Predicting Next NBA Head Coaches Who Could Feel the Hot SeatDecember 9, 2021
Predicting Next NBA Head Coaches Who Could Feel the Hot Seat
NBA head coaches are essentially hired to be fired. Somebody (or several somebodies) is going to wind up out of work every season. That's a certainty.
And yet, nothing in the NBA news cycle is more fickle or reactionary than the concept of the coaching hot seat.
Just ask the Houston Rockets' Stephen Silas, who seemed destined for canning mere days ago, only to re-secure his position with a six-game winning streak. That Houston mostly beat up on the dregs of the league and improved its performance by leaning on its veterans is immaterial.
The wins—ironically, for a team built to lose—were all it took. Silas' chair is suddenly chilly again.
That could change in an instant. And if it's not Silas back on the hot seat, rest assured it'll be someone else.
Chauncey Billups, Portland Trail Blazers
Reputable reporters are at odds on Damian Lillard's state of mind and the Portland Trail Blazers' attempts to remake the roster.
One set of sources painted a concerning picture to The Athletic's Sam Amick and Shams Charania. Lillard's camp refuted basically everything in that report via Chris Mannix of The Crossover (h/t HoopsHype), and then ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski chimed in with a note that Lillard covets a $107 million extension he could sign this offseason—which, sure! It's $107 million. Who wouldn't want that?
The only undisputed point in all this is that the Blazers, having just fired GM Neil Olshey, are riddled with leaks and competing agendas. The whole thing's a mess, top to bottom.
That extends to first-year head coach Chauncey Billups. Amick and Charania reported tensions are rising as the Blazers struggle to adapt to his new offensive style while the defense remains as porous as ever, ranking 30th in the league after finishing 29th a year ago.
Billups' comments, via Amick and Charania, following an ugly loss to the Boston Celtics are exactly the kind you hear from a coach that lacks constructive solutions and instead resorts to public shaming:
"Competitive fire and pride, that's something you either have or don't have. That's something you can't turn off and turn on. … I've never seen a team that needs its bench to inspire our starters. That s--t is crazy to me. It's supposed to be the other way around."
Olshey presided over a hiring process widely regarded as flawed and too dismissive of the sexual assault allegations against Billups from 1997. The now-deposed GM and the Blazers dug in and aligned themselves behind this particular coach, despite Lillard initially stating his preference for a different one.
To summarize: The executive who hired Billups is gone, the superstar who may or may not be a part of the team's future didn't want him in the first place and the on-court results are no better than they were under Terry Stotts.
This certainly isn't all Billups' fault, but that never matters. The quickest cosmetic fix might be moving on from a coach that probably shouldn't have gotten the job in the first place and can't point to any evidence he deserves to keep it.
Willie Green, New Orleans Pelicans
It's not as rare as you might think for a rookie head coach to land on the hot seat immediately.
The Phoenix Suns gave Igor Kokoskov his walking papers after just one season in 2019, and Nate Bjorkgren got the boot after one season with the Indiana Pacers in 2020-21. NBC Sports' Dan Feldman researched the issue, and at least several first-year head coaches get fired (either during their debut seasons or immediately afterward) every decade.
This doesn't mean New Orleans Pelicans head coach Willie Green is in trouble at the moment. But he might be soon, and his first-year status won't save him.
The Pels can't make a fair assessment of Green's work until Zion Williamson returns. If the former No. 1 pick and 2020-21 All-Star gets into shape and pushes New Orleans back into the playoff chase, Green will be fine. But if Zion can't achieve the conditioning levels necessary to do that, or if his surgically repaired foot limits him, it could end Green's coaching tenure quickly.
Pelicans president of basketball operations David Griffin already played his last card by firing Stan Van Gundy after just a single season. That was a desperation move made by an executive who knows that if things don't get better in a hurry, his head will be on the chopping block next.
The Pelicans have played respectably since their 1-12 start, and the team is more run-of-the-mill "bad" compared to, say, the publicly unraveling Blazers. Still, if Zion disappoints or Griffin loses his job, Green's employment status will get iffy in a hurry.
Frank Vogel, Los Angeles Lakers
It seems like Frank Vogel is already in danger of losing his job, which illustrates how easily "hot seat" talk can be conjured out of thin air.
All it takes is Marc Stein reporting in his Substack that "there is also rising buzz in coaching circles about the pressure mounting on Frank Vogel given the Lakers' worrisome 10-10 start."
From there, Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times merely has to ask LeBron James and Vogel about that hazy speculation.
Viola! Vogel's on the hot seat!
It boggles the mind that Vogel, a championship-winning coach in 2019 and the architect of one of the league's top defenses two years in a row, could get run out of town. He's the same guy that finished fifth in Coach of the Year voting after the 2019-20 season.
His personnel has changed, though, and that might make all the difference.
The front office saddled him with Russell Westbrook at the cost of several quality rotation players, many of whom were key to L.A.'s defensive integrity. Sure, Vogel should probably quit playing DeAndre Jordan entirely, and he's been slow to make lineup adjustments overall. But he's been without James for several stretches, Anthony Davis has been a massive disappointment, Westbrook has been predictably difficult to integrate and two theoretically critical pieces—Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn—haven't played at all.
Vogel shouldn't be on the hot seat now, and you could argue he shouldn't be even after the team is healthy and whole. But the Lakers have no flexibility to change the roster, and it'd be much harder to fire every member of the front office that had a hand in making this mess.
Dwane Casey, Detroit Pistons
If Dwane Casey loses his job with the Detroit Pistons, at least it won't be as startling as the last time he found himself unemployed.
The Toronto Raptors fired him after a 2017-18 season that earned Casey the NBA's Coach of the Year award.
The Pistons are in rebuild mode, fielding a roster loaded with unproven youth and stopgap veterans. Losses should be the expectation and, if we're being honest, the intent. Detroit already landed Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, and all indications this season are that it wants at least one more shot at a high lottery pick.
The Pistons extended Casey's contract last May, giving him security (insofar as that exists for a head coach) through 2023-24 and shielding him from dreaded lame-duck status next season. He's widely respected, had major regular-season success with the Raptors and has so far cultivated a positive developmental environment amid all the losing in Detroit.
But the Pistons have the worst record and net rating in the league, and they're not a tanker of the same magnitude as the Oklahoma City Thunder or Houston Rockets. Detroit has added talent and spent decent money in the last two offseasons, and it hasn't shipped any of it off for first-round picks. That says the organization's tolerance for failure has a limit.
If the Pistons continue to develop their youth, and if all the losses don't foster bad attitudes or team-wide dejection, Casey should be fine. But it's difficult for competitive professionals—players, coaches and execs alike—to endure defeat after defeat without wearing down. If the vibe changes for the worse, Casey could be in trouble.
Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks
For starters, it's way too early to adjust preseason priors on the Jason Kidd hire. I thought it seemed like a mistake then, and nothing from the Dallas Mavericks' disappointing first quarter of 2021-22 changes that stance.
Kidd is still in "prove it" territory. The Milwaukee Bucks became an instant contender after replacing him with Mike Budenholzer, and we should never downplay his history of domestic violence allegations. He hasn't earned the benefit of the doubt, and the fact that an organization still crawling out from under damning reports of workplace toxicity thought he was the answer changes nothing.
All that aside, Luka Doncic's poor start and poorer conditioning have Dallas struggling. The Mavs have lost five of their last six games and have seen their once-potent offense go limp. In light of Doncic's underwhelming play and Kristaps Porzingis' wayward three-point shooting, maybe Kidd doesn't deserve all the blame.
But in the NBA coaching game, as in Unforgiven, deserve's got nothing to do with it.
A supportive word from Doncic could immediately ice down Kidd's seat if it were to become hot at some point in his first season with the Mavs. And it's only fair to note that the 22-year-old superstar endorsed the coach over the summer.
Remember, though, that ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported Doncic was a strong supporter of former Mavs assistant (and current Orlando Magic head coach) Jamahl Mosley, and that former head coach Rick Carlisle was threatened by the close relationship between the two.
Are we sure Kidd would have been Doncic's first choice? And are we sure Doncic would support Kidd if Dallas' season were to spiral?
Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass. Accurate through Dec. 8. Salary info via Spotrac.