Monday, April 15, 2024
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NBA hot seat rankings: Monty Williams, Darvin Ham top the list of coaches who could be next to lose their job

Being an NBA coach does not fall under the category of careers with a ton of job security. Already this season, we’ve seen a coach get booted after leading the team to a 30-13 record, and most recently, another coach — Jacque Vaughn — lose his job just a year after signing a contract extension with the team. It’s always about the here and now when it comes to NBA coaching jobs, and if the team isn’t performing the way management wants, or if something like, in Vaughn’s case, a 50-point loss right before the All-Star break happens, they are quick to pull the rug from under you and move on to the next thing.

There’s only a finite number of coaches in the league who have true job security, guys like Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra and Steve Kerr, but everyone else has to keep proving their worth regardless of what major or minor success they’ve had with their respective teams.

As the league returns from the All-Star break, and as the third coaching change of the season happened with the Nets parting ways with Vaughn, now’s a good time to look at what coaches could be next on the chopping block as we enter the home stretch of the season.

1. Monty Williams, Detroit Pistons

The Pistons weren’t expected to be playoff contenders this season, but gosh, you’d think they’d be better than 8-46 at the All-Star break given all the young, lottery draft talent they have on the roster. Williams is partially responsible for that, with questionable rotation decisions from the onset of when he took the job. He was insistent on starting Killian Hayes over Jaden Ivey, the latter of whom had a standout rookie season a year ago, and next to Cade Cunningham, he is the most capable guard on the roster. Ivey adapted to the bench role, but it was clear he deserved a starting backcourt spot. Hayes, meanwhile, had shown little to deserve the kind of faith Williams had in him, and it finally came to a head at the trade deadline when the Pistons waived the former seventh pick overall so that there would be no option for Williams to play him going forward.

While the Pistons hired Williams on the reputation he built in New Orleans and then as coach in Phoenix, where he helped turn a constant lottery team in the Suns into a playoff mainstay, the development he was lauded for in his previous stops is missing in Detroit. None of the Pistons’ young players have taken sizable steps forward in their development, which is paramount for rebuilding teams. While it’s only Williams’ first season at the helm, we’ve seen teams get impatient quickly, so if the rest of the season doesn’t trend upward for the Pistons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them conducting a coaching search in the offseason.

2. Darvin Ham, Los Angeles Lakers

The NBA is in the business of what you have done for me lately, and the Lakers coaching gig is a prime example of that. It doesn’t matter how successful your team was during your tenure, L.A. will reassess your job quickly if things aren’t going right. Just ask Frank Vogel, who was ousted just two years after leading the Lakers to a championship in 2020. He was let go after his third season when L.A. missed the postseason during the 2021-22 season, showing how little patience the Lakers front office — and probably LeBron James — has. 

Ham was brought in as Vogel’s replacement, and in his first year (last season), he coached the team to a Western Conference finals berth. But things haven’t been great since. The Lakers are currently 30-26, holding on tightly to the No. 9 spot in the West. They’ve turned things around as of late, going 7-3 in their past 10 games leading up to the All-Star break, but there were murmurings back in January of Ham potentially losing the locker room and him possibly being on the hot seat. I feel his job security is based on how this team finishes the season because if the Lakers once again conjure up some postseason magic and make another Cinderella run, it would be pretty shocking to see Ham lose his job. But if L.A. gets bounced in the play-in, or even in the first round, you have to wonder if the Lakers will consider replacing him, especially in a pivotal offseason ahead with LeBron’s player option decision looming and reports surfacing of the Lakers going star hunting. 

3. Doc Rivers, Milwaukee Bucks

It might be wild to have Rivers here, considering the ink on his contract probably hasn’t dried yet, but we just saw Milwaukee boot a coach after going 30-13, so it wouldn’t be incredibly surprising to see him ousted, too. The Rivers tenure hasn’t gotten out to the greatest of starts, with the Bucks posting a 3-7 record since taking over for Adrian Griffin. That includes a rather embarrassing loss to a Memphis Grizzlies team right before the All-Star break, where they didn’t play a single regular starter or regular role player, while Milwaukee had Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, and the rest of their rotation playing heavy minutes. After that game, Rivers called out his team, saying, “We had some guys here, we had some guys in Cabo,” questioning his players’ effort.

That may not be the type of response you want to hear from a guy who just stepped into the coaching gig a little less than a month ago. Rivers has also said that taking over this job from Griffin has been “more difficult than I thought,” suggesting he may be in over his head right now. That’s not to say Rivers can’t turn things around, but the cracks are already showing just 10 games into his tenure. The Bucks have shown they are impatient and maybe won’t give someone like Rivers time to settle in, so the clock is already ticking for him to figure things out.

I’m not saying this will happen in season, but if the Bucks underperform in the postseason for a second consecutive year — i.e. get bounced in the first round — Rivers could be on the hot seat at season’s end.

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