In-season firings are a fairly common occurrence for NBA head coaches, but this season was relatively quiet on that front with only Sacramento’s Luke Walton not surviving the season.
Walton was fired in November after a 6-11 start and replaced on an interim basis by Alvin Gentry. Gentry is a veteran coach with playoff experience, but he hasn’t exactly changed the fortunes of the team. Sacramento is 18-31 under him, which is only a couple of percentage points ahead of Walton’s winning percentage when he was let go.
Gentry doesn’t figure to be the team’s long-term answer as head coach, so Sacramento is one job that is likely to be open in the offseason. But with the regular season nearing its end and several teams having disappointing seasons, here are four other coaches who could find themselves looking for new jobs soon.
Frank Vogel, Los Angeles Lakers: The bulk of the blame for the Lakers’ failures this season is due to things Vogel can’t control – an injury that has kept star Anthony Davis sidelines a big portion of the season and a wonky roster that was a longshot to mesh well together with its lack of perimeter threats and questionable defensive abilities.
But it’s Los Angeles, and it’s a team led by LeBron James. Those two factors are going to ratchet up pressure on any coach when things don’t go well. Vogel hasn’t helped himself this season with an offense that often lacks creativity. His specialty in his career has typically been defense, and he hasn’t had much success with the defensive system this season either.
There were reports in March that, had Jason Kidd still been on staff with the Lakers, Vogel would’ve already been fired. Multiple news outlets also reported in March that Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, who won five championships with the Lakers, has been in “frequent” contact with Lakers President Jeanie Buss.
Neither of those seem to be harbingers of a secure future for Vogel. The Lakers will likely have to earn a playoff spot by winning two games in the play-in tournament after the season, so unless they do that and perform well in a first-round series (which would likely be against Phoenix, who swept them last season), it’s hard to envision Vogel returning.
Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks: In two seasons as coach, New York has had the full Thibodeau experience.
Last season, led by a feisty defense and a rotation heavily reliant on veterans who played tough and with chips on their shoulders, the Knicks overachieved and shocked everyone by making the playoffs. Thibodeau has coached those exact types of teams in both Chicago and Minnesota.
This season, the team has underachieved because of several factors that include an over-reliance on veterans, an inability to develop young or even trust young players in big roles, and rigidity and a lack of an ability to adapt a system to match the personnel the team has. Those are also all hallmarks of some of Thibodeau’s unsuccessful teams.
The Knicks are now longshots to even get into the play-in tournament in the East, something that is particularly glaring because there is a lot of parity in the conference and no clear dominant team.
In some ways, Thibodeau is a victim of his own success. If the Knicks hadn’t been so good so fast last season, his record this season wouldn’t be as heavily scrutinized. But for New York to grow, there’s a chance they begin looking for a new coach to lead them in the offseason.
James Borrego, Charlotte Hornets: Earlier in the season, Borrego was coaching one of the NBA’s most exciting and surprising teams, led by young future stars LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges.
That excitement still remains, but the team’s play has tapered off as the season has gone one, due in large part to an inability to defend. The Hornets give up more points than all but two teams in the league.
They also score more than all but one team. So Borrego’s case isn’t as cut and dry as some coaches, as the Hornets have shown promise this season under him. But if the team falters down the stretch and in the play-in tournament and doesn’t get a playoff spot, it’s likely the Hornets will at least consider going in a different direction.
Dwane Casey, Detroit Pistons: The Pistons have one of the worst records in the league for a third straight season. Some of that is by design, as general manager Troy Weaver took over the team before last season and embarked on a complete roster overhaul that helped the Pistons win the draft lottery and find a potential future star with the No. 1 pick in Cade Cunningham.
Casey wasn’t hired by Weaver, although they have appeared to have a good working relationship. Last season, Weaver said Casey was the “right person” to lead the team’s rebuild.
That may or may not still be true, but Detroit didn’t get off to a great start this season in proving that Casey’s vision was working. Cunningham and Saddiq Bey started off the season in miserable shooting slumps, Jerami Grant hasn’t played as well as he did last season, and former lottery pick Killian Hayes has yet to develop into a reliable rotation player due to his offensive limitations.
There’s no indication yet that the Pistons will part ways with Casey, but with Cunningham having a promising rookie season, Detroit has to put the right pieces around him quickly. That could include making a coaching change.
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