The NBA is about to reach the All-Star break, which serves as the unofficial halfway point of the season. This year’s regular season won’t end until late-May, so there is still plenty of time left for teams that have gotten off to underwhelming starts.
Two teams couldn’t even wait until the break to fire their coaches. The Minnesota Timberwolves, owners of the worst record in the Western Conference, dismissed Ryan Saunders last week. Earlier this week, the Atlanta Hawks somewhat surprisingly said “adios” to Lloyd Pierce. Atlanta entered the season with playoff expectations, so their current status as the No. 11 seed in the East just won’t cut it.
Coaches get fired in the NBA all the time. The business may not be as cutthroat as that of the European soccer manager, but we’ve had quite a bit of turnover in the coaching ranks over the years. Gregg Popovich (San Antonio), Rick Carlisle (Dallas), and Erik Spoelstra (Miami) are the only current coaches to have been with their teams longer than 10 years. Charlotte’s James Borrego, who was hired in May of 2018, is currently one of the 10 longest-tenured coaches in the NBA.
If you include the replacements in Minnesota (Chris Finch) and Atlanta (Nate McMillan), over one-third of all coaches in the league are in their first seasons with their respective teams.
At this point, it would be a surprise if every current coach made it through the end of the 2020-21 season. While this season has been inherently unpredictable, something tells me Pierce won’t be the last coach to be fired before it’s all said and done.
BetOnline.ag is taking bets on which will be the next man out the door. Which current coach won’t be in his job for much longer? Let’s sift through the options.
Luke Walton (Kings) +150
Frankly, it’s a little surprising that Walton is still employed as I write this. The Kings have been arguably the most trigger-happy team in the league when it comes to coaches over the past decade or so. Walton was hired almost immediately after being fired by the Lakers back in 2019. Sacramento missed out on the playoffs last year, and they’re just 13-21 so far this term.
The Kings recently snapped a nine-game losing streak, but they potentially started a new skid with an incredibly impressive loss against Charlotte over the weekend. A Harrison Barnes dunk put Sacramento up 123-115 over the Hornets with 1:13 left in the fourth quarter. From there, Charlotte went on a 12-3 run and won the game in the final seconds thanks to a three-point play by Malik Monk. That failure came just a few games after the Kings lost a tough game to the Knicks in New York, which led Walton to take out his frustrations on his clipboard:
Luke Walton taking his frustrations out on the clipboard. Kings lose their 9th straight game.
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) February 26, 2021
It was just the latest in a series of inexcusable losses for a Kings team that has plenty of young talent. De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton look like cornerstone pieces in the backcourt, but Walton certainly isn’t making the most of the situation. He’s still living off of his interim stint in charge of the Warriors several years ago when Steve Kerr was sidelined with a back issue. Almost nothing Walton has done as a full-time head coach has made him look like a worthy boss.
This guy is toast. Don’t be surprised if he’s let go during the All-Star break. Bet Walton at the current +150 odds while you still can.
Scott Brooks (Wizards) +250
Scott Brooks looked like a goner earlier this season, but the Wizards have righted the ship over the past few weeks. Washington is still only 13-20 on the year, but they have impressively won seven of their last 10 games. An underwhelming loss at home to the Grizzlies on Tuesday won’t help Brooks’ case when it comes to keeping his job, but he does seem fairly safe for now.
Washington has dealt with injuries and health issues this season, which helps explain how the team got off to such a rocky start. Bradley Beal has been phenomenal all year long, while Russell Westbrook has started to put it together after struggling early on.
The problem is that the rest of this roster is just lacking. Brooks has no reliable wings between Deni Avdija, Garrison Mathews, Davis Bertans, and Troy Brown. The center rotation featuring Robin Lopez, Moe Wagner, and Alex Len, is even more disastrous.
A Brooks dismissal before the end of the season wouldn’t be a huge surprise, but I do think the Wizards’ recent surge has bought him some extra time in DC. Washington has had almost no success since Brooks took over in April of 2016, but I think we can find better value elsewhere.
Dwane Casey (Pistons) +300
Nah. Dwane Casey built an excellent reputation during his time in Toronto. Success with the Pistons has been more difficult to come by, but Detroit is in the midst of a full rebuild. Detroit’s 9-25 record leaves plenty to be desired, but Casey has this team playing competitive basketball on most nights.
The front office hasn’t done him any favors. Derrick Rose was shipped to New York last month, while Blake Griffin has been sidelined as the team seeks a trade. That means Casey has been left with fewer cards in his deck, and any losses the team takes can’t reasonably be put on his shoulders. Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey, Mason Plumlee, and Saben Lee have given the Pistons good minutes of late, and Casey has done a good job of getting the most out of his bare-bones roster.
Firing Casey wouldn’t make much sense, so I’ll pass on this one.
Steve Clifford (Magic) +350
You’d be hard-pressed to find any team that has had worse injury luck than the Magic. Jonathan Isaac is done for the year after tearing his ACL in the bubble last summer. So far this season, Orlando has lost Markelle Fultz for the year with a torn ACL of his own. Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Cole Anthony, James Ennis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chuma Okeke, and Michael Carter-Williams have all missed time with various maladies, too.
Steve Clifford has done a good job in turning the Magic into a playoff team in each of the last two seasons. The front office here hasn’t done him many favors, either, but I think he’s bought enough goodwill to where one bad season won’t cost him his job. Orlando likely won’t be charging into the playoffs after a 13-22 start, but this team’s shortcomings aren’t Clifford’s fault.
JB Bickerstaff (Cavaliers) +1000
The Cavaliers played pretty good basketball early in the year, which was immediately followed by massive downturn. Cleveland recently endured a stretch with just one win in 13 games, but things have taken a turn for the better of late. As of this writing, the Cavaliers are riding a four-game winning streak.
A playoff appearance likely isn’t in the Cavs’ future this season, but it’s easy to see the bright spots for this team moving forward. JB Bickerstaff initially took over on an interim basis after John Beilein resigned last year, but the team decided to sign Bickerstaff to a multi-year deal last March. Considering he’s in his first full year on the bench, firing Bickerstaff at this point would look pretty terrible.
#Cavs Collin Sexton had one of his worst pro games a few weeks ago in Denver. The next day in a Portland hotel, he and J.B. Bickerstaff watched film together. They talked about Sexton’s importance to the team’s success. He’s been rolling since. https://t.co/RByiHGvEAy
— Chris Fedor (@ChrisFedor) March 2, 2021
Bickerstaff has done a pretty admirable job of molding his young roster. Collin Sexton is one of the more underrated youngsters in the game, while Darius Garland has made serious strides in his second season. Jarrett Allen, Isaac Okoro, and Dylan Windler all look like keepers, as well. Pass on Bickerstaff at +1000.
Michael Malone (Nuggets) +1200
Michael Malone led the Nuggets to a surprise trip to the Western Conference Finals last year. As has been the case with many teams, though, Denver has been bitten by the injury bug this season. In spite of it all, the Nuggets are still seventh in the West. That’s not where they had hoped to be before the season began, but a quick glance at this team’s injury report tells you all you need to know.
On Tuesday in Milwaukee, Denver played without Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green, RJ Hampton, Gary Harris, and Facundo Campazzo. PJ Dozier recently returned from a hamstring injury, while Will Barton has missed time this season, as well. One of the few constants has been Nikola Jokic, who is making a strong case to win MVP this season.
Malone is at least somewhat interesting given the +1200 odds, but I would be shocked if the Nuggets’ front office held their lackluster record against him. There have been quite a few factors in Denver’s struggles, and Malone doesn’t seem to be one of the primary factors.
Mike Budenholzer (Bucks) +1200
If the Bucks don’t win the title this season, is Mike Budenholzer a goner? It’s certainly possible. I just don’t think a team with such huge aspirations would make that dramatic a move at this point in the season. The clock is ticking on Milwaukee’s title window, though, and Budenholzer is certainly on the hot seat.
The Bucks convinced Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign a max extension last winter, but another playoff disappointment this year would likely cost Coach Bud his job. Budenholzer has done a fine job in helping turn Milwaukee into the league’s best regular-season outfit in his first couple of years on the job, but playoff success has eluded the Bucks. Budenholzer’s playoff rotations in the bubble drew the ire of many as the team bowed out in embarrassing fashion to Miami in the second round.
BUCKS STOCK MARKET GAME 35 (21-14)
Donte DiVincenzo 📉
Bobby Portis 📉
Torrey Craig 📉
Mike Budenholzer 📉📉*
*takes into account new info that Jrue drew up the Giannis dagger dunk play
— Ti Windisch (@TiWindisch) March 3, 2021
The Bucks have a few head-scratching losses on their ledger this season, but there’s no reason for much concern as of now. Milwaukee hasn’t been as dominant on paper this season, but there is still every reason to believe this team can make a run at the Finals. Antetokounmpo and co. are just two games adrift of the 76ers for the best record in the Eastern Conference with more than enough time to make up that necessary ground.
Budenholzer won’t get fired before the end of the season, though, which makes him an easy-to-ignore option here at +1200.
Brad Stevens (Celtics) +1800
Brad Stevens has been the golden boy in Boston for several years, but he’s feeling the heat for the first time this year. Boston is just 18-17 so far this season. That’s good for fourth place in the pathetic Eastern Conference, but this team came into the year hoping to challenge for the No. 1 seed. That won’t be happening.
I was bearish on the Celtics’ roster coming into the season, but I still expected them to be better than a .500 team. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are deserving All-Stars, but it’s hard to find many other bright spots. Kemba Walker has struggled after missing the first month of the year. Marcus Smart is out injured, while it’s only a matter of time until Robert Williams replaces Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis as the starting center.
Stevens’ job may not be as safe now as it has been in the past, but a dismissal at this point would raise plenty of eyebrows around the league. We can find a better value at the same +1800 odds…
Rick Carlisle (Mavericks) +1800
The 2011 championship may have made Rick Carlisle a made man in Dallas, but that grace period can’t last forever.
Carlisle is regularly mentioned as one of the NBA’s best coaches, but would it surprise you to hear that the Mavs haven’t won a single playoff series since winning that title a decade ago?
Mark Cuban deserves at least some of the blame for breaking up that title team shortly thereafter, but the Mavericks have lost all five of their first-round playoff series since 2011. Dallas came into this season armed with massive expectations. Luka Doncic was the MVP frontrunner at the beginning of the campaign, and the Mavs were tipped by many to improve upon last year’s solid showing.
Rick Carlisle last night: “The wiring of the people like Luka Doncic, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, guys that have this laser-like focus in these situations, it’s difficult to explain how their mind and their brain works.”
Full answer on Clutch Luka ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Qu1Jj706Av
— Callie Caplan (@CallieCaplan) February 24, 2021
So far, the results haven’t been there. Dallas is just 17-16. If the season ended today, the Mavs wouldn’t be in the playoffs. Kristaps Porzingis has dealt with injuries, but at some point, Carlisle needs to get some of the blame for this team’s lack of performance. It’s worth wondering whether he still has the ear of the locker room after such a long time on the Mavs’ bench.
Taking a shot on Carlisle to be the next coach fired isn’t a terrible idea given the +1800 odds. There’s an awful lot of upside to be had, and I don’t think his job is nearly as safe as some may think. If Cuban thinks his team needs a new voice, Carlisle could be shown the door fairly soon. Dallas can’t afford to waste Doncic’s prime years, which could cause Cuban to make a change sooner rather than later.
Terry Stotts (Trail Blazers) +2000
I thought Terry Stotts was a logical choice to be the first coach fired at the beginning of the season, but his job seems safe for now. Portland has been playing without Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum for quite some time, yet the Blazers are currently sixth in the Western Conference. Damian Lillard has played like an MVP in helping to lift the Blazers into a postseason spot despite the absence of two key players.
Firing Stotts at This Point Would Just Be Illogical
He’s one of the longest-tenured coaches in the league after having been on the job in Portland since 2012, but nothing about his team’s play this season suggests he’ll be on his way out any time soon.
Erik Spoelstra (Heat) +2200
The Heat made a surprising run to the Finals last summer. Spoelstra is the third-longest-tenured coach in the league with a pair of championships on his resume. Miami seems to have a lot of faith in the job he’s done to this point. After the way the team exceeded expectations last year, firing him now would be rather questionable.
The Heat haven’t been good this season, but they are trending in the right direction. Miami is seventh in the East at 17-18, but they’ve gone 6-4 over their last 10 games. Miami is benefiting from the weakness of the conference, but I think last year’s unexpected Finals run bought Coach Spo some extra time. Pass on Spoelstra at +2200.
Stan Van Gundy (Pelicans) +2500
The Pelicans are one of the youngest teams in the NBA. The front office knew this when they decided to hire Stan Van Gundy this past offseason. The first-year results for SVG have been hit-or-miss, but the Pels have plenty of reasons for optimism moving forward.
Zion Williamson is already an All-Star and one of the game’s best offensive players. Brandon Ingram has become a star himself since arriving in New Orleans, while Lonzo Ball is quietly playing some of the best basketball of his career.
The Pelicans’ collective development doesn’t really show up in the team’s win-loss record (15-19), but this team is making strides. Making the playoffs in the Western Conference will be a tall order at this point, but I seriously doubt New Orleans would ax Van Gundy after hiring him to do the job less than a year ago. Even by NBA standards, that would show an incredible lack of patience.
SVG won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu …