5 NBA coaches on the hot seat

5 NBA coaches on the hot seat

All NBA coaches face some pressure no matter how well their teams perform, but some coaches may encounter more tension due to unfulfilled expectations and disappointing results. With the new season on the horizon, here are five coaches entering the campaign on the hot seat.

Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks

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The coach is usually the first to get the boot when a team fails to meet expectations after making a big move. The Mavericks went 8-12 after acquiring Kyrie Irving in February, including winning just five out of 16 games with the former All-Star and Luka Doncic both in the lineup. Spelled out over an entire season, those results won’t guarantee Kidd’s spot at the front of Dallas’ bench.

The veteran coach is known for leading teams beyond expectations in his first season and then flaming out, a reputation he built with the Milwaukee Bucks. After leaving the Brooklyn Nets, Kidd helped rally the Bucks to a 41-41 record in the 2014-15 season – a vast improvement from a league-worst mark the prior campaign. However, Milwaukee’s fourth-ranked defense didn’t carry over into the next season, dropping to 23rd in 2015-16. Following his debut campaign, Kidd went 98-111 and was fired in 2018.

Despite a stop as an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers that helped the franchise win a championship in 2020, the same blueprint of declining defense followed with the Mavs. Dallas went from a top-10 unit two seasons ago to a bottom-10 defense in 2022-23. The team has to shore up and strengthen how it guards other squads if it wants to compete for a championship.

There are reasons Kidd could stay in Dallas for longer. First, he’s a franchise legend who has owner Mark Cuban’s support. Second, the Mavericks made moves in the offseason to address their defensive weaknesses. They drafted Dereck Lively and Olivier-Maxence Prosper, two players who project to be defensively sound either along the perimeter or protecting the paint. Signing the versatile Grant Williams also helps. But if Dallas stumbles out the gates, Kidd will be the first person in the organization out the door.

Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets

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After controlling the team for the last 13 years, NBA icon Michael Jordan sold the organization for $3 billion in June to a group led by then-minority owner Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall. Under new ownership, Clifford might not stay long with the Hornets if this season begins on the wrong foot.

Clifford’s start to his second tenure with Charlotte wasn’t successful in the wins department. The Hornets finished 2022-23 with a 27-55 record, Clifford’s second-worst season as a head coach after going 21-51 in his final campaign with the Orlando Magic during the shortened 2020-21 season. Charlotte ranked dead last in offensive rating at 108.4, with LaMelo Ball‘s 46 missed games contributing to the disappointing numbers. On the defensive side, the Hornets showed promise by ranking 20th.

Even if rookies like Brandon Miller and Nick Smith Jr. are immediate impact players and the team vastly exceeds expectations, Clifford doesn’t have a track record of playoff success. He’s won just five postseason games and has never gotten his team out of the first round over 10 seasons as a head coach. Despite his reputation as someone who squeezes wins out of talent-depleted rosters, Charlotte might be better served picking a bench boss who focuses on developing young players to create a better recipe for future success. However, new ownership could be looking for wins sooner rather than later, and they might have their own coaches in mind.

Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls

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A candidate due to his team’s lack of success, Donovan’s tenure in Chicago might be ending soon if the Bulls struggle out of the gate. Holding the position for the last three seasons, Donovan has led the franchise to the playoffs only once after the team made big swings for various players like DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Lonzo Ball.

It feels harsh to pin all of Chicago’s failures on the injury of a single player, but Ball’s knee has proven to be a hard obstacle to overcome. The Bulls went 22-13 in his 35 games with the franchise in 2021-22. The five-man lineup of Ball, Alex Caruso, Zach LaVine, DeRozan, and Vucevic possessed a net rating of 12.5, but they played only 95 minutes together. Since Lonzo’s last game, Chicago has gone a mediocre 64-65.

However, the Bulls held it together defensively last season, ranking fifth in the league in defensive rating – ahead of teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Lakers. But Ball’s ability to organize the offense is what Chicago missed. Despite rostering three scorers in LaVine, DeRozan, and Vucevic, the club finished 24th in offensive rating. The Bulls struggled to move the ball around, placing 20th in assists per game.

Chicago feels to be trending backward without Ball, relying more on aging veteran players with suspect defense or players who excel defensively but contribute little offensively. A slow start, first-round exit, or missing the playoffs altogether will ensure the end of Donovan’s tenure as the Bulls head coach.

Ty Lue, Los Angeles Clippers

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Only one thing will determine Lue’s future as the Clippers head coach – playoff success. The veteran bench boss may be out if Los Angeles falls short of a deep postseason run.

While Lue was instrumental in leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to their lone title in 2016, he hasn’t seen the same success with the Clippers in the deep Western Conference. He was two victories away from leading L.A. to a Finals berth in 2020-21, but the team missed the playoffs the following campaign and was eliminated in five contests in last season’s first round by the Phoenix Suns. Lue’s job could be in flux if the Clippers fail to win their opening playoff series for the second time in three seasons.

Los Angeles needs to do its best to keep its rotation as fresh as possible to withstand a multitude of injuries in the playoffs, a mere seven months away. Keeping Kawhi Leonard and Paul George healthy will be paramount to any postseason run, especially with the league’s new rules on resting star players.

J. B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers

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Like many coaches on this list, the Cavaliers need to take a tangible jump in the postseason for Bickerstaff to keep his job.

Since LeBron James’ departure, Bickerstaff has been an important factor in turning the Cavs from a perennial bottom-feeder to a team on the rise. Cleveland jumped in wins from 22 to 44 in 2021-22 under the core of Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, and Evan Mobley and then achieved its first 50-win season without LeBron since 1992-93 with the addition of All-Star Donovan Mitchell.

The Cavaliers have improved every campaign under Bickerstaff, but they’ve also had the last two end disappointingly. A 17-point fourth quarter in the final play-in contest against the Atlanta Hawks stopped them from reaching the playoffs in 2022. And Cleveland barely put up a fight in the next postseason. The New York Knicks dominated the Cavs on the offensive side of the glass in the first round, outrebounding Cleveland 75-46 over the five-game series.

The Cavaliers’ bumps in the road are pretty standard for a team on the upswing, and they responded by adding dependable players like Max Strus and Georges Niang into the rotation. Still, a lot is riding on this campaign. Cleveland has Mitchell under contract for two more seasons, but the 27-year-old holds a player option in 2025-26. If the Cavs have an underwhelming campaign, they have at least one more season to shift the chairs around for another shot at competing. That could include bringing in a new voice as coach.

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