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Join Date: Feb 2007
Hot seat watch: eight coaches who might be moving on
Hot seat watch: eight coaches who might be moving onBy Chris Sheridan
The lingering bitterness being felt by Mike Fratello was readily discernable as we spoke on the phone earlier this week.
The first coach to be fired this season gave ESPN.com a gauge of his grief:
"After it happens, you look back after a while and evaluate it -- and not just my situation, but any coaching change. If it takes the team in the correct direction, then obviously it was a good change. But if the team is going in the same direction, maybe people need to look elsewhere as to what the reasons are. Last I looked, the Grizzlies had the worst record in the NBA, and that speaks for itself," Fratello said.
A similar level of bitterness is no doubt being felt by Terry Stotts, who has not spoken publicly since he was fired last week as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. A source close to the team told ESPN.com that Stotts hastened his own departure by confronting management regarding its plans for assistant Larry Krystkowiak, who ended up replacing him.
Dwane Casey knows what Stotts is feeling right about now, because he went through it eight weeks ago when the Minnesota Timberwolves fired him and promoted Randy Wittman. Not that Casey is rooting against the Wolves, but he's taking some emotional solace from the fact that they're 8-17 under Wittman after being 20-20 when he was let go.
"I've been making a list, writing down all the things I did right and all the things I did wrong, trying to improve from the experience, because if I'm not improving as a person from the experience, shame on me," Casey told ESPN.com. "Hopefully I'll be able to look back on this list in the future and learn from it."
Fratello, Casey and Stotts are the only three coaches to lose their jobs this season, although the Charlotte Bobcats recently announced that Bernie Bickerstaff will not return as coach next season. The Sixers took the preemptive measure of announcing a week ago that Maurice Cheeks will be their coach next season, despite much speculation to the contrary, given Larry Brown's looming presence. And the Orlando Magic issued a somewhat more lukewarm vote of confidence in Brian Hill.
But there are plenty of other situations where coaching changes seem increasingly likely once the regular season ends, and there is one place -- Sacramento -- where it would not surprise us to see Scott Brooks in charge on the bench by the time April arrives. The Kings' 1-4 road trip ended Monday night with Ron Artest glaring at Eric Musselman during a lopsided loss to the lowly Hawks, giving us reason to shift the odds on Musselman being the next to get some time off as we present this season's third version of our Coach Most Likely to Be Fired (or Otherwise Out) list.
Eric Musselman, Sacramento Kings
If this season is to be salvaged, the Maloof brothers, the longtime owners, have to do something. The Maloofs aren't used to losing. "Brutal," said Gavin Maloof to the Sacramento Bee as his team was booed off the court Wednesday night. "Losing like this ... ah ... it's just awful."
And since they weren't able to trade Mike Bibby to Cleveland at the deadline, the next best place to put the dynamite is beneath the seat of a head coach who clearly is not getting through to the team.
For your amusement, we present the following from the comments section of Wednesday's Sacramento Bee following the lethargic loss to the Hawks: "What a sickening display by a bunch of weasels who have GIVEN UP. This team disgusts me on a level that I rarely see. In all my years of watching professional sports, I have never seen such a gutless, heartless, worthless, spineless, clueless, careless, reckless and hopeless team. They are unbelievably bad. Laughably bad. Disgracefully bad."
The Kings, who went 2-0 under Brooks when Musselman served a two-game suspension for his DUI arrest, are three games behind Golden State for the eighth and final playoff spot. ODDS: 1-1.
Bob Hill, Seattle SuperSonics
His contract expires June 30, which means owner Clay Bennett can avoid the word "fired" when he issues a news release sometime after the season explaining how Hill "will not be retained."
Interestingly, the Sonics keep track of games they lost but could have won, as well as games they won but could have lost. In most seasons they usually see something approaching a 50-50 split, but this season they've lost 22 games they could have won while winning just nine games they could have lost.
With the team's future in Seattle very much up in the air, the move that makes the most sense is handing the coaching reins over to Lenny Wilkens for a season, then deciding a year from now whether to replace Rick Sund in the front office once everyone knows whether the team will be leaving Seattle. There is lots of chatter out there that Bennett will target Spurs general manager R.C. Buford if he axes Sund. ODDS: 3-1
Brian Hill, Orlando Magic
It wasn't the heartiest vote of confidence from general manager Otis Smith when he told the Orlando Sentinel: "We're not letting him go. I fully expect [Hill] to fulfill his contractual obligations."
Hill signed a four-year contract in May 2005, and the Magic could have him fulfill it by sliding him into a front-office or consulting position if they wanted to make a coaching change. Orlando has lost 15 of its last 21 games to drop out of playoff position in the East after starting the season 13-4.
"I don't think he's done a bad job. My coach has done a good job to this point. Our guys have just not played very good basketball," said Smith, who added that if the Magic do not make the playoffs this season, "I think we'll have to evaluate everything." ODDS: 4-1.
Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics
With statements to his team such as "[Expletive] the draft pick," it would appear Rivers is coaching for his job as the Celtics play out the string.
Last Saturday's victory at San Antonio was easily the most quality W of the season, but Rivers' three-year body of work (45 wins in 2004-05, 33 wins in '05-06 and 20 wins this season) is not promising for his long-term prospects -- even though he has strong relationships with owner Wyc Grousbeck and general manager Danny Ainge, as well as Paul Pierce, who seemed especially buoyed by the franchise's direction following the victory in San Antonio. ODDS: 4-1.
Rick Carlisle, Pacers
Carlisle's contract calls for him to move into a front-office job if he leaves as coach, so this is another situation where a lateral move could be pulled off that would discourage use of the word "fired."
The Pacers' recent slide has them in jeopardy of missing the playoffs, and the time seems right for Carlisle to take another sabbatical such as the one that re-energized him a half-decade ago when he joined the Sonics as a broadcaster after being passed over for the Pacers' head coaching job. With Donnie Walsh possibly leaving the franchise after this season, there's going to be an empty office at Conseco Fieldhouse. If replacing Carlisle is the one move that will keep Jermaine O'Neal from requesting a trade, Larry Bird might have no choice.
And if Carlisle goes, expect assistant Johnny Davis to be the leading candidate to take over. ODDS: 15-1.
Sam Mitchell, Raptors
His contract expires after the season, and though many feel he has earned an extension by leading the Raptors to a first-place standing in the Atlantic, general manager Bryan Colangelo has not offered one.
"We've said we would address it at the appropriate time, and we've said consistently that we're not going to talk about it daily. It's been the topic of a lot of speculation, but we'll get to it at the appropriate time -- when Sam and I have a chance to focus on something other than winning the next basketball game," Colangelo told ESPN.com.
As of July 1, restrictions on Colangelo hiring any Phoenix Suns employees -- including assistant Marc Iavaroni -- will expire. If Mitchell does not stay in Toronto (and I'm hearing whispers from all over that Mitchell might end up taking over from Bickerstaff in Charlotte if Michael Jordan doesn't hire Darrell Walker or Butch Carter first), the Raptors will have to outbid Memphis for Iavaroni. ODDS: 18-1.
Lawrence Frank, Nets
You would think the leader of the Eastern Conference's most disappointing team would be in jeopardy (if not gone already) with the way things have gone this season. But you'd be discounting how much the team's hierarchy -- president Rod Thorn and owner Bruce Ratner -- is enamored of Frank, who is getting a pass for the Nets' struggles because of the injuries that have sidelined Richard Jefferson and Nenad Krstic.
It now seems the only way Frank loses his job is if Jason Kidd wants him gone, and Kidd is already going through enough changes in his life and doesn't want one more. Things could still change if the Nets flame out miserably and miss the playoffs, but as of now Frank is as safe as his counterpart across the Hudson River who just got an extension from Jim Dolan. ODDS: 25-1.
Pat Riley, Heat
The only thing Riles has said about next season is that he's not thinking about it, which is disingenuous because Riley thinks about everything from every conceivable angle.
We could see him staying at the helm for another year if the Heat win another championship, but the guy hasn't coached a full 82-game season in five years, and we're not sure he still has it in him. If Riley steps down, expect three names -- assistant Eric Spoelstra, Florida's Billy Donovan and Marquette's Tom Crean -- to be prominently in the mix as Riley's replacement. ODDS: 30-1.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.