Updated: April 2, 2010, 9:19 PM ET
Getty Images Phil Jackson has brought four titles to the Lakers, but his reign could be over sooner rather than later.

1. Coaches Who Could Be On The Move

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

The coaching carousel hasn't spun with much vigor this season.

Compared to the record six coaching changes witnessed before Christmas last season, we've seen only three in-season changes (Hornets, Nets, Clippers) in the whole of 2009-10 ... along with in-season extensions for Utah's Jerry Sloan and Denver's George Karl.

The onset of the playoffs, however, signals that firing-and-hiring season is about to start up again, too, with several teams in play for a possible switch on the bench in spite of the ongoing leaguewide hesitation to spend on coaches amid fears that a lockout is forthcoming in 2011.

Here are the 10 coaching situations (in alphabetical order) that merit the closest inspection, along with a bonus list at the bottom of seven more to track:


Atlanta Hawks

Mike Woodson has the Hawks heading for the club's first 50-win season since 1997-98. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that he's the only head coach in league history to boost his team's winning percentage for five successive seasons after his first season, when Atlanta went 13-69 in 2004-05.

Yet Woodson, as you're undoubtedly aware, is still working on an expiring contract.

So questions about his future will persist, no matter how many times Woodson declares -- as he did recently -- that he has "never worried" when someone in the media "has threatened [that] the coach is going to get fired in Atlanta."

The prevailing wisdom is that the Hawks' success in the playoffs will determine Woodson's fate. And the reality there, amid increasing internal concerns that Joe Johnson is going to bolt in free agency come July, is that Woodson and his Hawks face increasingly high expectations after making a season-long case that the East has four elite teams as opposed to just three.



Chicago Bulls

After the offseason departure of Ben Gordon, constant injury issues, more payroll-slashing to set the team up for 2010 free agency and near-daily speculation about his job status through the first two months of the season, Vinny Del Negro enters the weekend with his Bulls just two games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with eight games to play.

The assumption persists that, without a postseason berth, Del Negro will be dismissed at season's end as expected since December.

But what if Chicago snags the No. 8 spot after everything that's happened?

The lack of support he's received from Bulls management has been well chronicled, but Del Negro has nonetheless managed to generate a quality response from his players twice this season, which has twice rallied Chicago into contention after it appeared the season was lost before Christmas and again through the first half of March.

As he completes just his second season of coaching anywhere, Del Negro still has his critics. Yet he's also won some admirers this season for the way he's dealt with every curveball.

So we wonder: With a playoff berth -- and with one guaranteed season left on Del Negro's contract after this one -- could he actually survive?



Golden State Warriors

Warriors diehards are rooting for Don Nelson to score the three wins he needs in Golden State's final eight games to break Lenny Wilkens' all-time wins record (1,332) because they believe it'll increase the likelihood that Nelson does not return next season.

The reality, though, is that the record is bound to play little to no factor in determining Nelson's future with the Dubs, whose faithful fans -- having watched the team crater anew after two successful seasons in Nelson's second Bay Area stint -- are clamoring for a housecleaning that sends away almost everyone not named Stephen Curry.

Whether Nelson -- who turns 70 in May -- coaches the Warriors next season doesn't depend on whether he gets those three wins over the next two weeks. There figures to be little sentiment from current ownership or new ownership should Nelson fall short this season.

The only number that will be a factor is the $6 million owed to Nelson next season in the final year of his contract. The Warriors are officially for sale, and considered virtually certain by most league experts on such matters to change hands before next season, but whoever buys this team from Chris Cohan will have to be willing to eat that $6 million if the new owner wants to start over with a new coach.

If no sale is completed before next season, sources close to the situation insist that Nelson and his staff are likely to be retained for one more year, given that a coaching change would force Cohan to eat the $6 million. It would appear that the sale has to happen first before anything happens with Nelson.

Yet the most likely scenario is a sale and a coaching change at some point this summer, with one source expressing optimism this week that sale proceedings might actually move "fairly quickly."



Indiana Pacers

Jim O'Brien's contract option for next season was exercised months ago.

The strong vibe I get, furthermore, is that O'Brien is safe despite the Pacers' disappointing (and injury-riddled) season, at least partly because Indy is hesitant to make unnecessary expenditures with a possible lockout looming and the prospect of having significant salary-cap space in the summer of 2011 if there isn't a lockout.

Yet this is a job that frequently gets described in coaching circles as a keep-your-eye-on-it situation. Reason being: Pacers president Larry Bird might be an unabashed O'Brien fan, even amid media claims that his players respond better to assistant coach Lester Conner, but Bird is going to have a difficult time selling an untweaked team to a city that has already stopped paying attention. Unless the Pacers decide to cash in some of that 2011 cap space and make a trade or two this summer instead of waiting, switching coaches is something..



Los Angeles Clippers

We started dissecting the Clips' coaching situation in last week's Weekend Dime. To reiterate: Interim coach Kim Hughes will definitely not be retained, while three names have already emerged as likely candidates in addition to Charlotte's Larry Brown, who will continue to be linked to a return to the Clippers or 76ers until his status for 2010-11 is formally addressed by new Bobcats owner Michael Jordan.

The other three names in circulation so far, as introduced last Friday, to succeed the deposed Mike Dunleavy full-time: Byron Scott and Mark Jackson from ESPN's TV roster and Mavericks assistant coach Dwane Casey.

There are coaching sources who insist that Scott is the favorite -- in spite of some tense days in his Hornets past with Baron Davis -- because Clippers owner Donald Sterling loves Scott's standing in L.A. as a highly successful former Laker and local high school legend. There are others who counter with the belief that Casey, looking for his second head-coaching shot after that brief stint in Minnesota, is the Clips' top target.

I've likewise been reminded that Sterling might elect to keep the coaching job vacant until free agency starts July 1, so the Clippers can invite LeBron James or any other marquee free agent they pursue to pick his preferred coach … no matter how outlandish that sounds.

In short: It's early … and it's Sterling. So stay tuned.



Los Angeles Lakers

Of the five teams out there with no coach under contract next season -- Atlanta, Memphis, New Jersey and New Orleans are the others -- you'd still rank the Lakers at No. 5 on that list in terms of coaching instability.

Phil Jackson recently insisted to NBA.com that he expects to be back in 2010-11, despite any recent rumblings to the contrary, echoing suggestions Lakers owner Jerry Buss made recently to ESPN.com contributor Steve Springer that any panic is premature because Phil wouldn't seriously entertain discussions about a contract extension until after the season anyway.

However ...

It's milder drama compared to what the Lakers have grown accustomed to in the Kobe Bryant era, but the uneasiness spreading across Lakerland about Jackson's future is real.

Buss is said to be adamant that Jackson takes a pay cut from his $12 million annual salary in this economy and has always been a reluctant fan of Phil's triangle offense because of his Showtime roots. Jackson, meanwhile, has insisted that he doesn't foresee health issues preventing him from coaching next season at age 64 ... but he's also dropped a few hints about walking away if L.A. fails to repeat as champions or if a roster that features five big names (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest) and not much dependable behind them isn't refreshed in the offseason.

The sense here is that the sides will come to some sort of resolution after the season, like they normally do, because Kobe wants to play for Jackson and because you don't divorce a coach with a record 10 championship rings.

Yet one longtime Lakers-watcher surprised me this week with his contention that Jackson's return is no better than a 50-50 call at this point. The insider insists that it's no given Jackson and Buss can come to terms, even with the owner's daughter/coach's flame (Jeanie Buss) serving as an intermediary.

As Jerry Buss told Springer earlier this month: "I think from the Lakers' perspective we really want to get through the year, then take a deep breath and see where we are."



Miami Heat

Erik Spoelstra just won Eastern Conference coach of the month honors. He's still the youngest coach in the league at 39, but he also has the Heat at a season-best seven games over .500 entering the weekend, nudging his career record to a quite passable 84-73.

So why would Spoelstra -- especially when he's had so little to work with beyond Dwyane Wade, but still managed to keep the Heat winning -- be in any peril?

A few prominent agents I've spoken to answer that question with another question: What if the marquee free agent Miami hopes to sign this summer, along with re-signing Wade, either prompts Pat Riley to make one more coaching comeback … or lobbies Riley to come back to the bench?

I personally struggle to believe that Riley, at 65, really wants to coach again, even if the Heat -- as you hear more and more -- are poised to sign Amare Stoudemire away from Phoenix to team with D-Wade. He stayed on two more seasons after the championship that shamed all of his critics in 2006 and had to endure a 15-67 nightmare in 2007-08 in his farewell to coaching. Why come back for more?

That scenario, though, is out there.



New Jersey Nets

If you watched this past Sunday's "60 Minutes" piece on incoming owner Mikhail Prokhorov, you can understand why everyone close to this team expects the Nets to make the biggest possible coaching splash they can this offseason to replace interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe.

ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has already surfaced as a prime target, even as one source acknowledges the Nets know they'll have "to blow him away" to convince Van Gundy to leave a TV job he loves.

Word also surfaced this week that Nets guard Devin Harris is making a hard internal push for his former coach with the Mavericks: ESPN's Avery Johnson. That might surprise some in Dallas who remember how hard Johnson rode Harris, but there's another wrinkle here: Harris' own future with the team is not quite certain. We heard it before the trading deadline and folks are still saying it: Look for the Nets to shop Harris if they're fortunate enough to win the draft lottery and the right to select John Wall. As one well-placed source contends, referring to the date of the lottery: "May 18 will determine Devin's fate."

The closest thing to a certainty, at this early stage, is that Rod Thorn is staying on as Nets president, which Prokhorov strongly suggested earlier this week in an interview with The New York Times. It's also conceivable that the Nets will have to wait until after the lottery to get super-serious about choosing their next coach, since folks like Van Gundy are bound to want to make sure that New Jersey is drafting No. 1 or No. 2 overall.



New Orleans Hornets

This is one of the tougher reads, because coach/general manager Jeff Bower hasn't said much publicly about whether he wants to keep coaching until after the season … and because Bower just lost key bench sidekick Tim Floyd to a college job at UTEP.

The most prevalent assumption is that Bower, who sports a 32-35 record since replacing Scott -- and a 21-15 mark when Chris Paul isn't injured -- will stay on the bench with or without Floyd because (A) owner George Shinn isn't prepared to spend the sort of money it would take to land New Orleans native Avery Johnson, and (B) Shinn would rather wait to see whether the league is headed for a lockout in 2011-12 before considering major changes.



Philadelphia 76ers

As with the fates of Hughes in Clipperland and Vandeweghe in New Jersey, Eddie Jordan's departure from the bench later this month is widely regarded as an inevitability.

The difference is that those guys are interim coaches and Jordan, stunningly, is in the first year of a three-year contract with Philly.

All signs, however, continue to point to Jordan's imminent dismissal, after coaching sources say Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski insisted on hiring someone with an intricate offensive system after Mo Cheeks' keep-it-simple tenure, only for the Sixers to quickly discover that their players couldn't function in Jordan's Princeton offense. The greater uncertainty now is whether Stefanski can hang on after his first coaching hire fit so poorly.


Seven more situations that must be monitored

If the Cavs don't win it all, Mike Brown's future in Cleveland suddenly gets tenuous. ... After Michael Jordan said he'd consider letting Larry Brown out of his contract to coach in a city (Philly or L.A.) his family likes better than Charlotte, no one in league coaching circles is simply assuming that he'll be back with the Bobcats. ... It's tough to imagine Pistons GM Joe Dumars firing another coach after just one season, as seen last season with Michael Curry, but John Kuester was expected to do more with this 23-51 group in spite of the roster issues in Detroit. ... Although George Karl's contract was recently extended through next season in Denver, concerns about his health persist, with one source close to the 58-year-old saying this week that missing the rest of this season is a growing possibility after Karl was stricken with throat cancer. ... Memphis owner Michael Heisley has been talking about an extension for Lionel Hollins since January, but the extension is not yet complete despite the Grizzlies' surprising success (38-36) this season. ... Nate McMillan is a top Coach of the Year contender in Portland, so I (like you) never expected him to figure into this conversation, but one coaching source said that McMillan's staff has at times this season shared some of the same uneasiness about its job security that Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard has been subjected to lately in spite of Pritchard's popularity with Portland fans. ... Major changes are expected in Toronto if the Raptors fail to at least reach the playoffs -- and perhaps even if they do make the playoffs -- which conceivably endangers Raps coach Jay Triano.

Dimes past: March 19-20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26-27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | April 1

2. Western Conference


Interesting trend we're seeing with players called up from D-League, most notably in San Antonio.

Seven recently promoted D-Leaguers -- six of them in the West -- quietly received non-guaranteed contracts for next season when they were signed for the rest of this season by their new NBA employers.

Curtis Jerrells, Garrett Temple and Alonzo Gee have secured contracts worth $762,195 next season with the Spurs if they can make San Antonio's roster in training camp.

Ditto for Sundiata Gaines and Othyus Jeffers in Utah and Reggie Williams in Golden State.

The lone Eastern Conference callup who falls into this category is Chicago's Chris Richard, who has a non-guaranteed deal with the Bulls worth $854,389 next season if Richard can snag a roster spot.

In most cases, players will collect between $10,000 to $100,000 in guaranteed money in such deals even if they don't make next season's team. Teams, in exchange, get a whole summer and training camp to take an extended look at the prospect, while also creating a small expiring contract that can function as a minor trade asset.

The lure of NBA money next season, in Gee's case, convinced him to return to San Antonio -- having spent much of the season with the Spurs' D-League affiliate in Austin -- after completing two 10-day contracts with the Wizards, who wanted to keep Gee for the rest of the season but weren't prepared to extend the contract any further.

And it's a trend, from a wider perspective, that obviously increases the credibility of the D-League.

Although 20 D-Leaguers have been summoned for a record 31 callups this season, several NBA teams remain frustrated by some of the D-League's limitations when it comes player rights. Changes are unlikely before the next collective bargaining agreement, but there is a push among some NBA executives to add two or three two-way contracts in addition to the maximum 15 slots on a current NBA roster -- as seen in the NHL -- to create extra roster room for teams to secure the rights to project players and move them up and down freely.

Two-way contracts would pay players a lower salary when they're in the D-League and an NBA salary when they're with the big club and might be easier to sell to the NBA Players Association than in past years in an economy where jobs overseas aren't as lucrative or plentiful as they used to be.

Other suggestions in circulation include the idea that NBA teams which own or operate D-League franchises -- such as San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston -- would have the right of first refusal when another NBA teams wants to call up one of its D-Leaguers and that second-round picks can be assigned to D-League affiliates with or without an NBA contract.


Some numbers of note in the West this week:

1: Only once in league history have eight teams in the same conference finished with at least 50 wins. It happened in the West in 2007-08 … but it could happen again this season, with each member of the West's current top eight on no worse than a 50-win pace.

11: Eleven of the Lakers' 21 losses are double-digit losses after Wednesday's pounding in Atlanta. Seven teams have fewer than 11; Cleveland has the fewest with four.

0: There has never been a calendar month in an NBA season during which two teams played at least five games and went winless for the month. But it almost happened in March until Minnesota (0-13 before a home win over Sacramento) and Washington (0-16 until a road win at New Orleans) broke through with victories Wednesday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wednesday marked the first time in league history that two teams ended losing streaks of more than a dozen games on the same day.

5: The Suns' Amare Stoudemire has increased his scoring output in five successive months. He averaged 18.0 ppg in October, 20.0 ppg in November, 21.2 ppg in December, 21.9 ppg in January, 25.3 ppg in February and 27.3 ppg in March. The only other player (minimum: 10.0 ppg) who has increased his scoring average in each succeeding calendar month this season is New Orleans' David West.

3: Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki became the third player this season to post a 30/10/10 game with his 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Monday's rout of Denver. Cleveland's LeBron James has three such games, and Golden State's Stephen Curry has one. It was the first 30/10/10 game for a Maverick since Michael Finley on Dec. 23, 1999.


Stephen Curry is on course to be the first rookie in league history to shoot 45 percent from the floor, 40 percent on 3-pointers (minimum 100 makes) and 85 percent from the line (also a 100-make minimum), giving Golden State at least one bankable building block to sell to prospective new owners..

But it's his maturity as a rook that stands out as much as anything.

Curry continues to say publicly that he hopes the Warriors, no matter who his bosses are by the time next season starts, keep his backcourt partnership with Monta Ellis intact. That's even though Ellis was the one who publicly questioned whether the two of them were big enough to survive as a tag team ... and with scouts leaguewide saying for months that Ellis wasn't wrong.

A bigger, stronger backcourt mate with ballhandling ability would be the ideal fit next to Curry, which should explain the resultant leaguewide surprise when Golden State passed on the opportunity to move Ellis to Memphis at the trading deadline for the Grizzlies' O.J. Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet. Yet you won't hear the classy Curry complain.

"It's tough to judge where we would be because we've had so many injuries," Curry said of he and Ellis as a tandem. "Our lineup that Coach [Don Nelson] had in mind from the beginning hasn't been able to form yet, so I think once we get our front line back and get some consistency with our lineup, we'll show we can be a very productive and exciting backcourt to watch."

Savvy rook.

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