SI.com NBA writers Sam Amick, Paul Forrester, Lee Jenkins, Chris Mannix and Ian Thomsen examine the coaching landscape in advance of the 2012-13 season.
Sam Amick: Mike Brown, without question. He has two guaranteed seasons left on the $18 million deal he signed in 2011 (and a fourth-year team option), and I'd be surprised if he's back for 2013-14 if these Lakers don't win it all. His shortcomings as an offensive coach should be shored up this season with the addition of Eddie Jordan as an assistant. The former Kings, Wizards and 76ers coach is expected to install a Princeton offense that has elements of the sorely missed triangle offense that left with Phil Jackson in 2011.
[Sam Amick: Q&A with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak]
Paul Forrester: Remember, if you will, the 2009-10 season, when Brown led a Cavaliers team whose hopes of retaining LeBron James the following summer rested largely on winning a championship. Once again, Brown is coaching for a franchise's future, this time with Dwight Howard's free-agent signature at stake. Brown has more help this time, but should the Lakers fall short of the Finals, he'll be out the door. Equally crucial will be Brown's ability to forge a relationship with the Lakers' new center while not undermining Kobe Bryant's ownership of the team. That's a thin rope Brown is walking, one he knows may not end well.
Lee Jenkins: Vinny Del Negro, because this is such an important season for the Clippers, with Chris Paul due to become a free agent July 1. The Clippers were thrilled to win a playoff series last season, but Paul will want to see more progress before he commits long term, and the onus falls on Del Negro. The Clippers' roster is deeper than the Lakers', and anything less than a trip to the Western Conference finals will probably be a disappointment for Paul.
Chris Mannix: Brown. The Lakers' coach was handed a former two-time MVP point guard (Steve Nash) and a three-time Defensive Player of the Year (Howard) and brought on board an offensive guru (Jordan) to blend them together. It's championship or bust in Tinseltown, and Brown will be shown the door if he comes up short.
Ian Thomsen: That would be Brown. If you were to ask which coach is most used to being under pressure, it would also be Brown. The Lakers have been reinvented around Bryant -- they'll be playing an entirely new style through Nash; Howard will be the new Shaq (though Howard's status after back surgery is still TBD); and at the same time Pau Gasol cannot be neglected. The longer it takes the Lakers to figure out their new approach, the more the pressure will grow on Brown, especially with coaching candidates like Nate McMillan and Mike D'Antoni on the sideline as available hires. But this was the job Brown wanted two summers ago, and his years with the Cavaliers as well as last season in L.A. surely have weathered him for the pressures to come.
[SI.com Roundtable: Lakers lead list of offseason winners]
Amick: It may wind up being Scott Skiles. He's entering the final year of his contract and has a roster with just enough talent to get a lame-duck coach fired if the victories just aren't coming easily enough. Add in the fact that Skiles tends to grate on players, who always have leverage in these types of situations, and he's a prime candidate.
Forrester: If I were Randy Wittman, I'd think twice before buying real estate in the nation's capital. The Wizards were smart to dump Andray Blatche and draft Bradley Beal, but if former No. 1 pick John Wall can't make a leap in development this season, Washington will lag again. The Wizards haven't posted a winning percentage better than .317 since 2007-08, and with the NHL on lockdown, Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis may not be in a mood to weather another dispiriting season. A slow start could mean a quick exit for Wittman.
Jenkins: Skiles will have to make the Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis backcourt experiment work in Milwaukee. He is entering the final year of his contract and the Bucks have missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons, their chances damaged by injuries to now-departed center Andrew Bogut. If Jennings and Ellis cannot coexist, Skiles' fifth year in Milwaukee could be his last.
Mannix: Maybe he's fired, maybe he walks away out of frustration, but Skiles, coaching in the final year of his contract, would appear to be a prime candidate for an early exit. On paper, the Bucks have the talent to be a playoff team. But the defense slipped last season, from fourth to 16th in points allowed per possession, and the additions of shot-blockers Samuel Dalembert and Joel Przybilla may not be enough to address the decline. Throw in questionable chemistry between Jennings and Ellis, and if the Bucks start slowly, things could unravel quickly.
Thomsen: I don't know if he'll be fired or if he'll be seeking to leave in the final year of his deal, but it's been no secret that Skiles was interested in a buyout after last season. And, of course, Brown will be under pressure from opening day in L.A.
Forrester: Vaughn may be coaching the decaying carcass of a title contender, but he still has NBA-level talent that understands quality basketball. Afflalo, Nelson, Davis and Harrington may not get Orlando to the playoffs, but that's the makings of a competitive group most nights. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist joins a rapidly improving Bismack Biyombo on a Bobcats team that has more future upside, but there are going to be some ugly offensive performances in Dunlap's first season. Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions will help an offense that scored an NBA-low 86.9 points per game last season, but neither has shot better than 45 percent in his career. Better days are ahead for the Bobcats -- they can't get worse -- but reviving a wreck at the bottom of the NBA ocean takes time.
Jenkins: Vaughn. Orlando learned how to play without Howard at the end of last season and the Magic did re-sign point guard Nelson. He and Afflalo will form a decent backcourt, but the Magic will still be picking high in the lottery, probably right below the Bobcats.
Mannix: Vaughn, but not by much. He has a few more accomplished veterans with whom to work. Neither team is going anywhere and you can argue that Charlotte -- with fewer cap concerns and a stud in Kidd-Gilchrist anchoring the roster -- is in better position long term. But this year, Orlando will be better.
Thomsen: Dunlap has a better roster, he's been a head coach in college and he has similar NBA bench experience. Dunlap will win more games than Vaughn, and it will mean absolutely nothing to anyone.
Amick: Fact. From the culture he built with general manager R.C. Buford to the manner he gets everyone to buy-in to the ways he has reinvented San Antonio's style in recent years, Popovich is one of a kind.
Forrester: Fact. There are a lot of ingredients in the Popovich recipe: Tim Duncan, defense, creative play-calling, adaptation and a front office willing to scour the earth for players. Tying it all together, though, is Popovich's ability to connect to his players because he tells them the truth. No coach can please every player, but Popovich's military-bred candor has won the respect of players as dutiful as Duncan and as strong-headed as Stephen Jackson. NBA players -- or any employees, for that matter -- likely will accept their fate as long as they know what it is and why. That's what Popovich offers, with the hammer of four championship rings to sell it.
Jenkins: I'll say fiction. He's right up there, of course, but the Thunder made key changes in the Western Conference finals, and the Spurs never really adjusted. Based on the past two years, I'll take Chicago's Tom Thibodeau, who did more with less, until he lost Derrick Rose.
Mannix: Fact. With all due respect to Thibodeau and Boston's Doc Rivers, Popovich's ability to formulate brilliant game plans while smoothly managing a locker room loaded with talent puts him at the top of my list.
Thomsen: Popovich is the best coach. He is also the most influential coach, as attested to by the ever-expanding mafia of Spurs coaches and executives who have been hired away by clubs around the league. The one lesson every team can learn from Popovich is this: The Spurs don't make a lot of mistakes in player evaluation because the duties of front office and coach are fused through Popovich. I'm not saying that NBA franchises should hire an all-in-one team president/coach, because very, very few men could handle that role as Popovich has done. Yet rival owners need to understand that their teams can never win unless the coach and GM are on the same page and see the game in the same way and work together. If the owner fails to hire a coach and GM who are true partners on behalf of the franchise, then the franchise itself will fail.
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