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NBA Coaches On The Hot Seat

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While the NBA season hasn’t ended yet, there are already a few coaches who might want to prepare their resumes

While April brings playoff hopes to many NBA teams, it leads the rest of the league to ponder the future directions of their franchises. In many cases, this assessment begins with a decision regarding the head coach, as they are the person with the most apparent day-to-day impact on the team’s function. For a number of lottery-bound teams (and even a few contenders), the current coach’s tenure on the sidelines might be coming to an end. In the cases of Jason Kidd and David Fizdale, their poor starts drove them out already, but a number of other underachieving teams will most likely have coaching vacancies this offseason.  

One of the most logical places to start examining coaching hot seats around the league is to look at New York and Jeff Hornacek. While the Knicks were not expected to dominate the league, they were hoping to compete for the eighth seed, at least. However, a season-ending ACL injury to Kristaps Porzingis derailed any playoff hopes for New York.

While Porzingis’ injury can hardly be attributed to Hornacek, one of the biggest reasons that Hornacek is on the hot seat is his questionable management of the other young players on the Knicks squad. Despite the fact that Frank Ntilikina has been tapped as an important piece of the Knicks’ future, he has only averaged 21.1 minutes per game, 16th-most among rookies. Considering that New York is a rebuilding club, Hornacek should be developing and allowing the front office to evaluate talent by distributing minutes to their younger talent. 

Hornacek’s position has also not been helped by reports of personal conflicts he’s had with players, including Kyle O’Quinn and Joakim Noah.

While Phil Jackson’s triangle offense was an excuse last year for the Knicks’ poor offense, New York has actually regressed offensively from a 107.7 offensive rating last season, to a 106.7 rating this season. They have increased defensively, which could partially be attributed to the impressive defensive season Porzingis had posted before his injury. Under the Perry administration, Hornacek could very well be out the door as the Knicks look toward the future.

Another market that might be looking for new leadership this season is the Orlando Magic, who might be moving on from Frank Vogel. Though a well-regarded coach around the league, Vogel might end up being the fall guy for the Magic’s 21-51 (and falling) record, and his 52-107 career record with Orlando is less than impressive. 

Despite any of Vogel’s personal failings, Orlando has endured terrible luck since their surprising 8-4 start to the season; many of their big guns like Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, and lottery selection Jonathan Isaac have missed significant time, and Orlando’s current leader in win shares is D.J. Augustin. Given the circumstances, Vogel has tread water admirably, but it may take a coach-firing statement to jolt the Magic organization’s culture.

Similar to the Hornacek situation, the Magic also had a major front office shakeup in naming Jeff Weltman president of basketball operations. Like Perry in New York, Weltman could be looking to install his own handpicked candidate to lead the team back to playoff contention. While Vogel might be at the end of his tenure, he actually has been (lightly) effective in his two seasons. The Magic have improved in pace (96.0 in 2015-16 to 98.1 currently) and offensive rating (105.1 to 105.5), while they have regressed defensively (106.8 to 110.0), which is surprising given Vogel’s reputation as a defensive coach in Indiana.    

Another name that could be moving out of a big market is the LA Clippers’ own Doc Rivers. While the Clips are six games over .500, they have struggled for most of the year, still hurting from the loss of Chris Paul and the midseason trade of Blake Griffin. With Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic likely shut down for the season, Los Angeles does not look the part of a playoff contender right now, and with the end of the Lob City era coming to an unceremonious close, Doc Rivers might not stick around for a rebuild.

The team has regressed offensively and defensively thanks to their big-name departures, and their roster will need major retooling if they hope to compete next season. Some rumors have claimed that there is mutual interest between Rivers and the Knicks for a head coaching spot, but those reports seem premature at this stage. Regardless, Rivers might not be long for Los Angeles; his vacating the position of president of basketball operations last August might have prefigured a more permanent exit this offseason.

While these are just a few candidates that seem the most likely to be on the move in the offseason, several other teams will likely consider a change in leadership. It is quite likely that some of these coaches will switch jobs with each other, as names like Vogel and Rivers will most likely be in demand. As is always a possibility, the next “Brad Stevens”-type coach could emerge from the NCAA

When considering the “hot seat,” it is not always about wins and losses, but a matter of culture change. That is certainly the case with some of these potential exits, as new managerial regimes choose their own coach to fit their vision. However, some candidates (potentially the Charlotte Hornets’ Steve Clifford) are currently at the helm of talented squads that are underperforming expectations. 

When it comes to roster accountability, those at the top often go first, and front offices often directly correlate a team’s record with their coach’s job performance. In that case, the seat is certainly hot for all the bottom-feeding teams in the league, as well as some coaches (Tyronn Lue) where a deep playoff run is expected and failure to deliver could end their careers with their current teams.  

Edited by Emily Berman.

What year did Doc Rivers (first) win the NBA Coach of the Year Award?
Created 4/4/18
  1. 2000
  2. 2004
  3. 2008
  4. 2011

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