Under normal circumstances, a “coaches on the hot seat” blog would seem rather premature in week three of the NBA season. Of course, a campaign in which a coach in the league’s biggest markets gets fired five games in hardly qualifies as ‘normal circumstances’.
After Mike D’Antoni made his debut on the Lakers bench earlier this week, it seems like a good time to explore some coaching candidates who may get Mike Brown’ed in the not-too-distant future. But before that, let’s take a quick look at some coaches who may have seen their team get off to slow starts, but remain firmly entrenched in their position.
Dwane Casey has seen his Raptors stumble out to a disappointing 3-9 start, but it’ll take more than 12 games to take the shine off his star in Toronto, particularly after an off-season in which the team was built to correspond to his style of play (Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields, John Lucas III, Dominic McGuire and even rookie Terrence Ross are all aggressive defenders).
Monty Williams’ Hornets have won just three of their first 10 games, but have contended with key injuries (Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis) and still hold a great deal of respect for their coach.
Finally, Kevin McHale can hardly be blamed for his team’s 5-7 start, given the upheaval that came out of the James Harden trade and his continued efforts to get familiar with the system in Houston.
Now, for the real hot seat candidates:
The Washington Wizards are 0-10 and the core of their franchise does not seem impressed. Blaming the coach is probably the over-simplified, patchwork solution, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Is it unfair to scapegoat Wittman, who still hasn’t been on the Wizards’ bench for a full season after taking over for Flip Saunders last January? Yes, but at the same time, something has to be done to shake up a team in desperate need for a change of pace.
Another hire from this past January, Smart is a popular, likable player’s coach on a Kings’ team that likely needs more of a butt-kicker. Even though all seems well in Sactown for now after their upset victory over the Lakers on Wednesday, certain problematic issues persist. The 3-8 squad still lacks any semblance of flow, with ball stoppers like Tyreke Evans, John Salmons and Marcus Thornton all firmly entrenched in a ‘shoot-first’ mindset. Up front, DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t appear any closer to grasping that whole maturity thing (and may never be), as evidenced by an early season run-in with Spurs’ broadcaster Sean Elliott that netted Cousins a two-game suspension.
The Pistons probably weren’t going to be a play-off team this season regardless, but it’s tough to accept what has been a step back in a year of supposed growth around franchise cornerstones Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight. Moreover, Frank’s recent moves have come under scrutiny, including some telling comments from his own players. Will Bynum and Tayshaun Prince are just two of the players who have indirectly called out their coach, bringing into question rotations, substitution patterns and timeout usage during the club’s 2-10 start.
Yes, my list includes a man who has led his team to two consecutive years of significant improvement and finished third in voting for the Red Auerbach “Coach of the Year” trophy last year. However, Vogel could well wind up a victim of his own success. His Pacers are 6-7 in the midst of a season that began with them expecting to contend for the Eastern Conference Finals. They aren’t exactly dead in the water, but problems do exist, such as Paul George’s inability to take charge as a consistent, go-to scorer in the absence of Danny Granger and the failure of George Hill and/or DJ Augustin to assert their play-making presence on the offense. And yes, that is Brian Shaw sitting on the bench ready to step into a head coaching role.