There is always turnover in at least one NBA organization each off-season. While there are great coaches out in the NBA, some of them fail to meet the heavy demands of the job. Out of the 30 NBA head coaches, there are some who remain safe and secure running their designated teams. On the other side of that, there lies a scant amount of coaches out there who see their seat heating up and should be feeling the pressure to succeed this upcoming season or risk standing in the unemployment line.
Billy Donovan – Oklahoma City Thunder
After failing to advance past the first round in what ultimately culminated a season-worth of disappointments for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the lens should not be on the players but rather focused on the man calling the shots, Billy Donovan.
A vast array of things went wrong last year for the Thunder and honestly, it shouldn’t have.
After a successful offseason landing Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, Donovan failed to make those pieces work well together. Anthony forced the issue on offense and never looked comfortable. George and then reigning MVP Russell Westbrook never did seem to adjust to each other’s play style. Had it not been for big man Steven Adams progression by averaging career highs in points (13.9), rebounds (9.0), and field goal percentage (62.9) last season, the Thunder very well could have been watching the playoffs in the comfort of their own homes. Is Donovan to blame?
After that early postseason exit, Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti supported Donovan as the coach next season and then expressed ways to make him and the team more successful.
“I think the best thing for [Donovan], and I think the biggest opportunity for him, is in the continuity,” Presti said. “Additionally, just continuity in general, with the type of team we have assembled and the way it was assembled, generally, continuity is his best friend going forward.” – Sam Presti
Donovan now working into his fifth and final year on his contract as the head coach, needs to show out to earn an extension or run the risk of getting ousted before the season concludes.
It goes without saying that he has done a hell of a job at getting his team to the playoffs each of the past four seasons. Especially for a first time NBA coaching gig. Even with the playoff appearances and all the talent that is put around him, Donovan seems to be stuck in the first round with no evidence to convince the front office that there is an endgame.
** Sidenote: We are not going to forget that he was one win away from an NBA Finals appearance, but squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Golden State Warriors. **
The reason Donovan lands on this list is that his situation is vaguely similar to that of another NBA coach who was canned even though the team he captained had achieved success, Dwane Casey.
Regardless of how many wins a coach may achieve or how many consecutive appearances they make in the playoffs, an NBA coaching job is never safe (unless you’re Doc Rivers). Take Casey for reference and even ex-Cleveland Cavaliers Coach David Blatt, who to this day remains unemployed even though he was 30-11 on the year of his termination and was freshly removed from an Eastern Conference title and Finals appearance.
Still think coaching jobs are safe?
If Oklahoma City botches the ensuing season and comes out flat and the media jumps on that and then the players begin fielding questions about the leadership that Donovan has on the team, I believe it is more than likely that Presti considers moving forward without Donovan.
Tom Thibodeau – Minnesota Timberwolves
Good ole’ ‘Tibs’. There is no way that he should be on this list, right? Wrong. Much like Donovan, last season was a bit of a letdown for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Yes, they made the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-2004 season, but this roster was primmed to make even more noise heading into the 2018 season.
As much as we like to think of Thibodeau as the great coach from his Chicago Bulls days where he had a prime Derrick Rose and then-All-Star center in Joakim Noah, he is not the same coach. While his philosophy and roster make-up might have worked for the Bulls back in 2010, it does not work for today’s NBA. Especially in the Western Conference.
Thibodeau has tried to re-create his old look Bulls by bringing in Rose, Taj Gibson, and although a project in his early years in Chicago, Jimmy Butler. To no surprise, it did not help much.
Thibodeau made his reputation on being this ‘defensive-minded’ coach and did a great as an assistant under Rivers in Boston during their championship title run in 2009. Now, ‘Tibs’ is gifted with great defensive players in Butler (arguably the best two-way guard in the NBA today), Andrew Wiggins (a long rangy athletic wing defender), and Karl-Anthony Towns ( an elite-level rim protector), yet Minnesota ranked 17th in points allowed last game and ranked an abysmal 27th in opponents field goal percentage last season.
It would be a shame to see the young careers of Towns, Wiggins, and even Butler be stunted from progressing due to the philosophies of Thibodeau. If the Timberwolves 2018-2019 campaign resembles that of last season with no major progressions being made from both the team as well as the players, it is a no-brainer to let Thibodeau go and hire a more offensively minded coach to compete in the stacked Western Conference.
Advice for Thibodeau: Take the next available job in the Eastern Conference.
Fred Hoiberg – Chicago Bulls
Speaking of the Eastern Conference, we move to the Chicago Bulls which are manned by Thibodeau’s predecessor, Fred Hoiberg. Since taking the head coaching job back in 2015, it has not been a very kind introduction to the NBA for Hoiberg. The highpoint of Hoiberg’s young NBA coaching career came in his second year where he made the playoffs, only to lose in the first round in six games after blowing a 2-0 series lead over the Boston Celtics.
His win totals have dropped every year but that could be due in large part to their superstar Butler ditching the windy city in a fairly ugly way:
Now, lacking a true superstar and a leader, hope seems bleak for a franchise that is accustomed to relying on an individual to take charge. Hoiberg does not seem to be the guy to do so. That simply isn’t his demeanor as a coach and it wouldn’t his coaching style.
Another contributing factor to Hoiberg’s seat heating up could be that this current roster of Lauri Markkanen, Jabari Parker, Wendell Carter Jr., and Zach Lavine simply does not fit his style of play for which relies on. Hoiberg’s offense thrives on young athletic guards, knockdown shooters, and all five players on the court being able to post-up at any given time, also something that he has never truly had consistently in his time there.
Coming out of Iowa State, Hoiberg was poised to bring his up-tempo offensive style of play to the NBA. Giving the Bulls more of an offensive mindset and getting away from the ‘defense wins championship’ mentality for which they experienced with Thibodeau as coach. Ironically enough in the three years with Hoiberg calling the shots, the Bulls only playoff appearance with him as the lead man, came when they ranked 20th in pace of play. Proving that his style of play might not be translating too well for his current situation.
Now entering the fourth year of his five year contract, Bulls fans might not be so patient with Hoiberg and might not be able to accept another mediocre season in the wide-open back end of the Eastern Conference.
While a lot of the blame is not all on Hoiberg, this could just be a situation where the coach and the personnel decisions and direction of the team just do not mesh.
It is amazing to look at how polar opposite Hoiberg and Thibodeau are. Thibodeau is an Eastern Conference teams ideal candidate and Hoiberg has all the makings to be successful out West.
Dave Joerger – Sacramento Kings
Joerger Bomb! After his debut stint with the Memphis Grizzlies, Joerger earned a three year contract with a team option in the fourth year for the Sacramento Kings.
He was successful in his time for Memphis as each season he earned a playoff appearance, with his best season occurring in his second year where he went 55-27. In that year Joerger advanced past the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round and even took the Golden State Warriors to six games.
The ‘grind-house’ style of play was still in effect with Joerger and where that is not his preferred style of offense, it worked. The Grizzlies preferred to relieve Joerger of his duties and give the coaching job to another candidate (David Fizdale) who was better suited to and more willing to stick with that brand of basketball.
Now in Sacramento, Joerger isn’t getting off to as much success. However, Joerger is not gift-wrapped with premier talent in the capital of the sunshine state as he was in Memphis. That being said, playing in the stacked Western Conference, Sacramento is not anywhere close to being projected near the top of the pecking order, especially after LeBron James has now entered the conference with the Los Angelas Lakers.
Joerger has failed to improve on his win totals each season and has been a coach in regression. When Joerger took the Kings job he earned 32 wins in his first year, followed by 27 wins last season. Not a good sign.
After selecting highly talented Marvin Bagley III in this summer’s NBA draft, the Kings may have found their transcendent front-court player, something they have been lacking since DeMarcus Cousins left town. Depending on Bagley’s growth as a rookie and the team’s overall success this year, Joerger could be faced with a make or break season.