By Ian Thomsen
January 15, 2013

We've already seen three coaches lose their jobs this season: Mike Brown, Avery Johnson and Scott Skiles. With the midway point of the season approaching, which other coaches should be fearing for their futures? -- Thomas Detweiler, Philadelphia

Let's work our way through the teams with losing records, Thomas. Rick Carlisle (Mavericks), Byron Scott (Cavaliers), Doug Collins (76ers), Rick Adelman (Timberwolves) and Monty Williams (Hornets) are well established and unlikely to be asked to leave.

Mike Dunlap (Bobcats) and Jacque Vaughn (Magic) are in their first year with teams that are in no position to contend for the playoffs. It would be shortsighted to dump either one of them.

Lawrence Frank (Pistons) and Dwane Casey (Raptors) are experienced coaches who are highly respected and have recently turned their young teams right-side up after bad starts. I'd be surprised if they turned out to be endangered. The same goes for the Wizards' Randy Wittman. Overmatched Washington has competed in games consistently without John Wall; now that the young point guard is back on the floor, patient owner Ted Leonsis can wait and see whether Wittman can establish a team identity over the remainder of the season.

Jim Buss is going to fire Mike D'Antoni only if the Lakers experience a locker room mutiny, which is practically unimaginable. In that case, the lone alternative would be to replace D'Antoni with Phil Jackson, and Buss has made it clear that he doesn't want to go in that direction.

The Kings have nothing to gain by firing Keith Smart as long as the franchise appears to be headed for Seattle next season. Why would the Maloofs pay extra money to a new coach if the team is about to become the responsibility of potential owner Chris Hansen in a short time?

P.J. Carlesimo (Nets) and Jim Boylan (Bucks) are a couple of interim coaches who appear to be safe for the rest of the year. The Bucks have performed better than expected this season, while the Nets have turned hot (see below) since Carlesimo replaced Johnson.

That leaves the Suns' Alvin Gentry. It would be a mistake for Phoenix to fire him. The Suns have played hard for Gentry despite their diminished roster. They've competed in nine games decided by three points or fewer and lost five of them because they have no go-to scorer. It isn't Gentry's fault that Channing Frye (enlarged heart) has been unavailable to stretch the floor, or that Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson (cast aside by the Timberwolves) have been predictably unreliable. To replace Gentry now would be to invest in a new system that might render emerging point guard Goran Dragic as obsolete. He is perfectly suited to Gentry's style of play, and that style fits the identity of the Suns' franchise. A decent draft and wise use of cap space this summer should return Phoenix to prominence. As long as the team continues to compete for him, Gentry is not the problem.

But as you well know, Thomas, someone has to take the blame eventually, even if the blame isn't necessarily assessed fairly.

Really enjoyed your article on the growth of the D-League. One question: Will the D-League ever be a viable alternative to NCAA basketball for pro prospects? Latavious Williams attempted that path, and failed, but with the infrastructure expanding, the D-League seems increasingly attractive for talented high schoolers with pro ambitions. -- Bryan, Minneapolis

The D-League is a kind of in-house project. More NBA owners are intrigued by it, and someday every NBA franchise may have a partnership with its minor-league team.

You alluded to the ultimate step, Bryan: If the D-League is to become intriguing to fans, it must serve as a training ground for future NBA stars who have graduated from high school but not yet entered the NBA draft. "When you go to a Triple-A baseball game,'' an NBA executive said by way of comparison, "you know you're seeing the stars of tomorrow.''

That won't happen within the D-League's current construction. Apart from the occasional rehab assignment, you won't find a phenom of LeBron James' status ever playing in the D-League as a rookie because he'll be too talented and valuable to leave the NBA roster. The only way you'll see someone like him in the D-League is if he opts to go there instead of college the year before he's drafted into the NBA.

For the D-League to realize that potential, however, a couple of changes must be made. In the next collective bargaining agreement, the salaries for the top D-League talents must be raised from the current ceiling of $25,000. If the D-League were willing to pay a high school star, say, $100,000 in his final season leading up to the draft, he might be enticed to skip college to receive a better NBA education from professional coaches who have no limit on the amount of hours they can spend with players.

But here's the problem: If every D-League team is affiliated with an NBA parent, which team will get to spend that year with the next LeBron before he is drafted? If he were to spend that pre-draft season with the Spurs' D-League affiliate in Austin, Texas, rivals would complain that San Antonio received an unfair benefit.

The NBA should find a way to deal with those issues. The D-League will grow only if the NBA stops deferring to the colleges and starts competing with them.

You wrote that the Heat are keeping everything in context despite a midseason lull. But their rebounding woes might be a legitimate concern, especially with Chicago and New York looking like their biggest competition in the East. Do you see them addressing that issue at the deadline? -- Katharine Windsor, Miami

I don't see them addressing that weakness, Katharine, and I don't believe they should go out of their way to fix it. The Heat should be focused on luring Antonio McDyess as a midseason pickup -- in the same way as P.J. Brown came out of retirement to help the Celtics win the 2007-08 championship -- or on picking up a big man who has been waived after the trade deadline. Otherwise, they shouldn't trade any of the assets that helped them win the championship last season.

LeBron says they need to resolve their issues with rebounding in-house, and I agree with him. With James Harden gone from Oklahoma City, the case can be made that the competition at the top of the league is weaker than last season, while Miami's rotation has been strengthened thanks to the arrival of Ray Allen.

Apart from the Heat's Big Three and the hard-to-trade Mike Miller (who, including this season, has three years and $18.6 million remaining on his contract), no one is making more than $4.1 million this season, which means they couldn't get a big man of value in return. If they make a trade, they'll be diminishing the system that won the championship.

There are teams that can hope to control the boards against the Heat, but Miami has more intimidating advantages -- a trapping defense that promises to perform at a higher level in the playoffs, an array of shooters to space the floor, four options in the fourth quarter and, of course, the best player in the game. When the playoffs come around, everyone else will be trying -- and likely failing -- to match up with them. Miami shouldn't damage its strength to deal with a weakness that might take care of itself once the playoffs begin.

Which players impressed you most at the D-League Showcase? -- Robbie Owen, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

I've spoken to a GM who believes the talent in the D-League has never been better, Robbie, and that there were at least 12 to 15 good NBA players at the Showcase. Here are a half-dozen of them:

Chris Wright, 6-1 G, Iowa Chris Johnson, 6-11 C, Santa Cruz Travis Leslie, 6-4 G, Santa Cruz Shelvin Mack, 6-3 G, Maine DaJuan Summers, 6-8 F, Maine Damion James, 6-7 F, Bakersfield (recently called up by the Nets)

After a miserable December, the Nets have bounced back. What's happening here? Is P.J. Carlesimoshowing he's the right coach for this team or is this a mirage fueled by an easy stretch of games?-- Dustin, Brooklyn

They've beaten teams they're supposed to beat, Dustin, but they also pummeled the Thunder at Oklahoma City and beat the Pacers on Sunday. They're shooting a better percentage, scoring more and rebounding more effectively than earlier in the year. With Deron Williams looking as if he's finding his way, the Nets ought to be among that second tier of playoff teams with a chance to earn home-court advantage in the opening round.

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