With Lue Out, Walton on the Hot Seat, Which 5 NBA Coaches Could Be Next?
The NBA coaching carousel never stops spinning.
Even though the 2018-19 campaign is only a month old, it's already cost former Cleveland Cavaliers skipper Tyronn Lue his job and seen Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton "admonished" by president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, per Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com.
Life, as they say, comes at you quickly. And it will pick up speed as the standings gap widens between the Association's haves and have nots.
While nearly every coach has some level of warmth beneath his seat, we've examined the five closest to the chopping block. We've also ranked them in ascending order of heat based on performance, pressure and contract situations. Lastly, we've excluded Walton from this exercise, since the private-meeting-made-public gave everyone a glimpse at the intense scrutiny he's under.
5. Alvin Gentry, New Orleans Pelicans
Yes, the New Orleans Pelicans just recommitted themselves to Alvin Gentry this summer by way of a two-year contract extension that takes him through the 2020-21 campaign. But remember, this club is still making its prolonged recruiting pitch to all-galaxy superstar Anthony Davis, who can enter free agency in 2020 with his player option.
Is it that outlandish to think the Pelicans might feel they need someone more convincing than a coach with a 119-140 record over three-plus seasons in the Big Easy?
Davis' aspirations are as big as his supersized statistics. He wants to be regarded as the league's best player. To do so, he also understands his resume needs a serious boost in the team-success department, where he has just two playoff trips (and one series win) to show for his first six NBA seasons.
"Winning definitely helps everything," Davis told ESPN's Rachel Nichols. "It helps with your legacy. It helps to be in the top of that list. So for me—yes, people can see everything that I do. But not going forward in the playoffs or going to the playoffs every three years doesn't help my case."
How sure are the Pelicans that Gentry is the coach capable of taking Davis where he wants to go? The 64-year-old has a losing career coaching record of 454-510. He's been to the playoffs just three times as a head coach. He's yet to reach the NBA Finals and only coached in the conference finals once.
It already seems like inconsistency will be New Orleans' lone constant. The team has sandwiched winning streaks of four games and three games (the latter is ongoing) around a six-game skid. The offense is elite (sixth in efficiency), and the defense is problematic (26th). Without DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans look like a one-star squad again.
This isn't all on Gentry, but that might not matter if the franchise needs a fall guy. Dwane Casey, last season's Coach of the Year, presided over a somewhat flawed roster, steered the Toronto Raptors to their most wins ever (59) and still received his walking players after the team flopped in the second round—a sweep that arguably had more to do with personnel issues than any play style decisions.
It's just an unfortunate reality of this profession, and one that could spell Gentry's demise. If the Pelicans are treading water near the back end of the playoff picture (or worse, sinking below it), scapegoating the skipper could be the simplest quick-fix solution.
4. Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
During his first season on the job, Billy Donovan steered the Oklahoma City Thunder to 55 wins and a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. But the club collapsed amid a seven-game defeat, Kevin Durant bolted the Sooner State shortly thereafter and OKC hasn't won a playoff series since.
Last December, Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported the Thunder "have not given serious consideration to firing Donovan yet" but added the coach was working on "a short leash." That leash likely grew uncomfortably tight when the team limped out to a 0-4 start this season, although Donovan created some breathing room with a subsequent seven-game spurt.
Still, there are significant issues with this offense (18th) that Donovan has been unable to address.
No team averages fewer passes per game (241.8), and only seven spend a higher percentage of their plays on isolations (8.9). Essentially, this attack ebbs and flows based on the shooting success of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Dennis Schroder, which is worrisome when the latter two are both converting fewer than 42 percent of their field goals.
Donovan has also struggled to bring OKC's youngsters along. The player efficiency rating of third-year player Alex Abrines has backtracked each of the last two seasons. Terrance Ferguson, 20, has statistically been one of the 20 least valuable players to log 250-plus minutes (minus-4.0 box plus/minus). Rookie Hamidou Diallo has the second-worst net rating in the rotation (minus-9.7 points per 100 possessions).
Right or wrong, the Thunder view themselves as championship contenders. Donovan probably doesn't need to reach that high to keep his job, but he must get them closer than they've been since Durant's exit.
3. Fred Hoiberg, Chicago Bulls
Fred Hoiberg was hired in June 2015 and on the hot seat by December 2016. Based on both his performance and that of the Chicago Bulls, it's hard to imagine this throne has cooled at all since.
Now in the fourth season of a five-year contract, he's amassed a 114-146 record while overseeing both playoff hopefuls and obvious rebuilders. Just three players from Hoiberg's first campaign in Chicago are still around: Bobby Portis, Justin Holiday and Cristiano Felicio.
This level of turnover has given Hoiberg something of a free pass, but only as far as wins and losses are concerned. He still faces the daunting task of molding this young roster into one capable of competing sooner rather than later.
"If Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and rookie Wendell Carter Jr. make big-enough strides, Hoiberg might be rewarded with a contract extension," Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote in September. "If any of them regress, there will be some hard discussions taking place in the Bulls' front office come April."
The problem is Markkanen's season debut has been delayed by an elbow injury, and Dunn made just one appearance before an MCL sprain forced him to the sideline. That's not only paused their development, but it has also thwarted Hoiberg's plans of running a fast-paced, high-octane attack. Chicago sits just 23rd in pace and 27th in offensive efficiency.
Hoiberg, of course, can't account for an untimely rash of injuries. (Both Portis and Denzel Valentine are out too.) Just like the perimeter-oriented coach couldn't have planned on leading the non-shooting (and ill-fated) backcourt combo of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo before. Still, results matter in this profession, and Hoiberg is running out of time to post some positive ones.
2. Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards
League sources told Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes that a dispiriting 1-5 start didn't cost head coach Scott Brooks the support of the Washington Wizards. But the early funk—nine losses in the team's first 11 games—did spawn enough conversations about Brooks' job security for them to make their way inside the locker room.
"It's kind of hard to ignore when you have social media and the world we live in and everybody making rumors about it," Bradley Beal said after the team's eighth loss, per Candace Buckner of the Washington Post.
While Beal claimed there's "no truth to it at all," Washington's performance suggests perhaps there should be.
The Wizards are 25th in winning percentage (.308) and 27th in point differential (minus-98). They rank 20th in offense, 28th on defense and 27th in net rating (minus-7.6). They've played seven teams with a record of .500 or better and lost to all but one (the Portland Trail Blazers, whom they beat by a point in overtime).
The Wizards have the statistical marks of a rebuilder—and the sixth-highest payroll in basketball. As per usual, they've also called out each other through the media. This looks like another soap-opera season for a team that's far too old to still be having growing pains.
Can Brooks really tie this all together? Maybe the better question is whether anyone could sort this out. The bench is wildly inconsistent, the financial books are bloated and there still isn't a third scorer behind John Wall and Beal.
It's possible Brooks is in the toughest spot of any NBA head coach. So, why isn't he No. 1 on our list? The biggest reason is he's less to blame for his team's situation than the one coach remaining. But he's also under contract for another two seasons (with an organization already paying the luxury tax) and surrounded by an assistant staff that has no obvious candidate to serve as interim coach.
1. Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota Timberwolves
Tom Thibodeau traded an in-prime, four-time All-Star (Jimmy Butler) and brought back neither a first-round pick nor an elite prospect. At this point, even he couldn't sell the haul—Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-rounder—as particularly impressive.
"Once we felt we got to that point where the offers met some of the things we were looking for, then we said, 'OK, now it's time,'" Thibodeau said, per ESPN.com's Malika Andrews.
Butler is one of eight players to average at least 20 points and five rebounds in each of the last four seasons. He's one of three players in that group to have been selected to an All-Defensive team; Anthony Davis and LeBron James are the others.
Even with Butler's future unsettled, you'd think the Wolves could have gotten more than just "some of the things" they wanted. But Thibodeau misread the market and his team's ability to play through the distraction. As Minnesota's losses piled up—four through six games, nine through 13—the Butler offers worsened. The Miami Heat pulled promising swingman Josh Richardson off the table, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
The end result of this debacle, Wojnarowski wrote, "could cost Tom Thibodeau everything."
Because Minnesota took a present-focused package—Covington is 27, Saric is 24—there will be an expectation for this club to compete. That's despite the facts the Wolves rank 29th on defense and 25th in net rating. Or that just last season, this group fared a whopping 13.3 points worse per 100 possessions when it didn't have Butler.
Thibodeau has two seasons beyond this one left on his contract, but his chances of reaching its end decreased significantly over this saga. At this rate, he might need big steps forward from Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Saric and Covington just to retain the post for all of 2018-19.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter:@ZachBuckleyNBA.