This first appeared in the April 2 edition of The Washington Post’s NBA newsletter, the Monday Morning Post Up. You can subscribe by clicking here.
That won’t be the end of the firings, though. By the end of next week, there could be as many as 10 openings around the NBA — meaning a full third of the league could be searching for a new coach. Here’s a rundown of the temperature of some of the league’s hottest seats heading into the regular season’s final days:
Get the résumés ready
Jay Triano, Phoenix Suns: Triano will have a chance to become Watson’s permanent replacement, and he has earned plaudits from players for the way he’s handled them this season. But the Suns have already opened up their search, and General Manager Ryan McDonough said recently the team is willing to pay big money for a new coach — signaling they could be pursuing a big-name this summer.
Joe Prunty, Milwaukee Bucks: Barring a surprise deep playoff run, the Bucks will be moving on from Kidd’s temporary replacement this spring. Between a new, state-of-the-art practice facility, a brand new arena that will be open in time for next season and — most importantly — the presence of one of the league’s best players in Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks job will be the most sought after of all the openings this year. Milwaukee should have its choice of prime candidates for what is a crucial juncture for the franchise. One man who won’t be Milwaukee’s next coach, however, is Rick Pitino.
J.B. Bickerstaff, Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies’ interim coach could wind up with this job, but with so much uncertainty in Memphis it’s hard to know in what direction the franchise will go. That uncertainty stems from the complicated buy/sell situation between the team’s main shareholders — majority owner Robert Pera and minority owners Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus. Pera is expected to buy out the other two, which could lead to sticking with the status quo. But between the ownership drama and the aging status of the roster, this is one of the least desirable jobs available.
Jeff Hornacek, New York Knicks: Hornacek never really had a chance in New York — first dealing with Phil Jackson and the triangle offense, and then being inherited by a new regime this season. That said, Hornacek’s time with the Knicks is all but certain to end after next Wednesday’s season finale. Several names have already been linked to the job — including Monty Williams, Mark Jackson and Jason Kidd. In the midst of a full rebuild, team President Steve Mills and General Manager Scott Perry could go in multiple directions with this hire.
Frank Vogel, Orlando Magic: Like Hornacek with the Knicks, Vogel has been playing catch-up from the start. The general manager that hired him, Rob Hennigan, was let go last year, and now new team President Jeff Weltman and General Manager John Hammond are beginning yet another rebuild in Orlando. Vogel is a good coach and should get another chance. But this job is expected to come open next week.
Change could be coming
Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons: The answer to the questions about Van Gundy’s future in Detroit will come when he meets with owner Tom Gores after the regular season ends next week. The Pistons have endured plenty of injuries that have limited them this season — specifically to Reggie Jackson, with whom they are 25-15 — and made a huge midseason trade to land Blake Griffin. But Detroit has missed the playoffs in three of Van Gundy’s four seasons — assuming the Pistons’ razor thin chances of making it this year fail, as expected. The lean here is that Detroit, which should finish right around .500, will give Van Gundy and his regime one more year to take a step forward, but it’s anyone’s guess how Gores will proceed.
Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets: General Manager Rich Cho has already been let go, and while the Hornets have begun a search for his replacement, the status of Clifford is up in the air. Clifford, 56, is well-respected around the league and well-liked by owner Michael Jordan. But this decision could come down to who Jordan hires to replace Cho and whether they want to make a fresh start on the sidelines.
Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks: Among all of the names on this list, this one stands out because if there is a parting of ways here, it would be because the coach prefers it. Budenholzer is under no job pressure in Atlanta, which is beginning a rebuild under new General Manager Travis Schlenk. But Budenholzer didn’t sign up for a rebuild when he left Gregg Popovich’s staff to come to Atlanta, so both sides may prefer to start fresh. If that happens, Budenholzer likely would be a hot commodity if he wants to coach next season.
Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers: Ever since the Clippers changed their management structure last summer, removing Rivers from being in charge of basketball operations, there has been speculation Rivers could be on his way out in Los Angeles. Rivers then proceeded to put together one of the best coaching jobs of his career and still has the Clippers on the verge of a playoff spot in the West. Like Budenholzer, he would be a hot commodity on the market if he wants to coach next season. If not, he would be able to walk into any television job he’d want to have.
Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets: Malone has done a very good job in Denver, taking over a team that had won 30 games and increasing its win total in each of his three seasons in the job. This season, though, the expectation was Denver would make the playoffs. But the Nuggets currently sit in ninth, a game behind New Orleans for the final playoff spot. They have the league’s 27th ranked defense, a 14-25 road record and losses to cellar dwellers like Memphis, Dallas, Atlanta, Sacramento and Phoenix
Alvin Gentry, New Orleans Pelicans: The fates of Coach Gentry and General Manager Dell Demps seemingly hang in the balance every year — only for the two of them to find a way to survive. When DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles’ tendon back in January, it looked as if it might finally be curtains for them both — only for the Pelicans to go on a tear thanks to stellar play from Anthony Davis. Assuming New Orleans hangs on and makes the playoffs, it seems both will be back next year.
Luke Walton, Los Angeles Lakers: When LaVar Ball was taking shots at Walton — and Lakers management said nothing in response — there was a line of thought Walton could be let go in his second season on the job. But the Lakers have already won 33 games this season – seven more than they won last season, Walton’s first in Los Angeles, which was a nine-game improvement from their record in Byron Scott’s final year in charge. That improvement has caused the talk of Walton’s job being in danger, which never should’ve been happening to begin with, to die down in recent weeks.
Fred Hoiberg, Chicago Bulls: If Hoiberg didn’t have three years remaining on his contract, he may have been done after last season. But he did and has worked well with Chicago’s young core this season. After being the first name atop everyone’s lists of coaches to be let go at some point this season back in October, he now feels almost certain to be back for a fourth year with the Bulls.
Dave Joerger, Sacramento Kings: With the Kings in the middle of a seemingly endless rebuild, the only reason Joerger would even be mentioned in this space is as a way to cover our bases in the event that — as it often does in Sacramento — something strange happens. But despite there having been multiple regime changes in the two seasons Joerger has been with the Kings, there has been no talk of him being replaced in Sacramento, and it would be a surprise if he was.
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