Ten teams will start the 2020-21 season with different coaches than they did a year ago, including up-and-coming competitors like the Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets, as well as competitors like 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 as they look to the sidelines this year.
The coaches have been fired under the sun for all reasons: playoff disappointments, chemistry problems, locker room drama, financial considerations, and changes for the sake of change. This year the numbers should be more stable given the high sales volume. Here’s a look at a handful of trainers who will find themselves in the hot seat or in more difficult situations.
Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks
Budenholzer is easily in the hottest place among the coaches of the competing teams. The good news: Budenholzer kept his job despite a post-season flameout, unlike Doc Rivers, Brett Brown and Mike D’Antoni. The bad news: Budenholzer will be the obvious tumbler if Milwaukee repeats their pattern of dominant regular season play followed by a playoff disappointment. Outmaneuvered by Toronto’s Nick Nurse in 2019 and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra in 2020, and critics have cited his strict style principles, lack of customization, and questionable minute distribution.
Budenholzer will be pleased that Giannis Antetokounmpo has agreed to an extension of five years for Supermax and that Jrue Holiday from New Orleans arrives as a massive backcourt upgrade. But the bucks will need to revise both their starting line-up and banking units if faced with expectations of the final or bankruptcy. If there is any consolation for Budenholzer, it is Lakers coach Frank Vogel, who started last season with the biggest goal on his back. Of course, Vogel led Los Angeles factually to the title.
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 fell overall and missed the playoffs again. The worrying thing about ownership is that Walton has never established a big identity for his team, which underperforms on both offense and defense and is often not focused and trying.
With no major off-season additions, the Kings seem like a long way to go to end their 14-year streak of lottery appearances. Even so, mercury owner Vivek Ranadivé, who has shown a penchant for cycling through coaches, and first-time general manager Monte McNair under Walton, who is in the second year of a four-year deal, will want to see significant progress.
Lloyd Pierce, Atlanta Hawks
Pierce was hired in 2018 to lead Atlanta’s rebuilding around Trae Young, and it’s officially time to start delivering results. After a frustrating 20-47 campaign and off-season buying frenzy, Hawk’s possession has made it clear his desire to get back on top and fight for the playoffs.
Pierce will have a difficult job balancing the Hawks’ veteran additions against the need to develop their most recent lottery picks. Offensive should be improved noticeably, but Atlanta will have to defend at a much higher level than last year to achieve its goals. Judgment Day is here as Pierce reportedly enters the final guaranteed year of a four-year contract that includes a team option for 2021-22.
Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards
The Wizards have declined overall standings every year since winning 49 games and making the second round in Brooks’ first season. Now he’s entering the final season of a five-year $ 35 million deal to reverse that dynamic and bring Washington back into the playoff mix. On the plus side, Brooks may have been the biggest winner on the John Wall for trading with Russell Westbrook. Wall’s injury problems have been the main culprit behind recent fights in Washington, and Brooks coached Westbrook to five playoff appearances with the Oklahoma City Thunder during his seven seasons.
It’s worth noting that D’Antoni and Billy Donovan stepped in as lame ducks last year and both veteran coaches were replaced by first-time visitors when their contract expired this off-season. Will these examples lead to a broader, pandemic-related cost-cutting trend that casts a spell over Brooks?
Dwane Casey, Detroit Pistons
Casey found his way on this list through no 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 sociable trainer works for a new general manager at Troy Weaver, overseeing a talented cadre headed for rebuilding. Drummond and Jackson are already gone, and trading Griffin for the pursuit of a youth movement makes sense worldwide.
Weaver’s first round of offseason moves didn’t exactly prepare Casey for instant success. Jerami Grant is underqualified as a lead scoring option, backcourt rotation is lacking in floor spacers, and a flurry of uninspiring centers doesn’t do much to win. Detroit will struggle to hit its 20-46 record from last year, but the silver lining for Casey is he is entering the third season of a reported five-year contract for $ 35 million. Owning flasks has real motivation to be patient.