Which Coach Will Be the First Casualty Of the Season

Mike Brown had the dubious distinction of being fired five games into the season last year: the quickest firing in NBA history.

Mike Brown had the dubious distinction of being fired five games into the season last year: the quickest firing in NBA history.

There hasn’t been a season in recent memory where a head coach in the NBA wasn’t fired before the end of the season.  Last year the Lakers made waves by firing coach Mike Brown five games into the season.  The Brooklyn Nets then raised some eyebrows when they fired Avery Johnson who had just won Coach of the Month honours.  With the exception of any coach named Popvich, no coach is safe in the NBA.  Denver proved as much this past offseason when they fired George Karl after he was awarded Coach of the Year honours, as did the Clippers when they let coach Vinny Del Negro do despite the fact he had lead them to the Clippers to the best record in the history of their franchise.  There are some coaches who are relatively safe.  Doc Rivers, for example, just signed a long deal with the Clippers.  It is fair to expect that even should the Clippers slip in the standings a little, Rivers will have a couple of years to prove himself, especially given his track record.

Even should the Clippers under perform, it is unlikely that Doc Rivers will be fired mid-season.

Even should the Clippers under perform, it is unlikely that Doc Rivers will be fired mid-season.

First year coaches are generally safe from being the victims of a mid-season firing, if for no other reason than teams simply don’t feel like paying two head coaches for one losing season.  There simply is no point to it.  With this in mind, it seems safe to assume that a host of coaches will be safe from the hot seat: Maurice Cheeks, Brian Shaw, Doc Rivers, Brett Brown, Brad Stevens, Jason Kidd, Mike Brown, Larry Drew, Mike Budenholtzer, Steve Clifford, Jeff Hornacek, Mike Malone and Dave Joerger.  This is not to say that these guys will have a job with their current teams next season, but they will almost certainly be allowed to finish out the current season.  Jason Kidd may be the only exception because the Nets MUST win now, consider the age of their roster, but Kidd’s ties with the organization and length of his current contract suggest that even that is out of the realm of possibility. 

Greg Popovich is one of few coaches who don't have to worry about his job.

Greg Popovich is one of few coaches who don’t have to worry about his job.

Coaches who have winning records are also likely out of the running for a mid-season dismissal: Greg Popovich, Frank Vogel, Eric Spoelstra, Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, Scott Brooks, Rick Adleman, and Doc Rivers fall under this category.  Again, with the exception of Gregg Popovich and likely Eric Spoelstra, none of these guys have a guaranteed job next season, though it is likely most will have a job with their current teams into the 2014/15 season as well.  Unexpected playoff failures can spell disaster for any of these guys. 

Jerry Bus made a huge mistake bringing in Mike 'Antoni last year, but his ego won't likely allow him to acknowledge that.

Jerry Bus made a huge mistake bringing in Mike ‘Antoni last year, but his ego won’t likely allow him to acknowledge that.

Of coaches that would actually be eligible for an early termination, a few seem to be safe for now.  Mike Woodson seems to have earned himself some time in New York, so I wouldn’t expect him to get let go before the season is out.  Orlando doesn’t have high expectations and so likely will be hanging onto Jacque Vaughn, at least until the offseason.  Utah has not put out a roster that has lost this many games in three decades, so Tyrone Corbin may not have a job come the end of the season, but considering that Utah let their three best players (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams) walk in free agency, it seems fair to expect that they would allow Corbin to finish out the season given that a lottery appearance was in the cards before the season started.  Jerry Buss seems to have too much ego to acknowledge that he made a mistake in hiring Mike ‘Antoni, and so I expect that ‘Antoni will have a job through to the summer.  Rick Carlisle is one of only four current head coaches who has an NBA championship on his resume and he seems to have ingratiated himself to Mark Cuban, so it seems like he will have a job for at least another year, especially considering how well the Mavs have started off this season. 

Dwight Howard has earned a reputation as a coach killer.  Stand Van Gundy's firing was related to his relationship with Dwight, and Howard reportedly asked the Lakers to terminate Mike 'Antoni as well.

Dwight Howard has earned a reputation as a coach killer. Stand Van Gundy’s firing was related to his relationship with Dwight, and Howard reportedly asked the Lakers to terminate Mike ‘Antoni as well.

That leaves only a handful of coaches.  Dwayne Casey will almost certainly not have a job at the end of the season.  The current general manager of the Toronto Raptors did not hire Casey and seems eager to put his stamp on the team’s personal.  There seems little, if any, reason to let Casey go before the end of the season.  This team will be bad all year, even if Phil Jackson were coaching them. New Orleans has new management this season, and as is the case with the Raptors, their current head coach was not brought in by the new regime.  Given that they have traded their first-round pick, a middle-of-the-pack finish is not going to do anything but ensure that the Pelicans lose their pick.  A bad finish could allow them to keep their pick via the protection clause attached to their offseason trade.  If Monty Williams flounders with this roster, he may very

Kevin McHale's job security may be in Dwight Howard's hands.

Kevin McHale’s job security may be in Dwight Howard’s hands.

well ride this job into the offseason.  If he hovers around .400, he may find himself out of a job before the trade deadline and see an unqualified intern take over with the hopes of securing a high pick.  Kevin McHale has not been mentioned, and for good reason.  His team is talented, but he has not established himself as a coach.  He has a coveted position, as the Rockets have to talented franchise players and some quality role players, and there are a number of decorated coaches on the sidelines: Phil Jackson, George Karl, and Stan and Jeff Van Gundy.  Two of those coaches may be out of the running: Jeff, because he already had a crack at coaching the Rockets, and Stan, because he has a strained relationship with Howard.  Phil Jackson may also be a long shot considering his age, but George Karl would make for an interesting candidate. 

John Wall and Washington fans had playoff expectation heading into the season.  Being on track for great odds in the draft lottery may help Washington next season, but it make Randy Whittman the leading candidate for first coaching casualty of the season.

John Wall and Washington fans had playoff expectation heading into the season. Being on track for great odds in the draft lottery may help Washington next season, but it make Randy Whittman the leading candidate for first coaching casualty of the season.

McHale’s job may ultimately depend on Karl.  Karl may hope to land a secure job and a lucrative deal.  Should the only coach not yet mentioned, Randy Whittman, find himself out of work before Kevin McHale, Karl will likely be picked up by Washington, who very much expected to be competing for a playoff spot this year.  If this is the case, there may be no other quality head coaches available mid-season and the Rockets may wait until other coaches become available at the end of the season before relieving McHale of his coaching duties.  The suggestion that McHale might lose his job does not speak to his performance exactly, but more so to the fact that Dwight Howard is a coach killer.  Whittman seems like the ideal candidate to by the first coach out of a job this year, with Williams and Casey a close second and third.  McHale may likely have the season to prove himself, but Washington fans and the ownership have suffered through five losing season.  A sixth will not come without a scapegoat.  Whittman’s days seem numbers, and considering the expectations in Washington compared to Toronto and New Orleans, it seems likely that Whittman is odds on favorite to handing out resumes by the trade deadline.  Karl would seem like the obvious choice as a replacement, but a generous deal will likely have to be tendered, otherwise Karl may be inclined to wait for a more ideal situation to crop up in the offseason, namely New Orleans or Houston.

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