Coaching is an integral part of basketball. The head coach is basically the conductor of an orchestra. They make sure everything is going as planned, and make adjustments when it’s not.
It’s also understood that the NBA is a coaching carousel. The head coach is the easy fall-guy, so changes are made quite often. When there is dysfunction within a team, you can’t just get rid of problem players because they are the asset on the court so you want solid value in return, not to mention the salary cap issues involved. Those things just aren’t a problem when firing coaches, so they are often the first to go when things are going badly. Also, sometimes a general manager will bring in a new head coach to show that it’s not the roster (their work) that is the problem, but rather just poor coaching.
So fair or not, coaches are extremely expendable. It’s no wonder they usually don’t last long. That’s one reason why even recent Coach of the Year winners have been fired a few seasons later (or sooner, just as George Karl).
It’s not usually about the talent of the particular coach (they wouldn’t get to this level without that), instead it’s usually more about fit in terms of personalities and their offensive and defensive schemes. Usually though, management just wants to shake things up and have a fresh start.
Coaches are important for building a culture and structure for the players. There is a reason both San Antonio and Dallas have employed Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle so long. The fit is there, they instill the culture of excellence and, of course, excell when it comes to the Xs and Os and rotations.
Really, expectations are what often get a coach fired. Expectations rule all. If a team had a decently low bar for their projections before the season and then surpass said expectations, then that coach has some job security and may even win Coach of the Year. On the flip side, if a team has a great team on paper and doesn’t live up to the hype, then the coach is usually the first to go.
Let’s delve into which coaches could be in the hot seat entering the 2015-16 season:
Casualties of a volatile environment
George Karl (Sacramento Kings): While Karl is one of the premier coaches in NBA history and part of the exclusive 1,000-win club, Sacramento is seemingly one of the most dysfunctional organizations in the league. There have been rumors of a feud between Karl and star player DeMarcus Cousins as well as a shakeup in management. Sacramento also seems to have unrealistic expectations (look no further than the Mike Malone firing as an example), which makes this even tougher for Karl. With the situation so volatile, there is no guarantee Karl will finish the year for the Kings, no matter how good a coach he is.
Byron Scott (Los Angeles Lakers): Scott is a veteran coach, but he currently works for the Los Angeles Lakers and they’ve been known to fire coaches at a moment’s notice. In recent years, Los Angeles has paid Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni to NOT coach the Lakers. They even fired Coach Brown five games into the 2012-13 season. While it seems like the Lakers might have some patience with the somewhat young Lakers squad and Coach Scott, you never know with the Lakers. Scott has also been criticized for some of his old-school (to put it nicely) strategies.
Things may have run their course
Steve Clifford (Charlotte Hornets): Clifford had been journeyman assistant coach over the years, but landed in Charlotte for the last couple years as the top man on the bench. The Hornets made the playoffs in his first season on the sideline, but regressed last year. Expectations are very high in Charlotte, so that’s why Clifford must win in order to keep his job. It’s also worth noting that Clifford is in the final year of his contract, so making a change wouldn’t be very difficult. How Charlotte performs this year will play a large part in determining Clifford’s future.
Terry Stotts (Portland Trail Blazers): The Blazers lost more players from a contender in one offeseason in recent history, including 80 percent of their starting lineup and some of their depth. It’s always hard for a coach to last through a rebuild. General manager Neil Olshey has backed Stotts as the head coach of the future and stated that they brought in versatile players so he can get creative with lineups, but you never know what will happen when a team takes a major step back.
If things go badly…
Randy Wittman (Washington Wizards): There are some pretty lofty expectations on this Wizards team, which seems to get more talented and deep every year. However, if they start the season really slow or don’t live up to their full potential, Wittman could pay the price.
Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns): It may be a surprise to see his name here, but his seat could start to get hot if Phoenix struggles this season. The Suns are hoping to make the playoffs and show improvement this season, which would obviously keep Hornacek’s job safe. However, if Phoenix finishes the year anywhere around 35 wins or less, then Hornacek may be feeling the heat.
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