Before the start of the season, the expectation was that only one team in the Western Conference wouldn’t prove capable of competing for a spot in the play-in tournament. Naturally, that team was the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are currently in ninth place in the Western Conference – a standing that would send them to the postseason. While there’s still plenty of time for the prognosticators to be proven right, the worst team in the West starting better than expected reflects the conference’s overall strength.
Another reason openings on the NBA’s coaching carousel are more likely to come from the Eastern Conference than the West is because is four teams from the latter made coaching changes in the offseason.
In addition to the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans and the Thunder bringing in new head coaches in advance of the 2020-21 campaign, the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies did so ahead of last season. There’s also the case of Ryan Saunders, who coached the Minnesota Timberwolves in their final 42 games of the 2018-19 season and impressed them to the point that they kept him in his post.
While there’s unlikely to be more than a handful of Western Conference teams searching for a new head coach between now and the start of next season, franchises that underachieve may decide it’s time for the team to hear from a new voice.
Without further ado, here are a few of the head coaches in the Western Conference who are on the hot seat or could find themselves there if their team disappoints in the playoffs.
Luke Walton – Sacramento Kings
In the spring of 2019, Luke Walton replaced Dave Joerger as head coach of the Sacramento Kings. The former was moving on from the Lakers after a tumultuous three seasons in which they finished below .500 each year; while the latter was leaving a team following an expectation-defying ninth-place finish in the Western Conference.
The Kings got off to a rocky start in Walton’s first year at the helm. In January, Buddy Hield, who on the eve of the regular season, signed a four-year, $94 million contract with bonuses that could reach $106 million, was moved to the bench in favor of Bogdan Bogdanovic. Hield didn’t start a game the rest of the season and his diminished role created a rift between him and Walton.
Just before the pandemic forced the NBA to go on hiatus, the Kings were starting to turn their season around, winning seven of their last 10 games, which earned them a trip to Orlando for a chance to compete for a spot in the play-in tournament.
They failed to reach postseason play and during the offseason, Bogdanovic joined the Atlanta Hawks. That opened the door for Hield to reclaim his spot in the starting lineup. Coming off the bench behind him and De’Aaron Fox is Sacramento’s first-round pick, Tyrese Haliburton, who, as Basketball Insiders’ Ariel Pacheco detailed in his NBA Rookie of the Year Watch, has been one of the most impressive newcomers to start the 2020-21 season.
However, 11 games into their season, the Kings are 5-6 and they’re in a tie with the Denver Nuggets for the final spot in the play-in tournament. When this season’s over, Walton will be halfway through his contract. He needs to demonstrate to the Kings’ new general manager, Monte McNair, he’s the right coach for this team. Not reaching the play-in tournament – or performing poorly in it – could convince McNair it’s in the franchise’s best interest for him to find a new head coach.
Ryan Saunders – Minnesota Timberwolves
When Gersson Rosas became the Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations, his first critical decision was to stick with Ryan Saunders as the team’s head coach after an impressive 42-game audition to close out the 2018-19 season.
Including his time as the team’s interim head coach, the Timberwolves are 39-77 with Saunders at the helm. Minnesota finished with the third-worst record in the NBA last season and has the fourth-lowest winning percentage 10 games into this season.
That speaks more to the flaws in the Timberwolves’ roster, particularly on the defensive end, where they’re surrendering the fourth-most points per game. Rosas is well aware their roster needs reconfiguring. However, Saunders needs to provide a more compelling reason for why he should remain their head coach beyond this season.
Terry Stotts – Portland Trail Blazers
In Terry Stotts’ nine years as head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, including the first ten games of this season, his record is 366-292. The only time they missed the playoffs with him at the helm was the 2012-13 season, his first year on the job. They’ve reached the Western Conference Semifinals three times, including 2019, when they beat the Nuggets on the road in Game 7 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
So why might he be on the hot seat when Portland’s season comes to an end? Well, if the Trail Blazers underwhelm in the playoffs, especially if that means a second-straight first-round exit, there may not be much of an appetite to maintain the status quo.
If the Trail Blazers want to make a significant change in the offseason, they could trade CJ McCollum to put a new running mate alongside Damian Lillard. It’s nearly impossible to envision them moving on from Lillard, the five-time All-NBA face of the franchise, before next season.
Aside from shaking up their roster, the Trail Blazers’ other options would be to move on from Stotts or their president of basketball operations, Neil Olshey.
If Stotts’ ninth season in Portland is his last one, it will have more to do with the franchise deciding change is for the best. That, of course, and the unfortunate timing of his tenure coinciding with the Golden State Warriors evolving into a dynasty and LeBron James reviving the Lakers. Considering Stotts’ coaching credentials, when his time as the Trail Blazers’ head coach comes to an end, if he wants to keep coaching, it won’t take him long to get another opportunity.
Quin Snyder – Utah Jazz
Quin Snyder is an excellent coach. Twice, the Utah Jazz extended his contract when he had two years left on his deal, including signing him to a long-term extension in 2019.
Right now, his job’s not in jeopardy. However, if Utah doesn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs for the third year in a row, Snyder’s seat will be warmer entering next season.
Each of the names on this list could help guide their respective team to a season successful enough to earn them another year at the helm. However, head coaches know even when they first accept an opportunity to lead a team, they’re on borrowed time. A change in management, the team underperforming, or the players growing tired of repeatedly hearing the same messages from the same voice are just some of the reasons that can prompt a franchise to change its head coach.
Elsewhere, Basketball Insiders’ Ariel Pacheco detailed the head coaches on the hot seat in the Eastern Conference.
Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.
Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.
The Grizzlies and Pelicans have agreed on a trade to send Jonas Valanciunas, 2021 Nos. 17 and 51 picks to New Orleans for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, 2021 picks Nos. 10 and 40 and a protected 2022 first-round pick via the Lakers, per @wojespn pic.twitter.com/q7ZoqzpJjt
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 26, 2021
Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.
From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.
Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.
NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft
Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.
“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.
In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.
Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.
NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.
Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons
According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.
However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.
Raptors, Wolves, Cavs, Pacers and Kings have all showed interest in acquiring Ben Simmons, per B/R's @JakeLFischer
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 25, 2021
Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.
On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.
Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.
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