The Coaching Crunch: On Thin Ice!



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Eye contact in a timeout huddle means little to the casual observer.

NBA players do all sorts of things in timeout huddles other than locking into their coach and hanging on every word. Sometimes it means something when they stare off into the distance. And other times it means nothing.

But for a large number of coaches heading into the great (contractual) unknown at season’s end, that connection between coach and player(s) is of immense importance.

It could mean the difference between a contract extension, a new contract or no contract, depending on how certain teams finish the regular season and postseason — provided some of these coaches make it that far.

The list of coaches looking over their shoulders as the regular season winds to a close is long and filled with notable names:

DOUG COLLINS, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

How many coaches of lottery-bound teams get to decide their own fate? Collins might be the only one in the league right now other than Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, who will make his own decision based on things other than basketball. That exhausted look on his face most nights is a reflection of a clearly exasperated coach dealing with a situation that turned a promising, young team last season upside down this season when Andrew Bynum came to town via an offseason trade.

The Sixers hit rock bottom in February and Collins couldn’t contain himself, venting his frustration for all the world to see and hear. But they’ve actually rebounded a bit lately, going 6-4 in their last 10 games and doing whatever they can to finish the season on a somewhat positive note.

His fourth year is already set. The Sixers’ front office wants him back. And they’ll need a steady, veteran coach to guide them out of the mess that the Bynum trade unleashed upon the organization and the fans. Collins is on thin ice only if he wants to be.

TY CORBIN, UTAH JAZZ

Corbin is one of several coaches whose future is tied directly to his team’s finish in the regular season. Make the playoffs, serve as the sacrificial first-round fodder for the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder and there is reason to believe that Corbin can cajole more out of this group next season.

And with just one season left on his contract, playoffs or not, the Jazz might not shake things up in the coaching ranks at a time when the roster is in such flux — Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap‘s pending free agency (among others) and the future of young bigs Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.

Corbin’s task has always been daunting in following a legend like Jerry Sloan. But Corbin has handled it about as well as you would expect from a guy who was thrust into an impossible situation.

MIKE D’ANTONI, LOS ANGELES LAKERS

The ice beneath D’Antoni’s feet won’t break this season, even if the Lakers miss the playoffs. There has already been too much turmoil, upheaval and loss for one season. But how would you like to work under the extreme pressure that D’Antoni will have to this summer and next season if the Lakers do miss out on that eighth and final spot in the West?

If the Lakers land in the lottery and the blame game kicks off in earnest, D’Antoni will be third or fourth in the firing line, behind Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and Dwight Howard (in whatever order you’d like). Having the unfettered support of the Lakers’ two most important players — Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash — certainly aids D’Antoni’s cause.

Still, if things come apart in Los Angeles this summer, D’Antoni could be one of two NBA coaches in the city walking around on cracked ice.

VINNY DEL NEGRO, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Del Negro has just as many detractors as he does supporters these days. Three different league executives have suggested that he’s done a much better job than he gets credit for, when you consider how raw the Clippers’ frontcourt remains with youngsters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan still coming into their own.

Del Negro’s critics quickly point out that an All-Star and one of the top 10 centers in the league is a pretty good place to start your frontcourt rotation. Plus, they say, Griffin and Jordan’s rawness has as much with Del Negro (and his staff’s) inability to polish them up as it does anything else.

The Clippers have dealt with health issues and rumored locker room drama all season, but they also kicked off the NBA’s season of win streaks with a 17-gamer early in the season that cranked expectations (on the team and Del Negro) to unattainable proportions. The only thing that might solidify Del Negro’s status is a run to the Western Conference finals … and that might work.

LARRY DREW, ATLANTA HAWKS

How does a guy spend half the season as a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate and the other half on the coaching hot list? Only in Atlanta, where the Hawks coach has been on the proverbial hot seat for the past 10 years (Mike Woodson before him and now, Drew).  He’s known since last summer, when new general manager Danny Ferry arrived, that he would spend his final season under contract on a non-stop audition.

To his credit, Drew has never once made an issue of his predicament. In fact, he’s relished the opportunity to show off his coaching chops to the rest of the league. Drew knows there could be (at minimum) a half-dozen coaching openings this summer. And anyone who has presided over playoff teams every year he’s been a coach — as Drew has — has made a compelling case for making the short list of interview candidates for any openings.

Bottom line? Drew was not Ferry’s pick as coach. And if the Hawks are going to remake themselves this summer, it makes sense that Ferry will do so with his own pick as coach.

BYRON SCOTT, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Scott had to fist-fight Brooklyn’s P.J. Carlesimo for the final spot on this list. Carlesimo’s not on thin ice, though, he’s standing in the water. As long as Phil Jackson, Sloan and the Van Gundy brothers (Jeff and Stan) remain options, the coaching seat in Brooklyn is just a temporary perch. Scott is in a much more precarious position because of the belief that the Cavaliers are just a few healthy players (namely Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao) away from turning the corner in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Scott keeps finding himself in coaching situations where he has either overstayed his welcome (New Jersey and New Orleans) or failed to get his team to the next step in time (Cleveland). The Cavaliers showed him some love earlier this season by guaranteeing the final year of his contract next season. But even a financial vote of confidence like that might not stand up to the a coaching free-agent summer that will rival anything the players offer up.

If the aforementioned big names are floating around, you better believe the Cavaliers will be fishing around to see who is interested in helping guide Irving into the prime of his career.

ALSO ON THE RADAR: Mike Dunlap, Charlotte; Lawrence Frank, Detroit; Lionel Hollins, Memphis; Keith Smart, Sacramento; Randy Wittman, Washington.

16 Comments

  1. I don’t understand why Del Negro is on this list, he’s taken clips from non playoff contenders for how long to playoff contenders for last 2 yrs & gotten multi allstars to gel in a short period of time.

  2. @ me-Sorry my friend but you must not understand that much about coaching & what it takes. Doc’s name isn’t on this list for a reason, he’s still a great coach who makes no excuses ever. Despite the Celts roller coaster this season, they’re making the playoffs as some didn’t expect even that-i still expected a playoff run. All things considering, Doc’s done pretty damn good.

  3. Rocks says:

    Firstly, I will like to take off my hat for Mark Jackson for what he’s doing with GSW. Wow! I never saw that coming. George Karl with the Nuggets also deserve applause. Now to the struggling coaches on the list, I think Scott, Collins and Del Negro don’t deserve to be there. Scott and Collins don’t have a descent roaster while Del Negro is having a descent season in a very competitive conference. A coach that deserves to go without a doubt is the Lakers’ coach. I’m sorry but Mike D’Antoni must just take one for the team. He’s a good man but the wrong coach for the showtime LA Lakers team. Yes, the management didn’t do the best job either but most coaches can do better with this team. Sorry Uncle Mike!

  4. JPS says:

    Byron Scott had a long stretch with a young, undersized team minus its three best players–and still managed some surprising wins. I don’t think anybody’s chopping his head off for that.

  5. Me says:

    y’all forgot Doc Rivers, his coaching this year has been terrible and I would like to say that 70+ games has been enough for him to improve the team already. Injuries can not be used as an excuse, I mean look at George Karl and the Nuggets

    • celtic fan says:

      I don’t agree with you, even though this year has not been as great as the past few ones. Losing three players to season-ending injury in the middle of the season is tough for any team to deal with, plus having KG and Pierce out for a significant amount of games makes it even harder. I think Doc has done a decent job, especially after rondo’s injury and the general thinking that they wouldn’t even make the playoffs. Denver has a deeper team than the celtics, and Galo just recently got injured. Really feel it for the nuggets tho, i was looking forward to them tearing it up the in western conference during the playoffs. Still think they can do it, but they need everybody to step it up

  6. bhimz says:

    your all idiots ranting D’Antoni to be first on the list. Sekou laid out the coaches’ last name alphabetically.

    I feel Byron Scott would remain as Cavs coach for another season, losing Verajao, Irving (several games), Waiters lately was costly for the team.

  7. allanbenson says:

    Seriously Mr. Smith? D’Antoni is and should be #1 on the list. His hiring was a) a mistake, b) an experiment at best.

    He is a one trick pony with a ridiculous stubborn streak. Pick and roll 7 second offence was OK at best in it’s heyday, but it is his lack of focus on defence and most importantly his lack of adapting his style to the current game.

    Watch them out of every quarter, every time out – the plan that he draws almost always fails.

    There is great talent on this team, an excellent coach would know how to use it to its potential.

    He is a decent coach but not for the current line up, and really, not for the Lakers. I really do not understand this move at all.

  8. BillCollector1999 says:

    byron scotts not going anywhere
    “I’m in this for the long run,” he said. “I’m in this thing for the long haul where we can be good and successful for years to come. Just like any other coach, I want to win now and I want all the pieces to be there. Sometimes patience is the best thing you can do and understanding the whole situation. I understand completely where we are and what we have to do.”

  9. Unkle Daddy says:

    I am an Atlanta boy, I never liked Woodson or Drew. We need a new coach, GM (Barkley) and president. Now, Collins should be kept in Philly (if they don’t want him, send him here), it’s his team not him. Organizations need to stop firing coaches just because their team doesn’t have the talent to make the playoffs. All I hear is well we got so and so, great one guy does not a team make, unless your last name is James. Jordan, Magic, Bird the greatest of all time still had major help, go to NBA history and look it up.

    • ssj16 says:

      If I’m not mistaken all those players that you named played with other all-stars or HOFers.

      • ssj16 says:

        Actually I misread your comment, you did detail that Jordan, Magic and Bird played with help but Lebron definitely fits in this category as well. Let’s not forget about leaving Cleveland to Miami and the Mike Brown firing that proceeded that.

  10. Shawn says:

    i just can’t see how D’Antoni is not at the very top of the list? My gosh three superstars and a good supporting cast and they may not make the platyoffs for the first time in most of our live times? Utah is more respectable right now, with no real superstars… Is Kobe really still supporting him? that is unbelievable it that is so.

    can/t understand why Vinny Del Negro is on the list. There are a lot of great teams on the West, Thunder OKC, Memphis… everyone cant win… they have had a great run, and i think much credit goes out to the entire team. I would give them another year, and watch out!.

    We would LOVE to see one of the Van Gundy’s in New York. But, then that would distract from the Knick fans! There persona is great for New York!

    • awefna says:

      the lakers supporting cast is actually horrible aside from Jamison world peace and meeks (this is coming from a lakers fan). even when Jordan hill comes back next season we won’t be too much better if dantoni doesn’t leave

  11. steppx says:

    how can keith smart not be at the top of the list? Whitman second, and Frank third. After that are open questions. I think By Scott will remain. Nobody expected him to win. Dunlap stays too for the same reason. Hunter is gone in phoenix. I think Corbin might be gone even if he makes the playoffs. Utah has not progressed as expected. SVG to Utah seems like a nice fit and Jeff to the Clips the same. I think Carlissimo is gone as well. And maybe JVG could land there. Boylan in Milwaukee is gone too………but that bucks situation is toxic right now. The best job…..if Detroit fires dumars, would be to step into detroit……….they have a nice core, and that might be a situation where a talented young coach could thrive-

    • slider821 says:

      hahah I read this article and thought the exact same thing as you, word for word…how can Keith smart not be top of the list. I don’t think I need to into detail why he should be so I’ll just leave this here:

      When Smart coached Golden State, he chose to play Acie Law over Steph Curry.

      Seriously.