Originally Published: April 5, 2013

1. Early Ride On The Coaching Carousel

By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Mike D'Antoni, Vinny Del NegroGetty Images, USA TODAY SPORTSAre Mike D'Antoni and Vinny Del Negro's jobs safe in Los Angeles? We examine their situations here.

Coaching contracts are generally shorter. Coaching salaries are generally lower. Add up those variables and the impact is clear.

Firing coaches is easier than it used to be.

Shorter deals and more modest wages, not terribly far removed from the days when the $5 million-a-year coach was commonplace, gives teams the incentive to change course more regularly. As we could well soon see.

The fast-approaching end to the regular season means that the NBA's coaching carousel will soon be spinning with its first wave of firings. And the league record for the most offseason coaching changes -- 11 between 2002-03 to 2003-04 and between 1975-76 to 1976-77 -- is not out of reach when you scan through the following breakdown listing every team in the league whose coach's future is either in immediate doubt or has been questioned at some stage this season.

A breakdown that, based on those parameters, amazingly includes 17 of the league's 30 teams:

ATLANTA HAWKS

Larry Drew is the first Hawks coach to get to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons since the venerable Lenny Wilkens in the mid-1990s.

But Drew, like most of his players, is also a free agent at season's end. So his ability to keep so many players with uncertain futures reasonably bonded and on a playoff track, Eastern Conference or not, might earn him another deal. Or it might not.

The intentions of new Hawks GM Danny Ferry, who inherited Drew, are still a tough read at this juncture, not unlike Ferry's plans with the Hawks' cap space if, as expected, they're unsuccessful in their free-agent pursuits of Atlanta's own Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. What we do know: Ferry remains one of Mike Brown's biggest fans. So assumptions about Ferry's interest in bringing Brown to Atlanta will live on until Brown is no longer a coaching free agent.

BROOKLYN NETS

P.J. Carlesimo has been more successful since succeeding Avery Johnson than many expected, with a record of 29-18 as interim coach entering Friday's play, but the consistent word out of Brooklyn remains that the playoffs will determine whether he has any legit hope of landing the job full-time.

Any hopes of getting to the Eastern Conference finals and helping his cause tremendously, however, would appear to require the Nets to slip to the No. 6 seed from their current slot at No. 4 to avoid a second-round collision course with Miami. If they stay where they are and go out to the Heat in the second round, as we'd all expect even should Brooklyn survive its first-round series, how competitive do the Nets have to be with Miami to keep Carlesimo in the running?

It's a question only Mikhail Prokhorov can answer. Yet the safe bet remains that the Russian billionaire won't wait too long after the Nets' elimination before re-opening the pursuit or Phil Jackson or Jeff Van Gundy or another marquee name (if there's another one to chase) given how much easier it'll be to make a splashy coaching hire to try to elevate this team than making major changes to such a high-dollar roster.

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

Could Mike Dunlap actually be a victim of his own success?

Let me rephrase that: Could the Bobcats' inability to build off a 7-5 start no one saw coming, descending instead into a nosedive that has parked them for months in the bottom-two dungeon of ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings amid the predictable whispers about how resistant Charlotte's vets are to a rookie coach branded as a college guy, cost Dunlap his job after just one season?

I really didn't think so, but more than one source consulted this week identified Dunlap as a coach in potential jeopardy, which undoubtedly stems from Michael Jordan's recent proclamation to a group of season-ticket holders that major offseason changes are coming in Charlotte. I'm just not quite sure how much more Dunlap -- who was hired, remember, for his rep in player development -- was supposed to get out of a group that still needs lots of developing. Lots.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

The pressure is undeniably mounting on Byron Scott. Even after the final year of Scott's contract, worth a reported $4.5 million, was picked up well in advance of next season.

The pressure has been mounting, despite the fairly regular unavailability of Cleveland's three best players due to injury, through a 10-game losing streak that finally ended with a Friday night victory in Boston -- but not before testing the patience of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.

Scott is believed to have the support of the front office, but there's a growing sense in Cleveland that Gilbert will be moved to make a change regardless, no matter how much Scott's fortunes have been affected by the various absences of Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters, and irrespective of the money Scott's owed in 2013-14. And if Scott sticks? It could well have as much to do with the Cavs' reluctance to dive into a crowded marketplace to find a replacement as anything.

DETROIT PISTONS

Even with so many teams being discussed here, no team in coaching circles is rated as more likely to make a change than the Pistons, whose 4-18 record since the All-Star break and increasingly frequent struggles to keep games competitive have clearly put Lawrence Frank's job in jeopardy despite the one season, followed by a team option, left on his contract.

League coaching sources consistently submit Frank's name as poised for dismissal when the regular seasons ends, with the Pistons said to be increasingly concerned by some of the body language and lukewarm responsiveness from Frank's players that's often evident to scouts sitting courtside.

Few coaches in the game are as prepared and thorough as Frank, but it's not resonating with this group. It would thus be a big surprise, at this stage, if the Pistons aren't soon in the market for a coach -- possibly a former player -- who might be able to vibe better with Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond & Co.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

The Rockets have been included in this discussion only because of the inevitable questions about Kevin McHale's interest in coaching onward after the unspeakable personal tragedy he and his family have been confronted with all season in the wake of daughter Sasha's passing in November.

But sources say McHale, within team circles, has quietly let it be known that he's planning to stay in the game. Which surely comes as welcome news to Rockets owner Les Alexander, who is said to be a huge McHale fan.

"Coach McHale 4 Coach of the Year," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted Friday, lauding McHale for his role in getting such a young team -- albeit transformed by the late October arrival of James Harden -- to the playoffs.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Vinny Del Negro insisted before a recent loss in Dallas that he has "a great future no matter what." The signals are nonetheless getting stronger and stronger that said future won't be at Staples Center, with Del Negro working on the flimsy final year of his original Clippers contract and L.A. looking nothing like the team -- whether that's due to health woes, locker-room fissures or coaching issues -- that won 17 straight games in December.

Could a deep playoff run save him? Even that might not be enough entering the most critical summer in the Clippers' history, with Chris Paul becoming a free agent July 1 and Clips management having always planned to let Paul have a big say (assuming he wants one) before any coach gets another long-term deal from them.

The Clippers' many injuries this season have to be factored into any evaluation of Del Negro. Seeing so little of Chauncey Billups, in particular, has really held them back, scuttling the plan to give Paul more of the time playing off the ball he relishes and robbing L.A. of its most proven playoff performer.

But Del Negro's well-chronicled desire for the Clips to trade for Boston's Kevin Garnett in February, coupled with his bosses' well-chronicled reluctance to part with both Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan in a KG deal, has spawned the impression of competing agendas behind closed doors in Clipperland. It's also undeniably worrisome for Del Negro that, according to sources, Stan Van Gundy's availability already has the Clippers highly intrigued.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

If you listen to sports-talk radio in Los Angeles, chances are you see Mike D'Antoni as the Staples Center coach in the deepest trouble. Especially after all those "We want Phil" chants during Shaquille O'Neal's jersey retirement.

The reality is that it would likely take something way more drastic -- Dwight Howard, for example, telling the Lakers that he won't re-sign as a free agent if D'Antoni stays -- for the Lakers to change coaches again this soon. (There are plenty of L.A. insiders, for the record, who would argue that Dwight won't have as much say on bench matters, even as he heads to free agency on July 1, as Chris Paul across the hall.)

Even missing the playoffs entirely, which remains an eventuality all too real for the Lakers, wouldn't automatically doom D'Antoni. Not when he had to coach an old and injury-riddled team without the benefit of a training camp. And not with the Lakers widely expected to slice player payroll next season and thus believed to have little interest in spending top dollar on yet another coach while paying D'Antoni and Mike Brown.

It should be clear by now, with this bunch, that there are no guarantees. So we wouldn't dare suggest that D'Antoni is unequivocally safe. Things could change quickly if the playoffs, assuming the Lakers get there, get ugly.

There's also no denying that speculation about Phil returning to the organization -- either in a front-office role alongside Jeanie Buss, with Brian Shaw on the bench, or with Phil coaching for a brief third stint before handing off to Shaw -- won't go away. At this juncture, though, most signs point to D'Antoni returning next season and indeed getting that shot to not only have that training camp but also a healthier roster.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Lionel Hollins does not yet have a contract for next season. The emphasis, though, is firmly on yet.

One coaching source consulted this week said it was "very likely" that Hollins will receive a new contract from the Grizzlies after the playoffs, as initial frustrations from the coach in the wake of the Rudy Gay trade in late January -- and the bosses subjected to those frustrations -- have quickly faded thanks to the fact that Memphis still has the best team in franchise history even without Gay.

Word is that even a first-round exit is unlikely to dissuade the Grizzlies from trying to retain Hollins. There's also a theory out there that Hollins would actually like to survey the field, knowing he's sure to receive offers from other teams, but I'm not buying that one. Given how successful Hollins has been in Memphis and how well-regarded he is by Grizz fans, I don't see him looking to leave.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

The Bucks' chaotic end to the regular season and their corresponding 4-10 funk, when they should be capitalizing on the absence of Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett in Boston to try to escape the East's No. 8 slot, can't help interim coach Jim Boylan's chances of returning next season.

Boylan's return has not been ruled out, with word circulating that no formal evaluation will be made until after the playoffs. But the Bucks are almost certainly headed for a dreaded first-round date with the Heat, so it's hard to picture how the playoffs are going to help any.

Perhaps they'll give Miami more resistance than the so-called experts expect, since the Heat have been troubled in the past by Milwaukee's frontcourt length and backcourt speed, but the Bucks' tension-filled finish prompted one source close to the situation to say he'd be "very surprised" if Boylan hangs on. Other coaching sources, meanwhile, continue to link Houston Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson to the job if it does become open.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

Wolves owner Glen Taylor recently told ESPN 1500 AM contributor Darren Wolfson that he thinks Rick Adelman will be back next season as Wolves coach. That was after Adelman recently told NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper he twice contemplated stepping down this season to be with his ailing wife at all times.

Taylor, though, also recently acknowledged to Wolfson that former Wolves coach Flip Saunders, now an ESPN analyst, recently met with him on behalf of a group interested in buying into the Wolves, which has since prompted considerable speculation about Saunders returning to the organization in management or a potential Adelman replacement should he decide to step down.

Either way it's Adelman, one win shy of 1,000 in the regular season, who'll decide whether or not Adelman is coaching the Wolves in 2013-14, when they have to have better luck after injuries to Kevin Love and just about everyone else in town submarined a season of KG-level hope and anticipation before it ever really got started. Front-office chief David Kahn, by contrast, will have to wait to hear from Taylor if he's keeping his job beyond this season, after Taylor said late last month that he's still deliberating.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

The distinct sense I get in Philly is that the decision whether Doug Collins, at 61, decides to continue coaching the Sixers after projected franchise cornerstone Andrew Bynum played zero minutes this season will be left fully up to Collins.

He suggested as much recently while Adam Aron, Philly's CEO, told a town-hall style gathering of Sixers fans in late March that "Doug Collins is under absolutely zero pressure from ownership."

The toll of this Bynum-less season on Collins, mind you, has been there for all to see, with historians quick to note that the uber-intense star of the United States' 1972 Olympic squad and former Sixers draftee has never lasted more than three seasons in any his three previous coaching stops. Year 4 on Collins' contract with the Sixers, interestingly, was officially a team option that the club already picked up in October, but the team's stance has made it Doug's option.

PHOENIX SUNS

Lon Babby received a two-year contract extension this week to continue running the Suns' basketball operations, meaning he'll have been granted a full five years by the end of that run to get the Suns on some firm post-Steve Nash footing.

It's not Lindsey Hunter's fault that the Suns aren't anywhere close yet. Or that they're on course instead to record the second-lowest winning percentage in franchise history. The jury, though, is still out on whether Hunter is NBA coaching material, with the Suns focused on getting minutes for their kids and improving their draft prospects -- more than trying to win games -- since Hunter replaced Alvin Gentry. Further questions stem from the fact that Hunter is known to be leaning so much on assistants like Igor Kosokov because of his lack of prior coaching experience.

One source with knowledge of the situation said this week that Hunter has a "good shot" to see his interim label switched to permanent head coach at season's end. Makes sense with Babby staying and general manager Lance Blanks already under contract for next season, but the reality is that Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat need a lot more help for the coaching to really make a difference. Assuming Dudley and Gortat aren't dealt to teams better equipped to use those two vets.



SACRAMENTO KINGS

A housecleaning is expected in Sactown as soon as the small matters of where the Kings play next season and who owns them are resolved.

The only thing clear here at the minute, after everything we heard out of New York on Wednesday, is that what was long presumed to be a slam-dunk sale to Seattle is even more of a 50/50 charge-or-block sort of call than we described in this cyberspace last week, thanks to the relentless work of Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson to keep his city in the game.

The leaguewide presumption remains that longtime front-office chief Geoff Petrie and coach Keith Smart will not be retained by whoever ultimately assumes control of the Kings. But that's a far easier conclusion to reach than trying to identify who's leading the Kings Sweepstakes at the minute.

TORONTO RAPTORS

The Raptors are limping to the end of a frustrating fifth straight season out of the playoffs, after coming into 2012-13 harboring genuine aspirations about competing for a playoff spot. But this time they're approaching the finish line in the unorthodox position of the coach having already seen his option for next season picked up, while the front-office chief awaits word on whether he's staying or going.

Team president Bryan Colangelo is still waiting to hear if he'll be extended or at least have his 2013-14 option activated. Dwane Casey has one season left on his original three-year deal because his 2013-14 option was invoked after last season and, as such, would appear to be on safer ground than Colangelo.

Yet getting a dependable forecast on what the Raptors will end up doing on the bench after another season of disappointment -- with the brief lift provided by the midseason Rudy Gay trade gambit fading fast -- will have to wait until Colangelo's fate is known. And the signals there, so far, are mixed, with the new owners who run both the Raptors and hockey's Maple Leafs still settling into town & but having already fired Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke.

UTAH JAZZ

My Grantland colleague Zach Lowe has written twice about the Jazz in recent weeks (found here and here) if you want to go in-depth about the team locked in battle with the Lakers for the West's No. 8 seed.

The quickie summation for this format, from those plugged into the coaching grapevine, is that Corbin's position is likely endangered only if the Jazz miss out on the playoffs. And even then -- even amid ongoing doubts about his ability to make on-the-fly game adjustments and what has been described as an unremarkable sideline presence -- Corbin could well hang on.

Don't forget that (A) he's working for a franchise not exactly known for shuffling coaches in and out and (B) Corbin had one of this season's tougher coaching assignments given all the free agents on Utah's roster and the accompanying mystery surrounding what happens with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter in line for bigger roles. So don't be surprised if he's back for the final year of his contract.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

The Wizards' John Wall-fueled revival over the past 42 games hasn't just banished the painful memories of that 4-28 start. It has also given new life to Randy Wittman, who entered the season with a career winning percentage of .331 as a coach and wasn't sure he'd make it to the All-Star break amid all the early losing.

Now?

Wittman's situation is being cited in this late-season spin on the carousel to emphasize that he's no longer in danger. He would appear to have less to worry about than virtually all of his aforementioned colleagues, with one year left on his contract and the Wiz possessing a team option for the 2014-15 season.

Dimes past: March 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29-30 | 31 | April 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

2. Big Man Of The Hour

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O'Neal

Maybe he wasn't quite the MDE he always proclaimed himself to be ... but he's up there. Way up there. Shaquille O'Neal is one of the two or three most dominant singular forces in NBA history.

As the following compilation of his accomplishments will attest.

In tribute to Shaq's jersey retirement in Lakerland, this weekend's array of lists, charts and tables has been assembled to remind you just how much good havoc O'Neal wreaked in his career, highlighted by those three titles he co-delivered to Hollywood with Kobe Bryant in their eight seasons together.

You could quibble with Shaq's questionable-at-times conditioning. Or those rebounding numbers that weren't sufficiently gaudy for some. Or the obvious: all those clanked free throws.

Just don't forget how good he was at his best ... as seen in 1999-2000 when Shaq joined Michael Jordan and Willis Reed as the only players in NBA history to win the All-Star Game MVP, league MVP, Finals MVP and the NBA championship in the same season.

He's the ninth player to have his jersey immortalized at Staples Center, with all eight predecessors already in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The rest of the résumé ain't bad, either, as you'll see below: