As we reach the quarter season mark and we have a better idea of how teams are performing our attention turns to their record and subsequently to the personnel behind that record. First we think of the roster, what does the team look like on the court? How are the stars performing? How deep is each team? How old or young? Within the composition of a team we find a plethora of answers for our many questions but sometimes we step back and find ourselves assessing the cumulative success of a team over recent seasons. Based on that record, was the team being run to the best of its ability? Rosters like the Clippers were filled with talent but could not make the leap to a true championship threat. Was it really all those injuries or can we begin to look in another direction for blame? Why aren’t the promising Bucks more than just athletically gifted, how come the three stars in OKC aren’t even at .500? Here are the three coaches most likely to hit the golf course early.
As we see the NBA evolve and change we see teams employ coaches who've had the highest level of success that doesn't quite transfer to this new era. Coaches like Tom Thibodeau and Stan Van Gundy were coaches that, early in the season, I thought might get included in this post but their teams have found ways to win enough to escape that fate. Doc Rivers obviously reached the pinnacle of glory when the Boston Celtics and their incredible big three won the title in 2008 and again made the finals two years later losing to the Lakers. His tenure with the Clippers has seen a lot of winning but never at that championship level, always falling short in the playoffs and unable to make the leap. Star point guard Chris Paul decided to jump ship this off season which lead to a huge transformation for the roster. Signing Blake Griffin to a super max deal was their answer and I'm not sure it was the right one. The current iteration of the Clippers is riddled with injuries that too many people saw coming. Understandably their projected wins for this season dropped after Paul left but when they started the season 4-0 we saw all the crazies coming out of the woodwork screaming "They're better without CP3!". It was a great tease but the Clippers were just having an identity crisis that brought them back to earth losing 11 of their next 12 games. A lot of people have pointed to injuries as the cause of the fall but if we've learned anything from the Clippers past with Rivers at the helm its that since 2013 their failure has been pinned on injuries every year, at some point we either have to acknowledge that the team is cursed and move them to Seattle or we could be grown ups and understand that its time for a change. I expect a new Clipper coach by the end of the season.
The Thunder had the remarkable duo of KD and Russ under Donovan and couldn't get it done, KD bailed, the Thunder were given a grace period, they made the best of it and Sam Presti brought in Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and some supporting pieces, now they're a super team, they're struggling to figure it out, how many tries does one coach get with one of the top five talent loaded teams in the league? If Billy Donovan can't create a conference final tier team out of this roster the pressure is on, PG13 may be out the door after the season. History shows us that a locker room full of stars can be a tense one when times are tough, this season is a test for coach, likely the highest stakes test of his career.
The hype around Giannis has its consequences. It seemed like the Greek Freak only needed ten seconds of basketball for people to begin the MVP discussion around his name. While he's proven himself worthy, the talk around the young Bucks has them ranked higher than necessary in the minds of basketball fans. Bringing in Eric Bledsoe was a great move and only exaggerated these expectations. In a situation like this where young guns are expected to set the league on fire the lack of elite wins falls on the coach, in this case rightfully so. Some Bucks fans have been calling for new leadership for a few seasons already citing his strange rotations and a lack of understanding how to manage a game through timeouts. I think Kidd has a lot of value when it comes to developing each individual and keeping the locker room together but the early chatter around the possibility of his replacement seems more real than it needs to be.
None of these situations are comparable to the season’s only firing in Earl Watson, that was a dumpster fire of disfunction that needed to be extinguished but any hint of these teams coming undone in the locker room and the heat will turn up quick. I’m not a fan of people losing their jobs but in a league full of demanding fans the chopping block is always waiting.
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