With All-Star Weekend firmly in the NBA’s rearview mirror, and players decompressing all over the globe, this is the point of no return. By now most teams have a pretty good idea of what personnel they have, what kind of players they need, and what to expect this coming summer.
However, that is not the case for a few franchises as they have to decide what to do with their team’s Head Coach. Teams who have severely underachieved or whose players might even be engaged in a full-on mutiny, have to make a choice between now and the end of the season. It’s an unenviable position for all front office decision makers as some teams are just going through a rough patch whereas others might be lame ducks with a now-former coaches’ roster. The following are coaches who, for one or several reasons, is squarely on the hot-seat and could be in danger of losing their jobs.
Perhaps no coach’s stock has seen such dramatic rises and falls in the last ten years as Tyrone Lue has in his two seasons as Head Coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Between getting a relatively new team of veterans to work cohesively, and navigating the media landmines caused by LeBron being LeBron, Lue has done an admirable job. Yet as this season has shown, coaching LeBron James led teams are among the most difficult challenges any coach could face. As this season began to slip away from the Cavs, forcing their hand on a flurry of trade deadline moves, Lue has a chance to save himself.
If he can right the ship and get the Cavaliers to play at or near a championship level he can convince Owner Dan Gilbert that this mess fell on the shoulders of malcontent players and not inadequate coaching. However, a messy first or second round exit against a clearly inferior opponent, less likely now than a month ago, and Lue could find himself the odd man out.
This addition may seem a bit odd for a team that is consistently in the playoff hunt in what has clearly become the most competitive conference in basketball. Yet it is exactly that context that has the pressure mounting on Terry Stotts as the Trailblazers consistently feel as though there is more to be had on the roster. In fairness, Stotts has been hamstrung by a front office that, among other failures, is currently paying Evan Turner $70 Million for some of the worst counting and advanced metrics in the NBA. Furthermore, the ‘blazers sit only one full game ahead of the ninth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers (more on them later).
To Stotts’ credit, Portland always plays hard and their defense has picked up significantly jumping from a rating of 107.8 defensive rating (21st last season) all the way into a tie for 11th at 105.0. More will be needed, and Stotts probably shouldn’t even have the most concern, yet if Portland misses the playoffs or has an ugly first-round series then Stotts might be looking for a job.
Stan Van Gundy/Doc Rivers
Stan Van Gundy and Doc Rivers are now the NBA equivalent of conjoined twins who have been separated at birth, never told about each other, and then somehow connected on Linkedin. With the trade of Blake Griffin, the Clippers and the Detroit Pistons are more or less locked into their current standings for at least this season. Los Angeles’ second hoops squad had their hand forced with DeAndre Jordan’s impending $24 Million player option. Knowing that its roster sans Chris Paul was hard capped as a continual first round out, the Clippers shed Blake Griffin’s potential albatross and dove into the uncertainty of the NBA’s lower-middle class.
The Pistons accepted this Faustian bargain with the hopes of making the playoffs and filling seats as they already occupied the same NBA socio-economic class despite being in a “worse” market. Both teams have had their potential upside clipped by their General Manager / Head Coaches, and now remain the example of exactly why the position is dying out. Both are also among the most likely to be let go as Doc’s voice has proven stale to the players and SVG seems to have simply lost touch with the modern NBA. With a cadre of bad contracts, missed picks, and playoff exits/absences Doc and SVG are essentially required to either get their teams to peak now or be forced to walk the plank in April.
Dishonorable mentions: Alvin Gentry (Injury pass), Jeff Hornacek (Phil Jackson Stench)