It doesn’t matter that they may have been given the short end of the stick with a less than roster or that star players end up injured or play at a level lower than expected, at the end of the day, chances are the first one to get the pink slip is the bench boss. Whether it is warranted or not, coaches are expendable. Mark Jackson, Lionel Hollins and Tom Thibodeau have all been let go in recent years by their employers despite posting winning records.
This year, there are no less than five coaches that are already feeling a little warmth when they take a seat each night. Some names may surprise you; others will not. Some may just need to produce a winning record while others may need a shiny rock on their ring finger to stay out of the unemployment line.
Doc Rivers (LA Clippers, 113-51 entering third season)
Back to back losses in the Western Semi-Finals to the Thunder and Rockets has fans expecting more from Los Angeles’s “other” team, the Clippers. Sure they are more exciting, have a better roster and have posted better regular season records than the Lakers in recent years, but they still don’t have much to show for it. Rivers was brought in to guide a team featuring Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford to the organization’s first championship.
Unfortunately, for Clippers fans, all of the talent and free agent signings over the past two seasons have amounted to nightly highlights and second-round playoff losses.
If the Clips choke again in this championship-or-bust season, as they did with a 14-point lead heading into the fourth quarter of their closeout Game 6 against the Rockets in the 2015 playoffs, chances are Glenn “Doc” Rivers will be in the broadcast booth, and Lob City will be seeking their eighth head coach since 2000.
Dwane Casey (Toronto Raptors, 154-158 entering fifth season)
Yes, Dwayne Casey has guided the Toronto Raptors to their best regular season record in the past two years with 48 and 49 victories respectively. Yes, Casey has brought Toronto back to back Atlantic Division Championships (which, unfortunately, isn’t saying much with the Celtics, Knicks, Nets and Sixers as your competition). However, both years the Raptors were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by Paul Pierce-led teams. Maybe now that Pierce is playing in the West, the opening is there for Toronto to advance and Casey to keep his job.
While the team parted with key players Lou Williams and Amir Johnson in the offseason, adding DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola, Norman Powell and Canadians Corey Joseph and Anthony Bennett, the Raptors look to have better depth and roster versatility this season. The Atlantic is still a weak division, which should lead the Raptors to their third straight banner, but if Casey wants to have his contract renewed next season, nothing less than a spot in the Eastern Conference championship series will suffice.
Derek Fisher (New York Knicks, 17-65 entering second season)
As a rookie head coach with no coaching experience whatsoever last season, Derek Fisher took over the coaching reins in one of the NBA’s biggest markets. The result was an embarrassing 17 win season. Unfortunately for Fisher, the roster he gets for his second season doesn’t scream winner. Yes, Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and Derrick Williams are all serviceable role players, but they aren’t a collective “Robin” to Carmelo Anthony’s Batman…and even “Batman” is a shell of his former self at best.
Drafting Kristaps Porzingis does nothing to help Fisher and the Knicks this season and may not pay dividends for a couple of seasons. With four years and $20 million left on his contract, Knicks president Phil Jackson is going to have to have a lot of patience and belief in his former point guard in what appears to be a winless battle.
Byron Scott (LA Lakers, 21-61 entering second season) As with Fisher, Scott was dealt a crappy hand when he took over as the Lakers coach last season. Proving that he has the knowledge and ability to guide talented teams to success in both New Jersey and New Orleans, Scott spent a couple of years in Cleveland after Lebron left for South Beach before settling in with a depleted roster in LA.
With Kobe in his twilight, but still demanding as if he were in his prime and a boatload of young talent that needs to have the ball and time to develop, Scott is in a bit of a bind. Does he please Kobe—undoubtedly one of the Lakers top three all-time players—knowing that job security requires a happy Bryant—or does Scott go against the grain that is the Mamba and give touches to the next generation of Purple and Gold. Interesting enough, all Scott coached teams have had elite level point guards, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving. Now Scott just has to decide who gets the rock, Jordan Clarkson or D’Angelo Russell, not a bad problem to have.
George Karl (Sacramento Kings, 11-19 entering second season)
A 30-game relationship between George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t enough of a headache for Sacramento Kings fans to have to deal with, but this season, with the addition of Rajon Rondo, Kings season ticket packages might have to come with a free trip to the local shrink!
In a twisted way, one can picture the Kings similar to that of Karl’s old Seattle SuperSonics teams. Cousins is your modern day Shawn Kemp (without the explosive dunks). If you morph Rondo and Darren Collison, you get a watered down version of Gary Payton. Ben McLemore can be Hersey Hawkins, and Rudy Gay can play the role of Detlef Schrempf while Kosta Koufos is Ervin Johnson. See, I’ve already gone crazy; just imagine living in Sacramento or being George Karl.
As a result of only 29 victories last year, the Kings finished the season in thirteenth place in the West and a whopping sixteen games out of a playoff spot. The problem for Karl and the Kings: six of the eight teams are pretty much a lock to return, and of the seven that didn’t make it, all of them should be significantly better than they were last year. Is it playoffs or bust for Karl? Not necessarily, but the Kings need to remain in contention well past the All-Star break for George to have a job next season.