There will be a coaching carousel because, well, there always is. But with NBA owners preparing to sit on their wallets during the expected lockout, this latest model shouldn't spin as wildly out of control as it has in years past. Think playground style, not Disney World, with the experience hardly entertaining for the ones being asked to exit, while those who remain will surely enjoy the drastically slower pace.
The added element of a likely work stoppage will have a significant impact that could help a number of coaches. Owners will be inclined to keep the incumbent rather than pay two salaries to do the same amount of nothing (lockout language in some contracts means additional savings, as those coaches won't be paid their full salaries). The lack of a can't-miss candidate on the unemployment line should come into play as well. Jeff Van Gundy might be the only one of that ilk and he hasn't given any indication he's ready to leave his life as an analyst.
Former Cleveland coach Mike Brown is highly respected in most circles, but he's hardly the type of coaching talent who will shift this ride into a higher gear. Houston's Rick Adelman might do just that if he were suddenly available, but that much has yet to be determined.
There might be some early movement already underway, though, as the formalization of Tom Gores' purchase of the Pistons on Friday (which still awaits approval at next week's Board of Governors meetings) could expedite the end for coach John Kuester. His well-chronicled turmoil with his players is widely expected to lead to his firing, but that sort of clarity is rare when it comes to his colleagues and their situations.
As such, let's take a peek at the carousel before the spinning begins.
• Phil Jackson, Lakers: He has said it was for real before, but whether he wins a 12th championship or not, Jackson swears he'll be in the mountains of Montana by the time next season finally gets started.
• John Kuester, Detroit: It's about much more than the 27-55 record in his debut season or the 28-51 mark through Friday this time around. Some of the players who were stuck in the Motor City showed audacious signs of disrespect with their alleged shootaround boycott in Philadelphia (they denied it) and the footage of them laughing on the bench when their coach was ejected from the game that night. The stagnant ownership situation meant president Joe Dumars couldn't go shopping for new parts, and Kuester -- for right or for wrong -- will likely be left behind after this tune-up.
• Rick Adelman, Houston: It's sounding more and more like Adelman's days with the Rockets are numbered.
And while that isn't a certainty just yet, it would be unfortunate if this was the way his illustrious career came to an end. Owner Les Alexander is staying mum on whether he'll offer Adelman a new contract when his current one expires at the end of the season, and two sources close to the situation say reports of friction between the coach and his billionaire boss have not been overstated.
Adelman, who was never afforded the elite-level roster he expected to oversee because of injuries to Yao Ming and previously Tracy McGrady, has remained quiet on whether he even wants to return. Rockets assistant coach Elston Turner is expected to be a candidate if Adelman does indeed depart, but Turner won't be alone as Houston is expected to conduct an open search.
And should Adelman decide to continue his career elsewhere, then the ride might very well stop abruptly for someone in our next category.
• Frank Vogel, Indiana: While the overwhelming assumption around the league is that the interim coach who took over for the fired Jim O'Brien in late January will be replaced in the offseason, he has certainly helped his cause by working through some serious strife among his players and leading the Pacers to 10 wins in their last 15 games. And should the Pacers shock the hoops world in a first-round playoff series against Chicago, well then ... OK, enough of that nonsense. It's not looking good for Vogel, whose best chance at a return might come by way of the aforementioned lockout effect.
• Larry Drew, Atlanta: First, the obvious knock against the first-year Hawks coach: His team has 44 wins with three games to go after former coach Mike Woodson won 47 games and 53 in the last two seasons, respectively.
And then there is the not-so-obvious sensitive spot: the Josh Smith factor. Drew has been unable to stop the veteran from being a season-long disruption and undermining his position with his other players in the process. Add to that the relative affordability of cutting him loose (he's owed $1.5 million for next season, lockout notwithstanding), and Drew is looking very vulnerable unless he can lead a deep postseason run.
• Mike D'Antoni, New York: Yes, there are ominous signs above D'Antoni that one wouldn't think bode well for him. Knicks owner James Dolan has yet to pick up the $5 million team option for team president Donnie Walsh -- this despite his ability to orchestrate a turnaround without landing LeBron James last summer. With three games to go and a 41-38 record, the Knicks are about to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and post a .500-plus mark for the first time since 2000-01.
Yet two well-versed sources insist D'Antoni and Walsh will both survive the drama and the reports that Kentucky coach John Calipari is eyeing D'Antoni's seat and the Knicks might be eyeing him. D'Antoni has certainly helped his cause recently, winning six straight to quiet the critics after the Carmelo Anthony era was off to such a rough start. "He's as safe as any coach in the league," said one of the sources.
• Kurt Rambis, Minnesota: The rumblings around a Rambis firing have grown louder, but don't be surprised if he survives. For starters, he has two years and $4 million remaining on his contract after this season and works for an organization that, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune report, is in danger of losing nearly $20 million this season. Not to be repetitive here, but spending that sort of extra cash with so much uncertainty on the labor front is simply counterintuitive, even with the brutal results.
That being said, owner Glen Taylor -- who is footing the bill for a $54.2 million payroll, the fourth lowest in the league, according to Shamsports -- opted to stay quiet recently when asked for a show of support by a local reporter. Rambis has been unable to steer clear of this danger zone down the stretch, as Minnesota (17-62 after going 15-67 in Rambis' debut campaign) has lost 12 straight games and 15 of its last 17.
• Keith Smart, Golden State: One way or another, Smart should know his fate relatively quickly. Owner Joe Lacob has offered that much, sending word through the ranks that he and co-owner Peter Guber will decide within a matter of weeks after the season whether the first-year coach (or general manager Larry Riley, for that matter) will be on board for 2011-12. Smart has been the consummate pro in his debut, moving over from his seat next to Don Nelson just before training camp arrived and acclimating quickly enough that his team got off to a 6-2 start. Smart will likely reach the organization's goal of 36 wins set publicly by Riley before the season (35 so far with three games to go), thus marking a significant improvement from the 26-win campaign of 2009-10.
It could be argued that he deserves to have his team option picked up for a second go-round, but the arguments against him will likely win out. His handling of second-year guard Stephen Curry was in serious question all season long, with the runner-up Rookie of the Year seeing the strangest of peaks and valleys in his playing time while under the shortest of leashes.
There is increased pressure on the new ownership to make a move, especially in light of a trade season in which the Warriors didn't make the sort of transformative move they discussed upon arrival. That first major change may very well take place with Smart.
• Doc Rivers, Boston: He was close to calling it quits last time around, but Doc simply couldn't get that Game 7 taste out of his mouth after coming so close in the Finals against the Lakers. There is a strong sentiment around the league that Rivers will step away this time, choosing to spend time with his family in large part because his highly rated shooting guard of a son, Austin, will be starting his first season at Duke and dear old dad wants to be in those stands in the worst way.
• Stan Van Gundy, Orlando: Not that he would have any trouble finding another job, but Van Gundy simply can't afford a first-round failure. The underwhelming Magic are set to face Atlanta, and a spectacular failure to win a championship would surely cast doubt on the team's chances of re-signing 2012 free agent Dwight Howard. Van Gundy's part in that process, as much as anyone's, would certainly be evaluated.
• Rick Carlisle, Dallas: Based on history alone, one Western Conference executive surmised, you have to wonder if the limits of Mark Cuban's loyalty might be tested again should the Mavericks falter early. Carlisle has one first-round exit and one second-round loss on his résumé (along with the three straight 50-plus win seasons), but another first-round departure would make it four times in five seasons for the Mavs as they move even closer to Dirk Nowitzki's eventual retirement.
• Erik Spoelstra, Miami: It's only natural to keep this trend of incessantly questioning his job status going into the postseason, and an early departure would take that practice to a whole new level. For now, though, the reports on the once-embattled coach and his rapport with his star-laden roster are extremely positive.
• Flip Saunders, Washington: The recent backing from owner Ted Leonsis and the cost of cutting him ($9 million over the next two years) work in his favor, despite his 47-114 record in Washington.
• Jay Triano, Toronto: A complicated ownership situation and the uncertainty of GM Bryan Colangelo's future aren't helping, but one source insists Triano's bosses are "happy" with the job he has done, even though the third-year coach has a .381 winning percentage since taking over in December 2008.
• Paul Westphal, Sacramento: The potential lockout helps his situation, not to mention his 2011-12 team option having already been picked up, his team's recent play (won seven of its last 12) and the trade for Marcus Thornton from New Orleans, which sent Carl Landry to the Hornets.
•Tom Thibodeau, Chicago• Scott Skiles, Milwaukee• Vinny Del Negro, Clippers• Tyrone Corbin, Utah• Alvin Gentry, Phoenix• Lionel Hollins, Memphis• Monty Williams, New Orleans• Nate McMillan, Portland• George Karl, Denver• Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City• Byron Scott, Cleveland• Avery Johnson, New Jersey• Paul Silas, Charlotte• Doug Collins, Philadelphia• Gregg Popovich, San Antonio.