Predicting the Next NBA Head Coaches to Get the Axe This Offseason
The NBA's coaching carousel didn't take long to get underway once the 2013-14 regular season came to an end.
Within a week, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman announced his retirement, New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson got canned (along with his entire coaching staff) and the Utah Jazz announced they would not be offering another contract to Tyrone Corbin, whose deal expired at the end of the season.
Rest assured, those three teams aren't the only ones who will be looking for new leaders this summer. Remember, a whopping 13 teams entered the 2013-14 season with first-year coaches on the bench, including nine rookies.
Which coach will be the next to fall victim to an impatient owner? As FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver reveals, Las Vegas may have some insight.
"In the NBA, where about 30 percent of the league turns its head coach over every season, these expectations matter as much as reality," Silver discovered, based on data dating back to the 2006-07 season. "I mean that literally: Las Vegas's preseason over-under lines predict coach turnover just as well as actual wins and losses do."
So, with each team's regular-season record, preseason over-under line and postseason performance (when applicable) in mind, let's look at the coaches who are most likely to get the axe this summer.
Note: Preseason over-under lines come from Bovada.lv (via Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney). Coaches are sorted in alphabetical order.
These three coaches aren't likely to be fired over the offseason but could be axed early in the 2014-15 season if their respective teams start off slow.
Larry Drew, Milwaukee Bucks
Drew's future with the Bucks largely depends on what happens with the team's impending sale.
In mid-April, hedge-fund billionaires Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry reached an agreement with current owner Herb Kohl to buy the franchise for roughly $550 million. The NBA and its board of governors must approve the deal, but commissioner Adam Silver told reporters earlier this month that he didn't "anticipate there will be any issues" with the approval of the sale.
Assuming it goes through by the summer, Drew's fate will rest in the hands of Edens and Lasry. If they're looking to wipe away the stench from the 2013-14 season as much as humanly possible, Drew is a dead man walking. Otherwise, they may allow him to go through a de facto lame-duck season before canning him next summer, barring substantial improvement.
Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers
If Brown hadn't signed a five-year, $20 million deal in the summer of 2013, he'd be one of the leading candidates to get fired over the next few months.
Despite having the No. 1 pick for the second time in three seasons, the Cavaliers quickly fell out of the playoff race and finished the year 16 games under .500. Though Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters both threw their support behind Brown returning in 2014-15, per Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer, others, such as Schmitt Boyer's colleague Bill Livingston, are already calling for Brown's head.
Because the Cavs likely won't be keen on canning Brown and paying him for the next three seasons—the fifth year of his contract is a partially guaranteed team option, per ESPN.com—it'd be a surprise if they fire him this summer. If Cleveland doesn't make major strides early in 2014-15, though, owner Dan Gilbert's patience could conceivably reach a breaking point.
Monty Williams, New Orleans Pelicans
One thing above all else will likely spare Williams from getting canned this summer: the plethora of injuries the Pelicans endured in 2013-14.
In the uber-competitive Western Conference, no coach could survive prolonged injuries to his three top players. Thanks to a fracture in Anthony Davis' left hand, a herniated disc that sidelined Ryan Anderson for a majority of the season and a stress fracture in Jrue Holiday's right tibia that cost him half the year, that's exactly what Williams was up against.
New Orleans has inched closer toward contention in each of the past three seasons, but that won't be good enough in 2014-15. If the Pelicans don't get off to a fast start, Williams—who's under contract through 2015-16—could be in danger of an early-season firing.
Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers
Regular-season record: (56-26, first in East)
Preseason over-under: 54.5 (+1.5)
Despite leading the Indiana Pacers to the best record in the Eastern Conference this season, Frank Vogel's future with the team appears to be in grave danger.
A source told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that Vogel is "coaching for his job" during the 2014 playoffs thanks to a post-All-Star break swoon that left Indiana reeling. Even if the Pacers come back and knock off the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks, it would "not automatically ensure" the coach's safety, per Stein.
Back in March, team president Larry Bird didn't exactly give a glowing review of Vogel when speaking with Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star:
I'm sort of going to Frank's side because he's had so much success by staying positive. We do have to stay the course. But I also think he's got to start going after guys when they're not doing what they're supposed to do. And stay on them, whether you've got to take them out of the game when they're not doing what they're supposed to do or limit their minutes. I will say, he hasn't done that enough.
To the Pacers' credit, they're doing everything they can to stamp out these rumors at the moment. On April 24, Indiana general manager Kevin Pritchard tweeted, "Larry Bird just told me his sources say Frank Vogel's job is safe."
However, if Indiana fails to make it back to the conference finals—an entirely realistic possibility given the Pacers' 3-2 series deficit to the Hawks—Vogel's job will be in legitimate jeopardy. It would mark a major step back from the 2012-13 season in which the Pacers took the Miami Heat to seven games in the conference finals before getting waxed.
With Vogel's locker room cachet openly in question, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News, nothing short of a trip to the NBA Finals will guarantee his return next season. Bird didn't acquire Evan Turner, Lavoy Allen, Luis Scola and C.J. Watson within the past year just to get knocked out in the opening round or the conference semifinals.
John Loyer, Detroit Pistons
Regular-season record: 29-53 (11th in East)
Preseason over-under: 40.0 (-11.0)
Given the circumstances, John Loyer couldn't have done much more with the Detroit Pistons this season.
After Detroit canned Maurice Cheeks in February, Loyer took over as interim head coach and inherited a team in complete disarray. The Pistons were 21-29 when Loyer took over and only further collapsed down the stretch, finishing 8-24 in his 32 games leading the squad.
Can that all be pinned on Loyer? Not even close. The frontcourt pairing of Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond was more or less destined to fail from the get go, while Smith and Brandon Jennings, the Pistons' two marquee free-agent acquisitions, shot 41.9 and 37.3 percent from the field respectively this season.
Frankly, however, Detroit's collapse at the end of the year can't be considered a feather in Loyer's cap. Not only did the Philadelphia 76ers break their 26-game losing streak against the Pistons; they blew Detroit out by 25 points that night.
With general manager Joe Dumars resigning at the end of the season, Detroit is primed for a clean sweep in the front office. In all likelihood that will include Loyer, considering the lack of progress the Pistons demonstrated over the final two months of the season.
To the head coach's credit, he's not willing to concede his job readily. "I'll let what I've done and what I've brought to the table every day speak for itself," Loyer told David Mayo of MLive.com.
Given the smoke around Michigan State coach Tom Izzo—both ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and USA Today's Sam Amick floated his name as a serious candidate to land the Pistons job—Loyer's ouster appears all but certain.
Kevin McHale, Houston Rockets
Regular-season record: 54-28 (fourth in West)
Preseason over-under: 54.5 (-0.5)
When the Houston Rockets signed Dwight Howard to a four-year max deal in the summer of 2013, it's safe to say a first-round playoff exit was not what the franchise had in mind.
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, sources say "that the prevailing feeling in team circles is that head coach Kevin McHale 'deserves more than one season with this group,'" despite the team's struggles this postseason. However, "there is no guarantee he would survive a first-round exit," Stein and Shelburne reported.
They have a theory on how to play basketball, focusing on scoring via threes, free throws and in the paint, but they don't have a system that mandates Harden and Howard really being all-in as far as working together. Their style is basically alternating attack modes, which is the sort of simplistic approach that always gets mucked up come playoff time.
In other words, the Rockets' two superstars are grappling with the same issues that afflicted LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the first year of their partnership in Miami. The main difference? Despite their struggles thriving alongside one another, the Heat still made it to the NBA Finals before falling apart against Dallas.
Through four games, the Blazers have outscored the Rockets in every fourth quarter. If Portland makes it five straight and takes Game 5 in Houston to seal the series, the Rockets will take a long, hard look at what went wrong this year and whether McHale is the right coach to turn it around.
Mike D'Antoni, Los Angeles Lakers
Regular-season record: 27-55, 14th in West
Preseason over-under: 36.5 (-9.5)
Fresh off the worst season in franchise history, the odds of Mike D'Antoni returning as the Los Angeles Lakers' head coach in 2014-15 wouldn't seem to be very high.
The Lakers' franchise star, Kobe Bryant, has "no interest" in playing for D'Antoni next season, sources told Sean Deveney of Sporting News. Steve Nash only added fuel to that fire in March, telling ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd he "wouldn't disagree" with the assessment that Bryant and D'Antoni haven't fit together seamlessly in L.A., per the Los Angeles Daily News's Mark Medina.
"We've seen that," Nash said. "People have deduced and read between the lines and felt that way, they're not wrong. It's not the perfect marriage."
After the Lakers' exit interviews, general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters that D'Antoni is "under contract for two more years" (only one of which is guaranteed). "If anything changes," Kupchak said, "we will let you know."
On April 25, Mark Heisler of the Orange County Register reported that "the key figures in Lakers management are agreed on bringing back D'Antoni" in 2014-15. However, ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne refuted that report only hours later, writing, "sources insist no formal decision on [D'Antoni's] future has been made."
According to Shelburne and USA Today's Sam Amick, D'Antoni is pressing hard for the Lakers to pick up the team option on the fourth year of his contract so he doesn't endure a lame-duck season in 2014-15. "It's unclear whether D'Antoni will return" if L.A. decides against picking up said option, Amick reported.
With Bryant only signed for two more seasons, the Lakers can't risk having the Kobe-D'Antoni relationship undermining the team through 2015-16. Therefore, once they decline to pick up D'Antoni's team option, don't be surprised if the two mutually agree to part ways despite Heisler's report suggesting otherwise.
Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder
Regular-season record: 59-23 (second in West)
Preseason over-under: 51.5 (+7.5)
The Oklahoma City Thunder's first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies has quickly turned into a referendum on Scott Brooks' coaching ability.
Too often throughout the series, the Thunder offense boils down to isolation plays for either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, with the other members of the Thunder standing in place along the perimeter. Memphis is exploiting that predictability by making life miserable for OKC's two cornerstones.
"Bottom line: The Grizz are going to squeeze the floor on Oklahoma City’s stars, and the Thunder offense has no backup plan once the first option fails," Grantland's Zach Lowe explained. "That leads to awful shot selection, especially from Westbrook, but Brooks will face an offseason reckoning if the Thunder bow out here."
Reggie Jackson temporarily spared Brooks with a playoff career-high 32 points in OKC's Game 4 overtime victory, helping the Thunder overcome a combined 30 points on 11-of-45 shooting from Durant and Westbrook. If Memphis comes back to win this opening-round series, however, Oklahoma City will be searching for a new head coach this summer.
Since it's too early to definitively say what will happen to the Thunder in these playoffs—for all we know, Jackson's heroics will spur a run to an NBA title—calling for Brooks' ouster is a bit premature. If he can't guide OKC at least to the conference finals, however, he'll almost assuredly be on the receiving end of a pink slip despite exceeding preseason expectations by 7.5 wins.
No one said the life of a presumptive NBA title favorite was easy, after all.
Safe For Now: Mark Jackson, Golden State Warriors
Regular-season record: 51-31 (sixth in West)
Preseason over-under: 51.5 (-0.5)
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling may have inadvertently spared Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson from getting the axe this summer.
Jackson entered the 2014 playoffs with his job on the line, and his team appeared destined to fall short of expectations. Center Andrew Bogut suffered a rib fracture in the week leading up to the playoffs, seemingly dooming the Warriors in their first-round series against the Clippers' twin towers of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Despite having clear buy-in from his players, as ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported, ownership appeared far more lukewarm on Jackson's long-term future. Back in February, Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob told Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News that Jackson "has done a good job," but he was disturbed by "the lack of being up for some of these games at home."
Things only got worse in March, as Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news of assistant coach Brian Scalabrine being reassigned. "Over the past two years, Jackson's difficulty with managing his coaching staff and creating a functional work environment has developed into one of the issues that threatens his future on the job," league sources told Wojnarowski.
After stealing Game 1 in L.A. against the Clippers, the Warriors dropped two straight, ceding home-court advantage right back. In response, Jackson made the desperation move of inserting Draymond Green into the starting lineup and moving Jermaine O'Neal to the bench, deciding to battle the Clippers' size with a four-out, one-in look.
The move worked brilliantly in Game 4, as Stephen Curry shook loose for 33 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. After the game, Jackson credited Green's screens and shooting ability for opening up looks for Curry.
Granted, Sterling's alleged off-the-court remarks, as TMZ first reported on Friday evening, may have contributed to the Clippers' malaise in Game 4. And as L.A. coach Doc Rivers told reporters after the game, the Clippers heading back home for Game 5 might not be the "safe haven" that home-court advantage typically proves to be.
Given the way Jackson is handling this potentially toxic situation with poise—before Game 4, he told reporters, "You make a statement by who you are"—the Warriors may have no choice but to retain him no matter what happens in this series. In other words, Sterling's alleged distaste for minorities may have saved Jackson, an African-American coach, from losing his job.
How's that for irony?