Predicting the Next Wave of NBA Coaches on the Hot Seat
Detroit Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks became the first coaching victim of the 2013-14 NBA season when he was fired Feb. 9. Now that the first domino has fallen, other coaches around the league may follow.
Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer pointed out the inherent irony with regard to the Cheeks situation by saying via Twitter, “What were the odds a month ago that 1st NBA coach fired wouldn’t be from NYC?”
Betting men would have put their money on a coach like the New York Knicks' Mike Woodson or Cleveland Cavaliers' Mike Brown to be relieved of his duties first. Cheeks, however, never got the revamped Pistons clicking as a unit and became the eighth coach Detroit general manager Joe Dumars has dismissed since he took over the job in 2000, per ESPN’s Marc Stein.
If teams aren’t finding ways to win games, coaches will inevitably find themselves on the hot seat. Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd has cooled his off by winning Coach of the Month honors in January, but plenty of other candidates patrolling the sidelines will feel the heat moving forward.
5. Mike Malone, Sacramento Kings
After two seasons as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors under head coach Mark Jackson, Mike Malone was hired last summer as the new head coach of the Sacramento Kings.
The results so far have been less than stellar.
Although I’m a proponent of giving first-year head coaches the benefit of the doubt as they get their feet wet in a new and demanding position, the Kings hold the worst record in the Western Conference at 17-34 as of Feb. 10 (prior to games played).
The initial results following the Rudy Gay trade weren’t terrible. Sacramento posted a 4-6 record in December with the new acquisition, which included statement wins against the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets (twice).
An ankle injury to DeMarcus Cousins, however, led to a six-game losing streak from Jan. 22 through Feb. 1. The Kings now hold the league’s third-worst home record at 11-16—only the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers have been worse on their home court.
Malone’s Kings also rank 26th in the NBA by surrendering 103.5 points per game and 29th by dishing out just 19.6 assists per game. The defense has been a mess and the lack of ball movement makes the offense somewhat one-dimensional—opponents know to plan for isolations and post-ups from Boogie.
Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee wrote in October that Sacramento's new coach could find himself on the hot seat if the team doesn't win.
Malone’s seat isn’t scorching considering the Cousins injury set the team back, but it’s fair to say the Kings didn’t trade for Gay in order to tank.
4. Rick Adelman, Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star power forward Kevin Love receives consistent criticism for being an empty stats guy who can put up numbers but can’t guide his team to wins.
Ricky Rubio is disparaged for his inability to shoot—which includes wide-open layups.
But where does head coach Rick Adelman fall in this equation?
Minnesota’s head coach has continually called out his players for poor play.
“I told them, ‘If you think you’re a playoff team, why don’t you just forget it? Because you haven’t proven that you are. You haven’t gone out and really established yourselves yet,’” Adelman said after a Jan. 15 home loss against the Sacramento Kings, per Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune.
He also said in early October (before the season had even began), “They’ve got to figure out what they want to do as a team. I just told them, ‘What kind of season do you want?’ That’s really up to us to make what we want. They’ve got to figure out what they want to do as a team,” per the Star Tribune’s Jerry Zgoda.
Adelman’s statements sound as if he’s an innocent bystander watching disastrous events unfold rather than taking action to change negative results. At some point, he needs to ask himself what he can do to put his guys in a position to win, rather than blaming them for poor effort—which is admittedly warranted.
As an outsider, it just doesn’t feel like Adelman is getting through to his young squad.
On top of that, the Timberwolves are running out of time to convince K-Love to stay. An Eastern Conference executive said in January, “No one thinks he’s staying. Everyone knows he wants to go to the Lakers,” per CBS Sports’ Ken Berger.
Minnesota has put talented pieces around Love—including Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin—but team chemistry has been an issue.
Perhaps a coaching change is what Love and Co. need to flip the script and get into the Western Conference playoff picture.
3. Larry Drew, Milwaukee Bucks
No team in the NBA has been worse than the Milwaukee Bucks thus far, as they still haven’t reached double-digit wins more than a week into February. As a result, Bucks head coach Larry Drew is on the coaching hot seat by default.
Although Milwaukee’s losing ways can be spun into a positive when the 2014 NBA draft rolls around, it didn’t appear as if the Bucks intended to tank for a high draft pick prior to 2013-14.
In addition to signing big man Larry Sanders to a four-year, $44 million contract prior to the season, Milwaukee signed O.J. Mayo (three years, $24 million), Gary Neal (two years, $6 million) and Zaza Pachulia (three years, $16 million), among others.
That doesn’t sound like a front office aiming to rebuild for the future. The results, perhaps not surprisingly, have been terrible.
Mayo even called out the team’s direction in January, according to Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
It’s the same thing it’s been night in and night out. It’s been the same result, whatever the game plan has been.
It’s hard to get a rhythm when you don’t know what’s going to happen for you night in and night out. You may get 6 minutes, 30 minutes. There’s no staple to what we’re doing. You can hang in there, compete and keep it close.
If you don’t have a backbone to what you do, whether it’s going to be a defensive thing, an up-tempo thing, a pound-it-in-the-paint thing, a drive-and-kick thing. We’ve got to find a staple as a team.
This team doesn’t have much talent, but the complete lack of identity falls on Drew’s shoulders. According to Mayo, it doesn’t sound as if his coach has stuck to a single game plan throughout the season—which would help explain why the Bucks are the league’s worst team from a record standpoint.
Drew may not get fired during the 2013-14 season, but it’s hard to imagine him sticking around for 2014-15 after this year’s debacle.
2. Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers
According to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, “several players” on the Cleveland Cavaliers stayed out late partying the night before a 31-point beating at the hands of the New York Knicks.
He also writes that new acquisition Luol Deng described the team’s culture to a close friend by saying, “It’s a mess.”
So why does Mike Brown only check in at No. 2 on the countdown? Well, it’s because Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has strongly hinted that he intends to keep Brown on the sidelines moving forward.
Gilbert said the following during his press conference to announce the team had fired general manager Chris Grant, per Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer:
“This coaching staff and this team can succeed. There’s no reason why they can’t…I believe these players and this coaching staff can figure it out with a positive outcome.”
That sentiment makes no sense, considering Grant constructed the roster that Gilbert says “can succeed.”
Pluto is also confused, as he writes, “I can’t ever recall a general manager being fired during a season—and the coach retained. But that seems to be the case, as Gilbert indicated that he’s keeping Mike Brown—at least for now.”
Brown’s squad ranks 24th in points allowed (102.4), 23rd in points scored (96.5) and sports an 18-33 record.
It’s hard to justify Brown’s job security given those numbers, but Gilbert is doing just that.
Even so, Brown’s seat will only continue to heat up if this team can’t start playing like a cohesive unit.
1. Mike Woodson, New York Knicks
You knew his name would pop up eventually.
Under head coach Mike Woodson in 2013-14, the New York Knicks are 12-17 at home, 8-14 on the road, 15-18 in the Eastern Conference and 3-6 within their division. Mediocrity has dominated the Knicks’ narrative, as they’re still on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.
At this point, what’s the benefit of keeping Woodson on board? The Knicks need any type of change, and that likely won’t happen via trade because New York has no trade-worthy assets.
This Knicks season has been an absolute mess, and Woodson is part of the problem, not part of the solution.