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Coaches On The Hot Seat – Eastern Conference

Basketball Insiders’ newest series looks at which head coaches might be feeling the heat through the first few weeks of the 2020-21 NBA season.

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The harsh reality for NBA coaches is that they are often the first person blame is assigned to when a season doesn’t go as planned. Coaches are often hired knowing it’ll end in them being fired. 

A coach being on the hot seat doesn’t necessarily mean they will be fired. What it does mean is that the performance of their team isn’t living up to expectations and if it doesn’t change soon, they may end up being the scapegoats. 

While the season is still relatively new, there are still some coaches who are on the hot seat in the Eastern Conference. 

Scott Brooks – Washington Wizards

When the Washington Wizards traded for Russell Westbrook, it immediately signaled that they were hoping to be competitive enough to make the playoffs. Coupled with the fact that they’ve given All-Star Bradley Beal an extension, there’s no way they envisioned being tied for the worst record in the NBA ten games into the season. 

Simply put, the Wizards’ play has been disappointing. Their defense has been awful, as they currently rank with the fourth-worst defensive rating in the NBA. While their offense has been pretty good, their defense isn’t giving them a chance to win games. Washington doesn’t have anybody who can consistently defend that is also a threat on the offensive end – and certainly not after they lost Thomas Bryant for the year last week. It is a flawed roster, but his rotations have been questionable and he has been slow to make in-game adjustments.

Another bad omen for Brooks is that the man who hired him, Wizards longtime President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld, was fired a year ago. Brooks also happens to be in the last year of his five-year deal. If the Wizards fail to pick up their play soon, Brooks may be coaching his last season in Washington. 

Mike Budenholzer – Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks have had championship aspirations for the past three seasons, this one included. They’ve come up short every time and there were calls for a new coach to be hired at the end of last season but Budenholzer was given another shot. With Giannis Anetetokounmpo re-signing long-term and the trade for Jrue Holiday, this season seems like it is championship or bust for Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer has been criticized for not shrinking his rotations in the playoffs and being slow to make in-game adjustments. Arguments can be made that he has been out-coached in the playoffs. Still, Budenholzer has had success in Milwaukee. They’ve had one of the best offenses and defenses in the NBA the past couple of seasons, and have had tremendous results in the regular season. However, the reality is that the regular season is no longer important to the Bucks. They will be judged squarely on what happens in the playoffs.

It is a safe bet to expect a coaching change to be made if the Bucks come up short once again. Budenholzer has been on the hot seat for a while now. 

Lloyd Pierce – Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks are coming off one of the better offseasons in the NBA. They added a bunch of talent in Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kris Dunn. They got off to a hot start at 3-0, but have since gone 1-5. Their issues are mostly injury-related, as all of their offseason additions have missed time or are expected to. However, there has been an expectation set by the organization this season that the Hawks should be a playoff team. 

Coming into the season, there were already rumblings that this could be Pierce’s last season if the Hawks underachieved. It’s difficult to judge how much that notion changes if the Hawks continue to get hit with injuries. There were also rumors of a disconnect between Pierce and Trae Young last season. The NBA is a superstar-driven league and it is always a safe bet to make that if a superstar-player doesn’t want a coach around, they won’t be.

Pierce’s fourth-year option has yet to be picked up by the team. There’s a lot of pressure on this Hawks team to start taking the next step and if it doesn’t happen this season, the Hawks may be on the market for a new head coach. 

Dwane Casey – Detroit Pistons

Dwane Casey is not on this list because the Pistons are underachieving or have expectations for this season. The Pistons have one of the worst rosters in the NBA and were expected to be at the bottom of the league this season. The reason why Casey is on the hot seat is that the Pistons have a new general manager, Troy Weaver. Weaver, like most new general managers, will probably want to hire his own coach. Weaver has already begun to mold the roster in his image, handing out lengthy contracts to Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee. 

When Casey signed on the be the coach of the Pistons, they were supposed to be competing for a playoff spot. Now, they are rebuilding and will be focused on developing younger guys. Casey only has two more years left on his deal, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Pistons decide to look elsewhere for a coach. 

Coaches end up on the hot seat for a variety of reasons. Whether their teams are underachieving or they are under new management, their jobs are in danger. While these coaches may be on the hot seat, there’s no guarantee any of them will be fired. There is, however, pressure on these coaches to start showing results, or their futures could be in peril.

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