There is a prevailing theory in NBA circles that owners are currently paralyzed in their decision-making by the prospect of a lockout in 2011.
What that means, the thinking goes, is that there will be very little coaching turnover because at this stage owners don't want to get stuck paying two coaches at the same time when they already are losing money, or be forced to sign a coach to a long-term extension that includes paying him during the lockout season.
However, there are enough teams in trouble record-wise, and enough rumors starting to surface, that it seems inevitable that there will be some turnover.
After all, it's not as if organizations can afford to go through another 82-game season with the type of dysfunction that is occurring on some teams right now. Forthwith, we will take a look at the coaches on the hot seat, as well as the top candidates to replace them.
Eddie Jordan, Philadelphia 76ers
Rumors abound that Jordan is going to be let go, either in the immediate future or directly after the season. A Philadelphia radio station reported it would happen right away, and the Philadelphia Inquirer said it is inevitable after the season. The problem is that Jordan has tried to implement a Princeton offense that is not conducive to his players' skill sets. He has a more traditional roster, with post-ups by Elton Brand and fast breaks by Andre Iguodala. Jordan never should have tried to put Samuel Dalembert in a position where he has to be a part of that offense. Consequently, the Sixers have woefully underachieved, and they spent the better part of January and early February calling around to try to move one or all three of those highly paid aforementioned players. When it became apparent that they were not movable, that's when Jordan's job -- as well as that of general manager Ed Stefanski -- became endangered.
Kiki Vandeweghe, New Jersey Nets
Vandeweghe was always considered an interim coach once the Nets fired Lawrence Frank, which is even more evident because they have not improved one iota since he took over. To be fair, he inherited an already scarred team, but you'd think the Nets would have gotten at least a little lift from a fresh voice. Instead, they are still challenging the NBA's all-time worst mark of nine wins, set by the 1972-73 Sixers. More important, though, is the impending sale of the franchise to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who surely will clean house and put his own people in place. That probably means the end of president Rod Thorn, as well. And why not? Who wants to start off his ownership tenure with the men who constructed potentially the worst roster in NBA history?
Jim O'Brien, Indiana Pacers
Yes, O'Brien signed a contract extension before the season. Yes, he has the endorsement of team president Larry Bird. But O'Brien has lost this team, according to multiple sources, in part because he has not taken an interest in developing or establishing relationships with the younger players. Nothing is worse than when a team collectively decides to tune out a coach. There are several indications that the Pacers have done just that, including an Indianapolis Star report that the players have quit on O'Brien. One source said that when assistant Lester Conner filled in briefly for O'Brien earlier this season, the players responded well to him. Many around the league wondered why Bird extended O'Brien's deal when he did not have to. It remains to be seen how that decision will affect the next one.
Kim Hughes, Los Angeles Clippers
He took over for Mike Dunleavy when Dunleavy removed himself as coach, then watched as owner Donald Sterling unceremoniously fired Dunleavy as GM last week. It is clear that Sterling wants a fresh start now that the Clippers have positioned themselves for a nice run in free agency, which will supplement the young nucleus of Chris Kaman, Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, as well as a plum No. 1 pick this year and perhaps a top-notch free agent. This job will be pursued by many, but there always is the unquantifiable Sterling factor -- what Phil Jackson calls karma. Hughes said he wanted a challenge when he took over for Dunleavy. Instead, the Clippers seem to have gotten worse as they wonder what exactly is happening.
Don Nelson, Golden State Warriors
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more dysfunctional team. At least the other teams already mentioned in this column can simply fire a coach and move on. But because of the Nelson situation, the Warriors don't know if they are coming, going or staging a sit-in. Here's the scenario: Nelson is on the verge of becoming the NBA's all-time winningest coach. However, after getting control of the organization through a power play, he has eviscerated the roster, alienated the players still on the team and created an atmosphere where free agents don't want to come. And he is unlikely to earn the record before the end of the year. He aligned himself with president RobertRowell and hired GM Larry Riley, so either of those men is loathe to fire him. And yet everybody outside the organization can see that it is time for Nelson to go. However, he still has one year and $6 million left on his contract, and owner Chris Cohan is experiencing financial difficulties, so the Warriors don't want to have to pay two coaches as a lockout approaches. Nelson steadfastly refuses to retire, but the ever-loyal fan base is getting impatient with the losing and the attitude. The decision would seem like a no-brainer. But with Golden State, that is never the case.
Vinny Del Negro, Chicago Bulls
He was as good as gone in the middle of the season, when several reports surfaced that Del Negro was on the verge of being dismissed while the Bulls were barely competitive in the midst of a road trip. Then the Bulls started winning some games and Del Negro was given a reprieve. Now that John Salmons has been traded to Milwaukee and injuries have hit, the Bulls are in a swoon again and could miss the playoffs, and Del Negro, who was hired despite zero head coaching experience, is most likely gone, particularly since the Bulls are trying to attract a major free agent and don't want to pitch mediocrity.
Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
The decision on Spoelstra's job could come down to one thing: Does Dwyane Wade want him back? If the impending free agent likes playing for Spoelstra -- he criticized his offensive play-calling earlier this year -- than the second-year coach (78-71 overall) will return. If he doesn't, he's gone. There is a long history of star players getting coaches fired in this league; remember, that is how Pat Riley, the man who hired Spoelstra, got his gig with the Lakers -- Magic Johnson didn't like Paul Westhead. The biggest question mark is what the Heat decide to do if Wade leaves.
Stan Van Gundy, Orlando Magic
This is a longshot, but it appears that Van Gundy's negativity is beginning to wear on his players. Rashard Lewis recently all but dismissed his coach's criticisms after one particular victory, saying Van Gundy is never pleased. They have the second-best record in the East and the third-best in the league, so firing him would be met with certain consternation. But if the players want a change, the players usually get what they want.
Jeff Bower, New Orleans Hornets
Bower fired Byron Scott just nine games into the season and stepped into the job himself, leading the Hornets to a 29-29 record since. According to league sources, Bower is fighting hard to persuade owner George Shinn to bring him back as coach. Given the Hornets' financial woes, they are the most likely team to go the frugal route; it would make sense for Shinn to let Bower guide this team for one more year at a reasonable price, see what happens with a lockout and go from there.
Dwane Casey, Dallas Mavericks assistant
How is this guy not a head coach in this league already? When he coached the Timberwolves, he improved from an initial 33-49 mark in 2005-06 to a 20-20 start the following season. Then, inexplicably, he was fired by Kevin McHale, and Randy Wittman went 12-30 the rest of the way, starting the malaise that the Wolves currently enjoy. Casey was a finalist for both the Bulls' job that went to Del Negro and the 76ers' job that went to Jordan, and has given Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle both experience and knowledge. Casey is likely to be the top choice for any of the vacancies. "He has a presence about him," one general manager said. "And there's something to be said for that."
Elston Turner, Houston Rockets assistant
Turner is probably one notch behind Casey, if only because he does not have head coaching experience. But he does very well in interviews, and has good knowledge of the game. Coaching with Rick Adelman has helped him learn Adelman's offensive playbook, which helped Turner emerge as a finalist for the Suns' opening in 2008 and the Timberwolves' vacancy last year that Kurt Rambis filled.
Tom Thibodeau, Boston Celtics assistant
Thibodeau's name has been one of the hottest in the league for a few years now, primarily because he is the architect of the defense that helped the Celtics win the 2008 title. He was rumored to be a candidate for the Knicks' and Bulls' jobs two years ago.
Doug Collins, TNT analyst
Collins, who lives in the Phoenix area, would leave the booth to coach again, but only in certain situations. His daughter lives in Philadelphia and his son lives in North Carolina, so a job with the Sixers or the Bulls would fit his criteria to move closer to his family and lead a team with pieces in place.
Avery Johnson, ESPN analyst
Johnson has an impressive résumé and is the most likely among the TV guys to get a job. He led the Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2006, losing to Miami, and was dismissed after Dallas lost two consecutive first-round playoff series. However, he remains a hot name and has head coaching experience.
Larry Brown, Charlotte Bobcats
What's that? He already has a job, you say? That does not really matter with The Nomad. He reached out to Clippers owner Sterling about a month ago to let him know that he'd be interested in coming back. That is supposedly dead now that Michael Jordan is in line to take over the Bobcats. But with Brown, one never knows.
Dean Demopolous, Portland Trail Blazers, assistant
Nate McMillan's top assistant has a nice grasp of the game. He interviewed for the Minnesota job last year and was being pursued by the University of Hawaii.
The 2006-07 NBA Coach of the Year, Mitchell has been lying low since he was dismissed by the Raptors in 2008. He may need to get on someone's bench for a bit before he is brought back as a head coach.
Patrick Ewing, Magic assistant coach
Many in the league didn't think Ewing would make the transition from star player to NBA coach because of the amount of work that needs to be put into coaching. But to his credit, Ewing has done a nice job and is positioning himself for a spot somewhere down the road.
Keith Smart, Warriors assistant coach
Golden State's lead assistant is capable of running his own team, but he probably loses some credibility because of his association with Nelson, which is not really his fault. But he is labeled as the defensive coach for a team that plays very little defense, and Nelson does not really have an extensive coaching tree.
Adrian Dantley, Nuggets assistant coach
Dantley has done an excellent job stepping in for George Karl during his illness, a difficult situation for Dantley, who is bouncing back and forth between the two jobs. Some think he may be too quiet to be a head coach, but he has been effective when Karl has been out.
Mario Elie, Kings assistant coach
He is learning on the job after a long playing career and, like Ewing, is positioning himself for a spot somewhere down the line.
Monty Williams, Trail Blazers assistant coach
Portland's second assistant, Williams has a good understanding of the game. He was rumored to have interviewed in Minnesota as well.
Mark Jackson, ABC analyst
He supposedly was up for the Knicks' job that went to Mike D'Antoni and actually might be a good fit in Indiana because of his relationship with the Pacers. But he probably needs to get some experience on somebody's bench before he takes over an organization.
Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN analyst
One of the prevailing theories with the "TV guys" is that many still think they are going to command $5 million annual salaries. But there is a paradigm shift in the NBA and only a select few coaches are going to get that type of money any longer. Van Gundy is happy because he can do his television games without the stress of coaching. But, if you ever listen to his broadcasts, he has a fine basketball mind. Like his brother Stan, he has to lose the "Van Grumpy" reputation.
Lester Conner, Pacers assistant
If Pacers owner Mel Simon wanted a way to cut ties with O'Brien and not have to pay another coach a ridiculous amount of money, hiring Conner may be the way to go.
1.Another aspect of the fear of a lockout is that some NBA coaches may look to take jobs in college that they otherwise wouldn't consider, if only because they'll have a paycheck in 2011 rather than sitting around and scouting.
• Utah assistant Tyrone Corbin, who played at DePaul, has interviewed at his alma mater, according to a source, and may get that job.
• Portland's Monty Williams is being looked at by Oregon, which also has spoken with former Sonics/Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo, who still lives in Seattle.
• The Ducks have hired Paul Westhead to coach their women's team. Westhead was on Carlesimo's staff in Seattle. Another name that has surfaced for the Oregon job is Houston assistant Jack Sikma, who has strong ties to the Northwest and whose son, Luke, plays for the University of Portland.
• UNC-Wilmington has been speaking with Phil Ford, Larry Brown's assistant with the Bobcats.
• Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant's father, Joe, is trying to get the vacant job at the University of Hawaii, which reached out to Blazers assistant Dean Demopolous the last time it had an opening.
2.A rather gaunt gentleman emerged from the visiting locker room recently at a Warriors game and removed his cap to reveal only a few sprouts of hair atop his head. The man was barely recognizable, even to those used to seeing his well-known face for so many years.
It was Blazers owner Paul Allen, who had just finished chemotherapy and radiation treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer that he beat 26 years ago but returned seven months ago. He is hopeful he has beat it again.
"I have gone through the fire with the chemo. I am waiting for the final results to come in. So I am bouncing back," said Allen, who was in San Francisco to catch a tribute concert for his musical love, Jimi Hendrix, at the Warfield Theatre.
That is good news for fans of both the Blazers and Seattle Seahawks because Allen is one of the most passionate, involved owners in the NBA and NFL, and losing him would be a blow to both leagues. Allen is the first of two major NBA personalities to be diagnosed with cancer this year. The other is George Karl, who for many years coached the Seattle SuperSonics, Allen's hometown team.
Allen said he had not spoken to Karl about his cancer but was planning to call him, if for no other reason than to give the perspective of somebody who is going through a similar struggle.
"This is my second time dealing with cancer," Allen said. "It is a tough process. You just have to keep your chin up and keep thinking positive because there really is no upside at looking at the downside of these situations. If you are passionate about things like George is about basketball and like I am with the different things I am involved with, those really help you get through these tough times.
"Chemo is once every three weeks. Radiation can be multiple times a week. You have to deal with the fatigue, especially if you are trying to do competitive things. You have to focus and step up and really concentrate on that. But sports is such an uplifting thing. I remember when I was 30, one of the things that really cheered me up back then was following the Sonics at that particular point. Just following a team in general really takes your mind off what you are going through."
According to Forbes, Allen is the 32nd-wealthiest person in the world, worth an estimated $10.5 billion. Another high tech mogul, Oracle's Larry Ellison, the world's sixth-richest person at $28 billion, has said he wants to buy the Warriors, the team Allen's Blazers were playing this night.
"I've met Larry a few times. I've been on his boat a couple times. I don't talk to him very frequently," Allen said. "But I would tell any prospective owner of a major league franchise it is going to be a lot of fun.
"But it is super important to have good management. Have a good general manager. Those positions are so important, the key to the future of your franchise. Especially in the initial years, get the best people you can. Learn about the sports. You hire great people, learn from them and the more you get involved in these sports the more you are going to love it.
"It's hard to explain. When you see things from the inside, is really makes your enjoyment that much more. I know Larry is super competitive, so I'm sure he is going to find some rewarding aspects of being involved in professional sports ownership."
3.It is just me, or is Sacramento MayorKevin Johnson's endorsement for Tyreke Evans as Rookie of the Year via a news conference and rally a not-so-subtle way to get the residents of Central California excited about a new arena? Come see the NBA Rookie of the Year for years to come. That is, if you give us state financing to build a new arena. If you don't, the Kings may move elsewhere and you are going to miss the next great player develop into a superstar.
Johnson seems to be laying the groundwork for future lobbying efforts while at the same time ingratiating himself with the Sacramento supporters. It helps, of course, that Evans is almost a lock to win the award.
I wonder what Johnson would have done had he been the mayor of, say, Denver and pulled together a rally for Ty Lawson.