It's time to roll out the pre-holiday list of top 10 coaches on the hot seat.
What's that you say? We're barely 20 games into the season, and three coaches have been fired already?
|Randy Wittman could be among the next group of coaches shoved out the door. (Getty Images)|
P.J. Carlesimo's rugged, disciplinary style wasn't the right fit for a young Oklahoma City team that is in for a long, painful season of growing up. The energetic, player-friendly Scott Brooks is much better suited to applying lipstick to that pig. Hey, the Thunder are 1-5 since Brooks took over, which is a lot better than 1-12.
Eddie Jordan being relieved of his duties in Washington was far more curious, and reeks of GM Ernie Grunfeld feeling the heat over the $111 million he lavished on gimpy Gilbert Arenas. Grunfeld installed his longtime friend and associate, Ed Tapscott. The Wizards entered the weekend 2-3 under Tapscott, which really is a lot better than 1-10.
Sam Mitchell must have known the walls were closing in when GM Bryan Colangelo eschewed important college scouting trips to attend the Raptors' recent West Coast retreat. In that crucible, all it took was a 132-93 embarrassment in Denver for Colangelo to pull the trigger. I've believed for some time that Mitchell was an overrated coach, so I can't fault Colangelo here. What's interesting is the swiftness of the move; the Raptors were 8-9 at the time. It's the first overt sign that Colangelo is getting skittish about losing Chris Bosh as a free agent in 2010 and needs the team to win now.
Who's next? Here's my list:
|Reggie Theus (Getty Images)|
Reggie Theus, Sacramento: Don't look now, but the Kings have lost eight in a row, with Denver and a home-and-home with the Lakers coming up. The Maloof brothers are said to be really down on Theus, and are easily influenced by other opinions on the organization -- as evidenced by their hiring of Theus in the first place. Kevin Martin just came back from an ankle injury, so he should help stabilize things. But if it continues to spiral, look for Theus to become coach No. 4 to be fired before Christmas.
Randy Wittman, Minnesota: Wittman seemingly bought more time with a convincing win at Detroit last week. But GM Kevin McHale is traveling with the team on a road trip concluding Friday night in New Jersey. See above on the events leading to Mitchell's ouster in Toronto. This is not a good sign.
|Marc Iavaroni (Getty Images)|
On the bubble
Marc Iavaroni, Memphis: Asked about the level of confidence he has in his coach, Grizzlies swingman Rudy Gay said recently, "Sometimes we run into teams that exploit what we're doing." Ouch. GM Chris Wallace expressed confidence in Iavaroni, saying he is "fully behind this group of coaches" and that he "wants to give this time to unfold." Iavaroni is starting three rookies -- O.J. Mayo, Darrell Arthur and Marc Gasol -- so it's no surprise they're struggling. But with seven straight losses, including a bad one to Oklahoma City, Iavaroni is on thinner ice.
|Maurice Cheeks (Getty Images)|
Stefanski spread the blame around, including coaches, players, and himself. But he didn't absolve Cheeks of responsibility for the team's 8-11 start entering the weekend. One important point to remember: Stefanski came from the Rod Thorn regime in New Jersey, which has shown tremendous loyalty to coach Lawrence Frank over the years. But one comment from Stefanski stuck with me. When he was asked if Sixers fans should have patience, he said: "Nobody is going to be patient. You'll never hear patience come out of my mouth. I know the fans; I'm one of the fans. I know how they are. I'm not going to use that word."
|Mike Dunleavy (Getty Images)|
The Clippers have enough talent to be better than 3-15. And eventually, they'll have to show progress or Dunleavy might have the word "coach" removed from his job description. Donald Sterling's legendary frugality helps Dunleavy survive for a while, but not forever.
|Terry Porter (Getty Images)|
The problem is, team president Steve Kerr signed off on all of this -- the acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal, and the hiring of a coach more open to a traditional style of play that would suit the aging Aristotle. To his credit, Porter has shown himself to be flexible, abandoning some of the offensive sets he brought from Detroit and dusting off D'Antoni's old stuff. He'll survive as long as he remains open-minded. If the Suns' decline steepens, though, some of the players will not.
|Jim O'Brien (Getty Images)|
But it's worth remembering that the Pacers had a deal in place with lead assistant Dick Harter before they finalized O'Brien's hiring. That tells you everything you need to know about Larry Bird's priorities.
Don Nelson isn't getting fired in Golden State after receiving a two-year contract extension before the season, so he doesn't get to be No. 8 on the list. But nowhere does it say he has to coach for the duration of the contract. He's already admitted his team probably won't make the playoffs. The Golden State front office is in disarray, with no discussions about extending GM Chris Mullin's contract, which expires after the season.
A person familiar with Mullin's thinking said he'd entertain going to New York to be Donnie Walsh's right-hand man and heir apparent. It would be a win-win for Mullin and the Knicks, who finally have cap flexibility and could add long-term organizational stability with a viable succession plan in place before Walsh retires. But D'Antoni has tremendous power in New York -- as illustrated by his strong-arm tactics with Stephon Marbury -- and he is believed to have other candidates he'd be more comfortable working with.
When the dust clears in Golden State, don't be surprised if Nellie moves upstairs into the full-time GM role, with shooting coach Sidney Moncrief or longtime assistant Keith Smart taking over for Nelson on the bench.