There’s no stability in NBA coaching … except for this season.
Instability is the most stable concept in the life of an NBA head coach. Twelve head coaches are in their first full season in their current job. Four others have only one full season with their current teams under their belts. That’s more than half of the league right there. Only four coaches — Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, Erik Spoelstra, and Dwane Casey — have been in their current job for at least five years. NBA head coaches, by and large, get hired to get fired.
In-season firings are a normalized practice in the NBA. Five head coaches were fired last season alone, from Kevin McHale in November to Derek Fisher in February. Three were fired in 2014-15, one was fired in 2013-14, four were fired in 2012-13, and four were fired in 2011-12. That’s an average of more than three in-season firings over the past five years.
This isn’t a recent trend, either. At least one NBA head coach has been fired during each of the past 45 seasons. Marc Stein of ESPN reported earlier this season that the last campaign without an in-season coach replacement was 1970-71, when the league was 17 teams deep, Nixon was President and the ABA existed.
However, with two days left, that streak appears to be in serious danger. As we first noted in November, few coaches came into the season under threat of firing. Alvin Gentry was a hot candidate early, but the New Orleans Pelicans dealt with injuries and made a brief run toward respectability once Jrue Holiday became available. It now seems his job will be at risk once the season ends.
Other coaches who have flirted with midseason dismissal include Fred Hoiberg of the Chicago Bulls, but amid a playoff race and a massive contract the franchise held on. We’ll see if that patience extends to the offseason.
It is not difficult to find potential offseason firings.
Doc Rivers could potentially leave the L.A. Clippers if that franchise goes into upheaval. Frank Vogel is far less likely to be dismissed by the Orlando Magic than is general manager Rob Hennigan, but front office turnover typically isn’t good news for incumbent coaches.
The Indiana Pacers are a little strange, so Nate McMillan isn’t likely feeling too secure. The New York Knicks are very strange, but the only thing Jeff Hornacek might need to be worried about is the specter of Phil Jackson returning to the bench.
The Toronto Raptors could get out of the Dwane Casey business of there’s an early playoff flame-out. The Charlotte Hornets could reconsider Steve Clifford’s tenure (as unfair as that would be). Mike Malone is likely not terribly safe with the Denver Nuggets, though a playoff berth would go a long way.
We might also see the end of the Brett Brown experience with the Philadelphia 76ers.
So while it appears a streak of in-season coach replacements almost five decades long will die, coaches aren’t out of the woods yet.