NBA Hot Seat: Which Coaches Are Facing the Most Heat?
The Bulls made a fairly surprising move Monday, firing coach Fred Hoiberg in the midst of a season everyone knew was a tank campaign. You could argue this year Hoiberg was doing his best job as Chicago’s coach, as the team’s record is firmly lined up with expectations. But for whatever reason, the Bulls fired the guy they never really set up for success.
That got us at The Crossover thinking: what about the coaches who actually aren’t meeting internal expectations? It’s time to take the temperature of some seats around the league and speculate which head coaches could be getting a little nervous.
Dave Joerger (???), Kings
As an Indian-born NBA fan, I can’t stress enough how excited I was to see Vivek Ranadivé—a fellow Mumbaikar!—rise to the ranks of owner. But instead of opening doors for the rest of us, he’s been hurriedly closing them as the Kings remain a clown show even while the team finally looks decent on the court. Joerger has a young Sacramento squad looking competent for the first time in years, but he’s reportedly on the hot seat because of clashes with the front office.
The source of the frustration, according to The Athletic, is assistant GM Brandon Williams, who Joerger asked to leave a practice in late November. This is so stupid. It seems like only the Kings would let a situation like this develop. We already know this organization is bad at handling adversity; now it’s even more embarrassing that the Kings are flopping in the face of even the slightest bit of success. Joerger should absolutely not be on the chopping block for any reason, but because Sacramento is a complete wild card, I can’t rule anything out.
Seat temperature metaphor: Let that soup cool down before you take a bite.
Scott Brooks, Wizards
The Wizards are making me angry. A reality show disguised as an NBA team, Washington has lived up to the hype as the league’s most dysfunctional unit. Dwight Howard missed time with an injured butt and still makes awful jokes. John Wall’s defiant attitude now extends toward Instagram commenters. Bradley Beal is sick and tired of being sick and tired. However, the Wizards have actually looked a bit better on the court after all their bickering became public. Washington has won four of its last six games after a comeback victory over the Knicks on Monday. Notably, the Wiz are still under .500 and their net rating is sixth-worst in the Association.
So though some wins are trickling in, the long-term outlook is bleak. I can’t imagine Brooks is long for the job, not with his star player cursing him out in practice, and Washington being heavily rumored for an overhaul sooner rather than later. There’s bad juju here, and the Wiz will probably only move on from this disappointing era when they completely clean house. It helps Brooks that he has two years left on his contract, but Washington may be willing to bet he gets another job to help offset some of the cost of letting him go.
Seat temperature metaphor: Brooks is nervously tugging at his collar but he looks like Sean Miller during a tournament game.
Alvin Gentry, Pelicans
Alvin Gentry is a very well-respected coach, but the Pelicans will be making desperate moves all year in an effort to keep Anthony Davis happy. As of Tuesday morning, New Orleans is on the outside looking in—behind the Kings and Wolves—when it comes to the playoff picture in the West. The Pelicans will also be battling the struggling Jazz and Rockets to get back into the top eight, which means their season is going to be an especially long fight. I don’t know that letting go of Gentry would solve anything, but often times it can be easier to make a coaching change instead of overhauling your roster mid-season.
If the Pelicans believe their only chance at keeping Davis is to make a playoff run, and the team still isn’t in position to do so after the next 15 games or so, then Gentry could be made the fall guy. Gentry and Davis seem to have a good relationship, so obviously the organization wouldn’t act without consulting its best player. Maybe Davis has no desire to play for anyone else. But the Pelicans are going to be feeling all kinds of pressure as the Davis speculation only ramps up. They can’t afford to hover around .500 if the future of the franchise depends on it.
Seat temperature metaphor: Gentry is starting to wonder if someone turned the A/C off in his office.
A Special Truly Reckless Speculation Addition: Mike D’Antoni
Hmmmm. At what point would the Rockets consider making a coaching change? Houston has a smart and stable front office, but the team also once fired Kevin McHale only months after a conference finals appearance. Simply put, the Rockets expect success. And especially with two superstars on the roster, Daryl Morey has to be growing impatient with the team sputtering to an 11–12 record through its first 23 games. Continued health from James Harden and Chris Paul should help, but as my colleague Rob Mahoney pointed out, the Harden-Paul-Clint Capela trio has a 10–5 record together this season after going 42–3 last year. Something is just off with Houston, and it can be incredibly frustrating to watch, as it was Monday night when the team blew a huge lead to the Timberwolves.
D’Antoni is a hell of a coach—and the Rockets are so deeply tied to his identity—that it would be hard to imagine anyone else leading this group. Still, while you may hear a Chris Paul rumor here and there, the same principle I mentioned with New Orleans holds here: A struggling team can more easily make a coaching change than overhauling its roster. And it’s not like the Rockets lack talent, even after losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in the summer. In no way do I think a move is imminent here, but if Houston can’t put together a very solid stretch some time soon, this situation is worth keeping an eye one.
Seat temperature metaphor: An unseasonably warm winter day causes D’Antoni to wonder, “What if?” for one fleeting moment.