It doesn’t take long before talk of the hot seat and NBA coaches starts. Part of this is the normal coaching carousel in professional sports and part of this is the urgency placed on success, or at least improvement, from the start of season.
This off-season shifted two of the best players (LeBron James and Kevin Love) to the Cleveland Cavaliers while the Los Angeles Lakers lost big time in free agency, ending up with an overpriced Kobe Bryant and spare parts. Still, a lot remained the same. Dallas Mavericks retooled, the Los Angeles Clippers added supporting role players and the San Antonio Spurs kept their dynasty intact.
There are two ways a coach makes the “hot seat” list. First is by his team underperforming. If you have a team of veterans and are expected to compete, you must do so or the loyal fans will be calling for your head in no time. The second way is if the coach is just not a good fit for a team. Sometimes a coach can’t get his team to play hard, or buy into their system. Either way, you are losing a season.
Who doesn’t make the list? Stan Van Gundy (Detroit Pistons), Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics) and Jason Kidd (Milwaukee Bucks) have each inherited young squads that will need time. Both coaches are proven and despite expected struggles, have both shown leadership qualities for their rebuild projects.
Are there really 15 coaches on the hot seat? Of course not, not at this moment, but you ever know… Here is a list that will need to show some improvement if they want to keep their spot on the bench.
15 Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns)
The Suns are a team built to win with a group of guards that includes their own free agent signing of Eric Bledsoe. A quarter a way into the season the Suns are on the outside of the playoff race in the West. Phoenix is young and growing, but their window is closing with the next couple of years to begin competing. The Suns have never won a championship; however, they have always remained competitive which seems to be the benchmark for success for this team. Hornacek has a lot of support so he is probably pretty safe, but if “small ball” doesn’t keep the team competitive you can expect second guessing from management.
14 Brian Shaw (Denver Nuggets)
Ever since George Karl left, the Denver Nuggets have been an enigma, a team caught in between good and bad. After the initial Carmelo Anthony trade two years ago the team had a resurgence and pushed the Lakers in the playoffs. Since, the team has been mediocre, a deep team without a superstar to lead. Shaw has his work cut out for him, especially if the Nuggets continue to play .500 ball and compete for the final playoff spot, keeping them out of the lottery (and just good enough to get whacked in the first round), out of reach for that elusive superstar talent this team desperately needs.
13 Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat)
It wasn’t supposed to be easy when the best player (LeBron James) returned to Cleveland, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Heat fan base is used to championships. After four final appearances the key for Spoelstra is to keep butts in the seats in Miami. It’s hard to have a “white out” when there aren’t enough fans in white tees to fill the seats. The health of Dwyane Wade will tie into this for sure. More important will be the patience of Pat Riley and whether he believes Spoelstra is up to the job of leading either the current group or next group of superstars to another championship. This is what happens when you have success, there is no other option.
12 Flip Saunders (Minnesota Timberwolves)
The question with Saunders is whether he is the right man for the current job. Last season he was leading a one-two punch of Rick Rubio and Kevin Love along with Kevin Martin and other supporting role players. Now, Love has been traded and the team must be built around rookie talent Andrew Wiggins. So far the team has struggled, which is to be expected, the question is whether they are showing improvement and learning from their mistakes. Trading Rick Rubio and other veterans would be smart, giving Saunders a full rebuild to work with, but he may not get that chance if management decides to go another direction.
11 Brett Brown (Philadelphia 76ers)
Brett Brown is the definition of a scapegoat for what is happening in Philadelphia. First, let’s just say what the 76ers are doing is unprecedented, pushing the “tanking” philosophy to a whole new level by not even trying to put a competitive team on the court. How many games can this team lose in a row? Is this team really Brown’s responsibility given half the squad are no-name players that look as if they were playing in a recreation league just a week ago? My guess is there have been many back room meetings with Brown and a lot of "wink-wink" promises. Brown will be gone once the tanking is over, question is how long do they plan to tank? Brown may have the least or most secure job in the NBA depending how you look at it.
10 Monty Williams (New Orleans Pelicans)
After LeBron James, the New Orleans Pelicans have arguably the best player in the NBA in Anthony Davis. Granted Davis is only in his second season and is near the top in most categories, the clock is ticking on utilizing their prize to the fullest potential. Part of it will be finding the right complimentary pieces, but it will be on the shoulders of Williams to make the team work and compete for a championship. Having an Anthony Davis means you either shoot for a title or you waste a talent of a lifetime. Unfortunately there is no in between and that’s why you should expect a short leash for Monty Williams and his staff.
9 Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City)
Being a coach in the NBA means dealing with a lot of unfair circumstances. For Brooks and the Oklahoma City Thunder, this means losing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to injury, creating a hole for coach and team to dig itself out of. This is a can’t win situation. First, Brooks needs to bring his superstars back into the flow as quick as possible without impacting their health while not losing too much ground in the competitive West. Of course, if Durant and Westbrook do go on a run and climb back to the top many will point out how little Brooks matters and how the team is more dependent on Durant and Westbrook.
8 Jacque Vaughn (Orlando Magic)
The Magic are an interesting team in that they have a lot of youth, but also a few veterans that are major contributors. Orlando as a team have been in rebuild mode ever since Dwight Howard left for sunny L.A. and the question really becomes, what is the plan here? If the Magic are expected to compete for a playoff spot (which I believe) then Vaughn is in trouble because this team is in the bottom half of the East. If management believes they finally have enough youth for a proper rebuild they should trade off their veterans and embrace the youth movement. There is no glory hanging in the middle of the NBA.
7 Steve Clifford (Charlotte Hornets)
6 Mike Budenholzer (Atlantic Hawks)
The Atlanta Hawks have been the definition of mediocre for many, many years. The Hawks have never been good enough to make it to a conference championship and were rarely bad enough to pick up an impact player via the draft. In fact, the last time Atlanta drafted an impact player it was Al Horford, a power forward with superstar potential that is always injured. The team can’t wait around for Horford (the original Derrick Rose) so they will need to figure out whether they want to make trades or “tank” and rebuild. Should it be the latter, the Hawks will have to decide if Budenholzer is the right man for the job. Also, if the team fails to meet even their mediocre standards, expect Budenholzer to be relieved of his duties.
5 Frank Vogel (Indiana Pacers)
The Indiana Pacers are a mess this year. First they have major injuries (Paul George, Roy Hibbert) and then they lost Stephenson in free agency. It’s a raw deal for Vogel, but here’s the thing, the man in charge (Larry Bird) is not a guy that accepts excuses. Vogel is going to need his team to play hard and have their play translate into wins, something that hasn’t happened so far this season. Maybe Bird is thinking the team should tank and gain another piece, but if that is the case, the team is not bad enough, just barely capable of making the playoffs, but not bad enough to get a top draft pick. That is the definition of a wasted season in the NBA.
4 Derek Fisher (New York Knicks)
The head coaching gig of the New York Knicks is hard enough. Add in that you were the second choice of Phil Jackson and are expected to teach the triangle offense to players more comfortable with a pick and roll type offense and you are screwed. It’s unclear how long Jackson will wait to see success, but it’s clear success will not be seen this year. How much time was Fisher given? So far this season there have been few highlights and not a lot of hope. Either Jackson is waiting for some of the current players to move on via free agency or trades or Fisher isn’t going to last very long.
3 Lionel Hollins (Brooklyn Nets)
Hollins has been tasked with taking a high salaried team with talent that doesn’t match the pay and succeed. They are expected to win and Russia’s third richest man (Mikhail Prokhorov) doesn’t seem like the type of owner with much patience. It sure doesn’t help that last year’s coach (who left after a messy divorce), Jason Kidd, is having success in Milwaukee. Hollins will have to get more out of veterans Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Devin Williams than they have given so far this season or changes will be made. It’s possible some of the veterans will be dealt, but removing Hollins could also be viewed as fixing a short-term mistake if the Nets do not show improvement.
2 David Blatt (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Eventually this team will figure it out, right? Remember the Heat also struggled their first year until they found the right lineup. There are arguments for Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love as well as debates against why they won’t work. Regardless, it’s up to Blatt to make it work. When Cleveland traded rookie phenomenon Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love it was all on Blatt. The good news is that James will probably figure it out for the team; of course, if he doesn’t then management should not hesitate removing Blatt and finding a way to be successful with the best player in the league.
1 Byron Scott (Los Angeles Lakers)
So, what is exactly going on here? Granted, the Los Angeles Lakers lost out on some of their free agent targets - okay, all of them - and also had bad luck by drafting Julius Randle and getting injured. Is this a good enough excuse to allow Kobe Bryant to try and beat teams by himself? That definitely appears to be the game plan. Scott is also very anti three-point shooting which is okay if you have a team that can score down low, but he doesn’t. The Lakers should be running and shooting as much as possible because that is their best chance of winning, something that has not happened often for the Lakers. The Lakers are too proud to allow this to happen. If nothing changes a move needs to be made sooner rather than later.