Five NBA coaches with hottest seats entering 2020-21 season

Ten teams will begin the 2020-21 season with different coaches than a year ago, including aspiring contenders such as the Los Angeles Cl...



Ten teams will begin the 2020-21 season with different coaches than a year ago, including aspiring contenders such as the Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets and also-rans such as the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Zion Williamson are among the many stars who will see fresh faces when they look to the sideline this year.

Coaches were let go for every reason under the sun: playoff disappointments, chemistry concerns, locker room drama, financial considerations and change for change’s sake. This year figures to be more stable by comparison given that high volume of turnover, but here’s a look at a handful of coaches who will find themselves on the hot seat or in more difficult predicaments.

Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks

Among coaches of contending teams, Budenholzer is easily on the hottest seat. The good news: Budenholzer kept his job despite a postseason flameout, unlike Doc Rivers, Brett Brown and Mike D’Antoni. The bad news: Budenholzer will be the obvious fall guy if Milwaukee repeats its pattern of dominant regular season play followed by a playoff letdown. He was outmaneuvered by Toronto’s Nick Nurse in 2019 and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra in 2020, and critics have cited his rigid stylistic principles, lack of adjustments and questionable minutes distribution.

Budenholzer will be glad that Giannis Antetokounmpo agreed to a five-year supermax extension and that Jrue Holiday arrives from New Orleans as a massive backcourt upgrade. But the Bucks will need to rework both their starting lineup and bench units as they face Finals-or-bust expectations. If there’s any consolation for Budenholzer, it’s that Lakers Coach Frank Vogel entered last season with the biggest target on his back. Of course, Vogel went on to lead Los Angeles to the title in businesslike fashion.

Luke Walton, Sacramento Kings

Walton’s first year in Sacramento didn’t go according to plan: General Manager Vlade Divac resigned in August after the Kings regressed in the standings and missed the playoffs yet again. The troubling part for ownership is that Walton never established much of an identity for his team, which finished below-average on both offense and defense and often lacked focus and effort.

With no major offseason additions, the Kings seem like a long shot to snap their 14-year streak of lottery appearances. Even so, mercurial owner Vivek Ranadivé, who has shown a propensity for cycling through coaches, and first-time General Manager Monte McNair will want to see meaningful progress under Walton, who is in the second year of a four-year contract.

Lloyd Pierce, Atlanta Hawks

Pierce was hired in 2018 to guide Atlanta’s rebuilding effort around Trae Young, and it’s officially time to deliver results. After a frustrating 20-47 campaign and an offseason spending spree, Hawks ownership has made clear its desire to return to respectability and compete for the playoffs.

Pierce will have a tricky job balancing the Hawks’ veteran additions against the need to develop their recent lottery picks. The offense should be noticeably improved, but Atlanta will need to defend at a much higher level than last year if it is going to reach its goals. Judgement day is here, as Pierce is reportedly entering the final guaranteed year of a four-year contract that includes a 2021-22 team option.

Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards

The Wizards have regressed in the standings every year since winning 49 games and reaching the second round in Brooks’ first season. Now, he enters the final season of a five-year, $35 million deal needing to reverse that momentum and get Washington back into the playoff mix. On the bright side, Brooks might have been the biggest winner in the John Wall for Russell Westbrook trade. Wall’s injury issues were the primary cause of Washington’s recent struggles, and Brooks coached Westbrook to five playoff appearances during their seven seasons together with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It’s worth noting that D’Antoni and Billy Donovan entered last year as lame ducks, and both veteran coaches were replaced by first-timers when their contract expired this offseason. Will these examples blossom into a wider, pandemic-related trend toward cost-cutting that ensnares Brooks?

Dwane Casey, Detroit Pistons

Casey found his way on this list through no real fault of his own. He was hired by the Pistons in 2018 to lead a playoff push with Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Two years later, the gregarious coaching lifer finds himself working for a new general manager in Troy Weaver and overseeing a talent-deficient roster that’s headed for a rebuild. Drummond and Jackson are already gone, and trading Griffin to pursue a youth movement makes all the sense in the world.

Weaver’s first round of offseason moves didn’t exactly set up Casey for instant success. Jerami Grant is underqualified to be a lead scoring option, the backcourt rotation is lacking in floor-spacers and a glut of uninspiring centers won’t contribute much to winning. Detroit will struggle to match its 20-46 record from last year, but the silver lining for Casey is that he’s entering the third season of a reported five-year, $35 million deal. Pistons ownership has real motivation to remain patient.

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Newsrust: Five NBA coaches with hottest seats entering 2020-21 season
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