York Knicks have lost every one of them. That might be correlational, but NBA.com's statistical databases (subscription required) tell a different story.
In the trio's 41 minutes on the court together, they've produced an offensive rating of 98.4 and been ridiculously porous on the defensive end, allowing 128.1 points per 100 possessions. Not a good combination, last time I checked.
Chandler's injury, a fracture in the fibula that could keep him out for over a month, could end up being the best and worst thing that happens to Woody. While it'll be awfully difficult for the Knicks to fight back up to .500 and a losing record could result in a lost job, at least he'll have to get more creative with his rotations.
So far, they've been terrible.
He's had Raymond Felton guarding Derrick Rose on a game-winning attempt, which is just never a good idea. He refuses to compromise and go back to the small-ball lineups that put 'Melo at the 4 and led to so much success.
Everything he's touched has fizzled.
You think of a typical Knicks game over the years at the Garden, one ever-present element are chants of 'Dee-fense!'
Now, the chants are like: 'Keep ‘em under 70 this half, please.'
Woodson has always been known as a defense-first coach, and yet, the defense looks horrific thus far.
It'll be even worse without a certain anchor in the center of the paint. Minus an elite defense and with a roster of players struggling to knock down three-point attempts, it's tough for Woodson to do much, especially given his complete lack of offensive creativity.
But hey, at least he's got 'Melo more willing to pass than ever before!