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Why These 7 NBA Coaches May Get Fired Before the New Year

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2013

Why These 7 NBA Coaches May Get Fired Before the New Year

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    New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson finds himself on the hot seat after a rocky start to the 2013-14 season.
    New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson finds himself on the hot seat after a rocky start to the 2013-14 season.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    One-quarter of the way into the 2013-14 NBA season, nearly half of the Eastern Conference's coaches find themselves on the hot seat.

    With 13 teams starting off the year with new head coaches, some of these struggles could be foreseen from a mile away. Jason Kidd spent all of 10 days between retiring as a player and becoming a coach, leaving him very little time to learn the ropes.

    Others, such as Mike Brown and Larry Drew, have no such excuse. Both were experienced coaches brought in to lead their respective teams to the 2014 playoffs, but neither of their squads are anywhere close to legitimate contenders through mid-December.

    The overwhelming mediocrity of the Eastern Conference may end up temporarily sparing many of the coaches currently in danger of being fired. After all, despite the struggles of Brown's Cleveland Cavaliers, his 8-13 squad is within a half-game of the No. 8 seed.

    If any of the seven teams featured here stumble much further, however, their coaches could be getting the ax before New Year's day.

     

    Note: All statistics and records are current through games played on Dec. 11. Coaches are listed here based on the likelihood of their firing, from least to most.

Tyrone Corbin, Utah Jazz

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Current record: 5-19

    Had the Utah Jazz expected to be competitive this season, Tyrone Corbin would be the head coach on the hottest seat of all. He's on the final year of his contract and is coaching the team with the worst record in the league (5-19).

    But after allowing Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to walk as free agents this past offseason, the Utah brain trust had to expect a rebuilding season in 2013-14. That should take some of the pressure off Corbin, despite the Jazz stumbling out of the gate.

    The coach can't feel too secure about his future in Utah, however. At the beginning of training camp, the Salt Lake Tribune's Bill Oram reported that a contract extension between Corbin and the Jazz was "unlikely."

    ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy told Oram that Utah's history of "never blaming the coach" would play into Corbin's favor, but said the situation would "be excruciatingly hard" in most instances. Despite the potential rewards of landing a top pick in the 2014 draft, a 60-plus-loss season wouldn't be easy to swallow for many owners.

    If Utah's younger players begin tuning out Corbin over the coming weeks, he could end up on the chopping block.  

Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors

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    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Spo

    Current record: 7-13

    Dwane Casey must have thanked his lucky stars once he heard about the Toronto Raptors' plans to trade Rudy Gay.

    By shipping out Gay to the Sacramento Kings, the Raptors effectively announced their intention to join the "Riggin' for Wiggins" race. That should give Casey some breathing room in the final year of his three-year contract, as he's no longer facing playoff-or-bust expectations.

    He shouldn't feel totally secure about his future in Toronto, however. Grantland's Zach Lowe reports that Casey's job may be in jeopardy, "depending on [general manager Masai] Ujiri's timetable with the position, per several league sources."

    It boils down to this for Toronto: In what's now amounting to a rebuilding year, do you want to fire Casey, hire another head coach and pay out both? Or do you allow him to finish out his contract, part ways with him after the season and begin a coaching search next offseason?

    Casey will likely remain Toronto's coach through the rest of the season, but it's no guarantee. If Casey refuses to allocate heavy minutes to Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, the Raptors' two main building blocks, he could meet his coaching demise in the coming weeks.

Larry Drew, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Current record: 5-17

    Twenty-two games into his coaching career with the Milwaukee Bucks, could Larry Drew's job already be in danger? That's what a 5-17 start can do to a new coach.

    Based on the Bucks' series of inexplicable offseason maneuvers, the team appeared intent on making the playoffs as a low seed and getting obliterated in the first round. Even in the pathetic Eastern Conference, Milwaukee currently stands four games out of the No. 8 seed.

    Working in Drew's favor is the fact he's on the first year of a four-year, $10 million contract, per ESPN's Chris Broussard. Firing him now means swallowing the remaining three years and roughly $7.5 million on his deal, which can't sound appealing to Milwaukee owner Herb Kohl.

    Drew's blatant mismanagement of the Bucks roster isn't helping his cause, however. Through 22 games, he's already trotted out 12 different starting lineups, per Basketball-Reference, and has failed to develop any semblance of a regular rotation.

    Given his contract situation, Drew should be able to survive as the Bucks coach at least through this season. If the team can't turn its season around soon, though, Kohl might decide to bite the bullet and fire Drew regardless of his contract.

Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Current record: 8-13

    Mike Brown's second start with the Cleveland Cavaliers hasn't gotten off to the greatest start, to say the least.

    After earning two of the past three No. 1 overall draft picks, the Cavs had their sights firmly set on the 2014 playoffs. The team's owner, Dan Gilbert, told The Plain Dealer's Jodie Valade that, barring catastrophic injuries, he expected "this team [to be] a playoff contender."

    That hasn't exactly come to fruition just yet, as Cleveland has sputtered its way to an 8-13 record through the first quarter of the season. Not helping matters: Dion Waiters, the No. 4 overall pick in 2012, is also reportedly on the trade market after a contentious altercation with star point guard Kyrie Irving, per ESPN.com's Chris Broussard.

    The Cavs signed Brown to a five-year, $20 million deal in April, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, which should have him confident about his immediate future with Cleveland. Despite the team's 8-13 record, they're only a half game out of the No. 8 seed at the moment.

    If the Cavs continue to sputter, however, Gilbert's playoffs-or-bust mentality could inspire him to fire Brown regardless of his long-term contract.

Randy Wittman, Washington Wizards

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Current record: 9-11

    If the Eastern Conference weren't so tragically awful, Randy Wittman would feel much less secure about his future with the Washington Wizards.

    The Wiz got off to a miserable 2-7 start in 2013-14, raising the temperature of Wittman's seat significantly. A source close to the Wizards told USA Today's Sam Amick that the coach "still [had] some time to turn things around" before getting canned, however.

    Washington did exactly that, reeling off seven wins over its next nine games to claw back to .500. But it still may not be enough to save Wittman's job, especially after back-to-back brutal losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets dropped the Wizards down to 9-11.

    Somehow, despite sitting two games under .500, the Wizards currently possess the sixth-best record in the East. So long as Washington remains in the thick of one of the saddest playoff races in NBA history, the team's front office likely won't get rid of Wittman.

    If the Wizards stumble through the next few weeks—a legitimate possibility, given their upcoming matchups with the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets—Wittman will find himself right back on the hot seat.

Jason Kidd, Brooklyn Nets

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    Current record: 7-14

    You know you've had an inauspicious start to your coaching career when the highlight of the first six weeks involves you spilling a drink onto the court in an attempt at gamesmanship.

    Jason Kidd's "Sodagate" earned him a $50,000 fine from the NBA, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported. And that's not the only strike against Kidd's coaching resume through 20 games.

    His hiring of assistant coach Lawrence Frank, a move which earned no shortage of plaudits during the offseason, already appears to have blown up in his face.

    Kidd used a "13-letter word" during a heated postgame meeting with Frank on Nov. 3, per ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo, and soon demoted Frank from head assistant coach to "guy who files meaningless daily reports." Frank has reportedly retained legal counsel, per Mazzeo, and plans on pursuing a buyout from the team.

    If the Nets were 15-5 with all of these dustups on the sideline, Kidd's job wouldn't be in jeopardy. Seeing as the Nets stumbled out of the gate to a 7-14 record, however, he can't feel all too secure in his job.

    Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov isn't paying $100 million in luxury taxes this year just to squeak into the playoffs and earn another first-round knockout. If Kidd can't turn around the team's fortunes soon, he could be the first rookie head coach axed this season.

Mike Woodson, New York Knicks

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Current record: 6-15

    Given the neurotic impulses of New York Knicks owner James Dolan, it's somewhat miraculous that Mike Woodson hasn't already been fired this season.

    Dolan entered this season with a championship-or-bust mentality, according to ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley, as delusional as that may seem. Seeing the Knicks stumble out of the gates to a 6-15 record doesn't exactly scream "title contender," however.

    In Woodson's defense, New York's monumental collapse hasn't been entirely his fault. Losing Tyson Chandler to a fractured fibula only four games into the season was a death knell for New York, as the team suddenly lacked its defensive anchor from the past two seasons.

    Without Chandler manning the middle, the Knicks have allowed opponents to score 108.7 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 28th in the league, according to Basketball-Reference. Even a coaching legend like Phil Jackson couldn't win with a defense that porous.

    Despite the failures of the roster, however, Woodson must shoulder some of the blame for the Knicks' brutal start. Coaching sources tell ESPN.com's Marc Stein that Woodson is "already more fearful about his job security in private than he ever lets on publicly."  

    At this point, it sounds as though it's a matter of when, not if, Woodson gets fired. Had the Knicks lost to the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 11 after choking away a 23-point lead, Woodson might as well have cleared out his office.

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