NBA 2011-12: 6 Coaches Who May Be on the Hot Seat
There is a season. Finally! The beginning of the season brings joy to fans, puts employees to work in arenas, allows the athletes to showcase their talent and get paid but also puts stress and heat back on the coaches.
The only difference to this season from last season is the number of games the teams will play, but the same pressure will be on teams to win, especially for a select group of coaches. These coaches will be looked at to either make a major jump in improvement in their team's performance to convince their owners that the team is going in the right direction, or to even win the championship this year.
It seems a bit premature to think that someone's job is in jeopardy when the season hasn't even begun, but an NBA coach's leash is not very long and although a coach can't play one second or make one basket, unfortunately, he takes the blame when a team is not meeting expectations.
HOT SEAT: Stan Van Gundy / Coach of the Orlando Magic
Stan Van Gundy is entering his fifth year as the head coach of the Orlando Magic and with the early success he has had, you would think his job would be safe. This season may be quite the opposite for Van Gundy, ironically, because of that success.
In his second season at the helm, Van Gundy lead the Magic to its second NBA Finals appearance in team history. In his third season the Magic again had tremendous success appearing in it's second straight conference finals.
Since then, the Magic have begun to slowly slip as one of the "beasts of the East" and are having major trouble finding that chemistry that had the team fighting for an NBA title.
Not only is he in jeopardy of losing his job, but the franchise is in jeopardy of losing it's franchise player in Dwight Howard. Howard will be a free agent in 2012 and is rumored to be heading to many teams from LA to New Jersey. The short reign of dominance the Magic held in the east has gone to it's in-state neighbor Miami Heat.
With the Heat looking to only get better as it's stars will be aligned for the next six years, Van Gundy and the Magic will either have to make major strides in dethroning the current eastern conference champs or face losing it's franchise player as well as one of the franchise's most successful coaches.
HOT SEAT: Nate McMillan / Coach of the Portland Trailblazers
Potential. Great athletes. Good big-men. Player's coach. Every year it seems these phrases are used to describe the Portland Trailblazers. Every year they tend to be some basketball analyst's dark horse to win the West. And every year the one word that best describes the cause of the team's lack of success is INJURY.
Nate McMillan has been the head coach of the Trailblazers since 2005. He is respected as one of the league's better coaches. He was a very respected player and is known as being the ideal player's coach, understanding what the rigors of the NBA bring and how to motivate players from an inside perspective.
That type of description and reputation only goes so far. Eventually, is a coach has to do better than just make the playoffs. The Trailblazers are actually one of the deepest teams in the league.
They have a very capable All Star caliber big man in LaMarcus Aldrige. They have very good athleticism on the perimeter with Garald Wallace and Nicolas Batum. They now have a capable veteran point guard in Raymond Felton. Don't forget about All Star shooting guard / leader Brandon Roy who actually looked pretty good in last year's playoffs after coming back from what many thought to be a season ending injury.
They have the players. They have the coach. They have a ton of support in one of loudest arenas in the country. They have one of the richest owners in the league. They also have a coach, with a hot seat underneath him. If the Trailblazers don't make a major playoff run this year, they will also have a new coach.
HOT SEAT: Paul Westphal / Coach of the Sacramento Kings
"Rebound goes to Divac. Vlade outlets to Bibby who dribbles up the side of the court. He finds Webber at the top of the key. Webber spins passed his man and draws a double team. He quickly passes out of it and hits Christie on wing who gives a graceful touch pass to the corner to a wide-open Stojakovic. Peja launches from three and rattles the bottom of the net!"
Remember those Kings? In those days you could hear the cowbells clanging all the way in San Diego. That seems to be a century ago. It was actually in the last 10 years. Paul Westphal, in his third season as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings, has the daunting task of restoring the Kings to that success.
The famous Maloof brothers have entrusted Westphal with shaping a team of young, athletic and talented players and have given him the task of making winners out of them. It's not at all a small feat.
The Kings have talented individuals, but have not performed well as a group. They have leadership issues. They have two stars who came out of college prematurely and had to deal with maturity matters. They drafted the best player in college in Jimmer Fredette who will bring with him a huge fan base but some already question his ability to have the same success in the NBA as he did at BYU.
They have shown flashes of being a team capable of putting things together, but only flashes. Owners who are used to being successful, don't like flashes. The only flashes the Maloof's want are when people are taking pictures in their hotels in Vegas.
Westphal needs to make the playoffs, or at least come very close to it, to show his bosses that he is well worth the gamble of another year's pay.
HOT SEAT: Doug Collins / Coach of the Philadephia Sixers
Doug Collins has always been a good coach. But he has never won the big one. He seems always to "almost" get it done. He's like the "preparer," John the Baptist. He's the coach who got Michael Jordan into the playoffs. He got the Sixers back into the playoffs after a long hiatus. But that's it.
He was marginal as a coach of the Detroit Pistons. He's never really terrible, but not quite good enough to have post season success. Last season his team's record goes along with his entire career, ending the season with a marginal 41-41 record and giving a valiant effort versus the Heat in the playoffs, but ultimately getting put out.
He was a good player as a pro himself, but not quite good enough to be a Hall of Famer. His Olympic career was no different and may have been the start of it all. He played an integral part of the Munich games of 1972, more known for the terrorist murders of the Israeli athletes. But also known for the gold medal game versus the Soviets.
That was the game where Collins made two free throws to end the game and give the U.S. the victory. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, officials gave the Soviets three more seconds to run a play, allowing them to make a layup with time expiring and giving the gold medal to the Soviets in a 50-51 loss.
If the Sixers have another .500 season, expect Collins to once again have that stunned look on his face when he is fired after a buzzer beater goes through and eliminates his team from making the playoffs, much like the look he held on his face in Munich.
WARM SEAT: Scott Brooks / Coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder
There is a new champ in the West. The Lakers have been dethroned. The new best in the West is the Mavericks? The overwhelming thought after the 2010 season and playoffs was that the next best team in the West, whenever the Lakers run came to an end, would be the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Mavericks threw a monkey wrench in that thinking, and have now put head coach Scott Brooks on alert.
His seat isn't quite HOT yet, but it's getting very warm. The Thunder did make the conference finals last year, but didn't look too good in doing so. The Mavericks seem to breeze through the entire west, including the mighty Lakers. But how did they pass the Thunder, the next best in the West?
The Thunder were prematurely crowned the next western conference champs. They acquired Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics in a mid-season trade. He was thought to be the answer to facing the Lakers since he was the punishing force behind Boston's success versus the Lakers. There was one slight oversight. They didn't face the Lakers this year.
Perkins showed his lack of scoring from the low-post which serve to work against them while facing the Mavs. They needed badly to have scoring from the post to offset the scoring from Dirk Nowitzki.
If the Thunder don't at least make it back to the western conference finals, expect to hear rumblings in Oklahoma City and depending on what coaches are available, a change may take place.
WARM SEAT: Erik Spoelstra / Coach of the Miami Heat
What's the one problem with coaching arguably the best player in the NBA? Here's a hint: It's the same problem as coaching the best outside duo in the game since Jordan and Pippen.
There is no room for failure.
Erik Spoelstra led the most hated & loved team in the NBA to the finals last year and felt like he had a losing season. The starting talent the Miami Heat possess is currently unmatched in the league. The problem is filling a roster full of players to compliment these extraordinary talents.
Spoelstra actually did an excellent job in guiding the Heat through the season and maintaining as much balance as possible with such stars as Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. He came two wins away from capturing a title. He was actually a year ahead of team president Pat Riley's schedule. So what does that mean and why is his seat warm?
That means that winning an NBA title is the only goal for this year and not doing so will have his seat very hot. He may actually have two more chances to do so, especially if the Heat make it back to the finals and it is clear that the reason for the loss is lack of the right personnel and not leadership amongst the coaches.
But if the Heat don't make an excellent showing in a championship run, expect immediate changes to take place. They may actually be a huge mistake as Spoelstra seems to be the best coach to grow with this team, but with the amount of pressure and expectations that will be placed on his team, Riley may have no other choice.