Every offseason, there are coaches that get hired to new teams, and inevitably, get fired from previous teams. Some coaches are with their respective teams a lot longer than others, but when the team itself isn’t changing or there are problems, those coaches are soon shown the door. Today, we are looking at four coaches who are the most likely to get fired if they don’t have a successful playoffs or offseason.
Honorable Mention: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
Yesterday, Stevens stepped down from his head coaching position with the Boston Celtics and became the president of basketball operations, as former president and Celtic legend Danny Ainge retired. Since the Celtics had not appeared to be making much progress in their quest towards a championship after losing to the Brooklyn Nets in five games, I wrote the following:
The Celtics have made the Eastern Conference Finals multiple times, which includes 2017, 2018, and 2020. In those multiple series, the Celtics have always come within one game, and even one quarter away from a trip to the Finals, but just miss out every time. Now, as of the writing of this blog, the Celtics are down 3-1 against the Brooklyn Nets which has three MVPs. There is very little chance the Celtics win this series, and if they do, something tells me Danny Ainge will be getting restless with the lack of Finals, and want some changes.
The Celtics have been contenders for the last five years, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean anything except that they are a top four team in the NBA. Only the top two compete in the Finals, and since Ainge played on the 1980s Celtics, he knows his basketball and how to win, even if it’s not how certain fans want to. While I hope Stevens does not depart this offseason, it could be another executive or coach who is fired, and another player who is hired (who knows, maybe Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers will sign with the franchise and give the team a big three).
This prediction proved to be both right, wrong, and somewhat backwards. There was a major change among the staff, and the Celtics will have a new head coach. This is the opposite of what Greg Poppovich did in the late 90s, as he resigned from his position as General Manager so he could coach the San Antonio Spurs himself. It will be interesting to see who the Celtics hire as head coach, and how different their style of play and win total will be in comparison to Stevens’ tenure with the team.
#4: Luke Walton, Sacramento Kings
After an unsuccessful post-Kobe Bryant coaching career with the Los Angeles Lakers in which the team never made the playoffs, Luke Walton signed a contract to become the head coach of the Sacramento Kings. At the time, the Kings were not a playoff team, but they had hope. De’Aaron Fox looked to be a future All-Star, Buddy Hield was becoming an elite shooter, and Marvin Bagley was a powerful force in the paint. However, as soon as Walton started coaching, things went downhill. The season before Walton arrived (2018-19), the Kings won 39 games and missed out on the playoffs. Since Walton arrived, they have sported identical 31 win seasons in both 2020 and 2021. Player development, the thing Walton was supposed to be good at, was stifled, as Fox had not yet made the leap to All-Star, Hield’s stats, efficiency, effectiveness, and minutes went down, and Bagley was misused, injured, and ultimately felt as though he was given up on. Many think the Kings are cursed, or have really bad luck, and I can’t say I disagree1.
Did you know that the Kings have not had a winning season since 2006? It has been over a decade since they were last in the playoffs! The franchise needs to fire Walton ASAP so that they can have a chance at undoing the damage he did and acquiring more assets to contend for the playoffs in the near future. Maybe they would be best served hiring this next coach if he gets fired, because something he’s been known for is player development…
#3: Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards
Ah yes, Scott Brooks… where to begin? I don’t know a single Wizards fan that still wants him D.C. From countless, countless, articles to videos (above) to petitions about why he should be fired, they all have good points: the Wizards can’t come through in the clutch, he has had the job several years and they haven’t gone anywhere, and he doesn’t have a go-to rotation; instead, he is just throwing out lineups and hoping one works. Young player’s development, which Brooks is supposed to be known for, isn’t going anywhere, and he has misused Deni Avdija, the Wizards 2020 lottery pick in different situations. The problem is, there are two factors that may end up keeping Brooks his job:
- He led the Wizards through the play-in and to the playoffs, even though they are likely going to lose in the first round
- Despite an injury-riddled season, the Wizards had a storybook turnaround
- Russell Westbrook was coached under Brooks during part of his time in Oklahoma City, so they have bonded and Westbrook does not want him gone
These three facts are going to make it difficult to fire Brooks, but it’s the right thing to be done. The Wizards need a fresh start.
#2: Terry Stots, Portland Trail Blazers
Stots has been the coach of the Portland Trail Blazers since 2012, the longest a current coach in the NBA has been with one team. During his first season with the Blazers, they went 33-49 and lost 13 consecutive games to end the season. In the following years, they would make the playoffs multiple times, but could never get past the second round. Damian Lillard has been the star of the Trail Blazers, though aside from backcourt addition C.J. McCollum, he has never gotten any key pieces and stars that have helped him propel the Trail Blazers to the next level. The farthest Stots and Lillard have gone in the playoffs was the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019, where they were swept by a Kevin Durant-less Golden State Warriors juggernaut that would go on to lose the Finals after their All-Stars were injured and reinjured. In 2020, Stots and the Blazers found themselves kicked out of the first round in five games by the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.
All in all, the Blazers have made some playoff appearances and one deep run, but have never reached or won the NBA Finals. Stots will have been with the Blazers for nearly a decade after this season, and if Stots doesn’t make another deep playoff run this season, beating teams like the Denver Nuggets and the winner of the Phoenix Suns/Los Angeles Lakers series, then I see no good reason why Portland would keep him around any longer. Lillard has been loyal to the franchise his entire career, and to repay him, they need to get him a better supporting cast and coach who can take him places.
#1: Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks
A former Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholzer of the Milwaukee Bucks has done a great job developing Most Valuable Player (MVP) and Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) Giannis Antetokounmpo, as well as All-Star wing player Khris Middleton. However, post-season success may lead to the former Coach of the Year’s demise. In the 2018 playoffs, the Bucks lost to the Boston Celtics in the first round; in 2019 (Antetokounmpo’s first MVP season) they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors, and in 2020, they lost to the Miami Heat in the second round. The Eastern Conference is not at its strongest, and the Bucks are simply not able to capitalize on the situation. When you have two All-Stars (including an MVP) on your roster and you aren’t able to make it to the NBA Finals (which has been the expectation for Antetokounmpo), that does seem to be a problem.
After Antetokounmpo signed a five-year extension and made it clear he is not leaving the franchise in the near future, the most removable piece of the team would be Budenholzer. The Bucks already got revenge by sweeping the Miami Heat in the 2021 NBA playoffs (the team that beat them in the prior playoffs), and if they can beat the winner of the Philadelphia 76ers/Washington Wizards series, then they will be back in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s difficult to say if making it there alone will let Budenholzer keep his job, but it’s very unlikely that if the Bucks can beat (most likely it will be) the Brooklyn Nets and make the NBA Finals that Budenholzer will lose his job. I like Budenholzer, and I think he is a great coach for this Bucks team, so personally, I’m rooting for them to make a deep run in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
What coach do you think will get fired first (if any)? Let me know your thoughts, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!
1: Then again, couldn’t you make an argument that lots of small market teams are cursed? For example, the Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, Charlotte Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies, and of course, our beloved Sacramento Kings. While I doubt the NBA is rigging games, if they were, it’s not going in the small-market team’s favor. Maybe we should call it, “The Small Market Curse.”