Which coaches are really on the hot seat?
December, 17, 2013
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com
Elsa/Getty ImagesKnicks coach Mike Woodson can't feel all that comfortable about his job security after Monday's loss.You'd like to think that one thing we're not going to see this season is a wave of in-season coaching changes.
You'd like to believe that the introduction of a record 13 new coaches coming into the season would be followed by a period of calm at a time that the bench business has seemingly never been more volatile.
You'd like to pretend that it's not surprising in the least that, with Christmas just a week away, we haven't seen a single coaching dismissal yet.
This, though, is the NBA.
So you are surprised.
You have to go back to 2006-07 for the last season that every coach in the league safely made it to Christmas Day, when the Memphis Grizzlies ousted Mike Fratello on Dec. 29 after a 6-24 start. You have to rewind all the way to 1994-95 for the last time it happened before Fratello's firing.
It's still too soon, then, for folks to really be breathing easy, since it’s only Dec. 17.
Yet you could mount a strong argument, based on the latest available evidence, that the only coach in the league who legitimately faces immediate peril is New York's Mike Woodson.
For added guidance, let's consult the latest First Coach Fired odds from our friends at Bovada.lv, since bookmakers who lose money when their projections are faulty have more incentive than most to get their forecasts right.
Here is Bovada's list of coaches purportedly in trouble as of Monday morning, hours before Washington's Randy Wittman and Woodson squared off in the proverbial game that "both coaches needed to win":
Yet when you really give those names a good scan, it's difficult to see how any of them -- Woodson aside -- feel any immediate discomfort heading into the heart of the holiday season.
NBA coaching sources maintain that Woodson, in private, understands his job security is tenuous despite the recent vote of confidence he got from Madison Square Garden chairman Jim Dolan in Dolan's recent interview with The New York Post. But he's also hanging in there pretty gamely. If Woody can survive the nightmare ending witnessed Monday night at MSG, where a remedial defensive breakdown and a timeout snafu sealed a 102-101 loss to Wittman's Wizards, Woodson might get through what a lot of peers see as an unfair vigil given how much Tyson Chandler means to this team. Chandler, after all, is inching closer to a return from a fractured right fibula, which suggests that Woody and the Knicks have potentially seen the worst of their struggles. Potentially.
Two things team insiders say continue to work in Woodson's favor even after the disastrous finish against the Wiz: (1) He's only had the influential Chandler in the lineup for four games; (2) New York's limited options in terms of interim coaches (Herb Williams, Darrell Walker or the total coaching novice Allan Houston) add to Woodson's shelf life.
As for the rest of aforementioned coaches ...
Plugged-in sources have said for weeks that Kidd has maintained the support of his Russian bosses throughout Brooklyn's early nightmare, given that Kidd is making the virtually unprecedented jump straight from player to head coach and with too many injuries during the season's opening quarter to judge him fairly anyway.
The Wizards, while not quite living up to preseason expectations, have sufficiently rebounded from yet another slow start to the point that they're starting to look like what passes for a playoff team in the ugliest Leastern Conference in memory, which should get Wittman through the final year of his contract. Sources say, furthermore, that it's always been the preference of Wizards owner Ted Leonsis to complete the season without changing anything and then assess everything in the offseason with the deals of both Wittman and general manager Ernie Grunfeld expiring.
Casey and Corbin, like Wittman, are also in their final year of their contracts, but the fire sale clearly underway in Toronto and the youth movement undertaken in Utah mean those two really aren't being judged on wins and losses at the moment. It's likewise too early for Brown and Drew, both just months into their jobs with new teams, to be feeling any legit heat.
Since I started covering the NBA halfway through the 1993-94 season, there have amazingly been only three seasons without at least one coaching change by Christmas: 2006-07 and 1994-95 as mentioned and 1993-94.
We're looking at No. 4 in that two-decade span if Chandler’s looming return means Woody has weathered the Knicks' latest crisis.
With the research help of ESPN.com’s Adam Reisinger and the Elias Sports Bureau, here’s a year-by-year breakdown of the in-season coaching changes seen in the NBA since 1993-94:
* In 1993-94, we made it all the way until March before the first and only coaching change. That was when the Los Angeles Lakers fired Randy Pfund after 64 games, installed the venerable Bill Bertka as the interim coach for two games and then had Magic Johnson finish out the season with a 5-11 stint before hiring eventual NBA Coach of the Year Del Harris to take over in 1994-95.