- The 11 NBA coaches who take on new jobs this season will all be expected to prove their mettle, but who is under the most pressure? SI.com investigates.
Over one-third of NBA teams will have new coaches in the 2016–17 season, as 11 head-coaching jobs switched hands during the course of the summer. Some of the new coaching staffs will take over playoff teams, while others will assume control over largely young rosters.
Which of the 11 coaches will be under the most pressure to win? Here’s SI.com’s ranking of the teams who have the highest expectations for their new leading man.
Tier 1: The front office threw money around
1. Jeff Hornacek, Knicks
Hornacek looks like he’ll be expected to win out of the gate, with Phil Jackson adding Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee to a roster that includes Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. Adding pricey veterans is a surefire sign that Jackson intends to push hard to make the playoffs for the first time during his tenure as president. Melo isn’t getting any younger, and with the Knicks seemingly refusing to trade him, they’re opting out of a rebuild around young talent. Hornacek won’t be coaching for his job or anything like that, but if the Knicks seriously stumble after a summer spending spree, bigger changes could be in store for the roster next year.
2. Frank Vogel, Magic
The Magic had a fairly bizarre off-season, parting ways with Scott Skiles out of nowhere, swooping up Vogel after his own surprising departure, and then loading up their frontcourt with a few veterans to accelerate their rebuild. The additions of Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and, yes, Jeff Green, mean management wants a playoff run in Orlando. The Magic broke up their core a bit this summer by trading Victor Oladipo and a lottery pick for Ibaka, signaling a little bit of impatience. Vogel will be expected to have the team playing tough defense with its newly designed, shot-blocking frontcourt. The Magic have missed the postseason for four straight years after six straight seasons in the playoffs, and that appears to be the baseline for Vogel, who wasn’t hired to babysit.
3. Mike D’Antoni, Rockets
D’Antoni joins a team with one of the top 15 players in the NBA in James Harden, who is one summer removed from being named MVP by his peers and leading Houston to a Western Conference Final. The Rockets let Dwight Howard walk this summer, but subbed the capable Clint Capela in his place, and added Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson on big contracts. D’Antoni will be under pressure to win because GM Daryl Morey is under pressure as well, with many of Morey’s well-intentioned tactics having gone awry during his tenure in Houston. The combination of Harden’s extension, D’Antoni’s experience, and the off-season additions means Houston is all-in on making it back near the top of the conference.
Tier 2: Stepping into existing talent
4. Scott Brooks, Wizards
The Wizards hardly touched their roster this off-season, handing Bradley Beal a max contract and bringing in Ian Mahinmi to backup Marcin Gortat. Instead, Brooks was the big move, and the former Thunder coach will take over for the beleaguered Randy Wittman. Washington’s front office clearly believes its roster has the talent to challenge in the East, but the Wizards have failed to come close to living up to that potential. Last season, the team faltered amid an attempt to play faster on offense. It’s possible Brooks is given only one year with this core before the roster changes dramatically.
5. Nate McMillan, Pacers
McMillan was an assistant under Vogel last season, and now takes over for him in Indy. The Pacers nearly upset the Raptors in the first round of the playoffs, and still have one of the best two-way players in the NBA in Paul George. Vogel was extremely successful during his tenure as coach, which puts a lot of pressure on McMillan to improve on his predecessor's accomplishments. It will be a tough spot for McMillan, who’ll have to do more with a roster that already seemed to be maxing out its capabilities. The additions of Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson should help, but McMillan will ultimately have to lean heavily on George to coax more wins and satisfy the front office.
6. David Fizdale, Grizzlies
Memphis kept its core together this off-season, which meant handing out a massive contract to Mike Conley. Fizdale will be expected to bring a hint of modernity to the grit-and-grind offense, and should be aided by the addition of Chandler Parsons, provided he stays healthy. It’s a little unclear how much more magic Memphis’s aging frontcourt of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph has left in the tank as a tandem, which should buy Fizdale a little leeway if the team finally decides to go younger next summer.
Tier three: The Kings
7. Dave Joerger, Kings
The Kings get their own category because they have a new coach seemingly every few months. Joerger will be the latest coach tasked with forming a lasting bond with mercurial center and immense talent DeMarcus Cousins. Even a good relationship with Cousins doesn’t guarantee job safety however, as Mike Malone learned a couple coaches ago. To their credit, the Kings didn’t do any crazy spending this off-season, but they still have a largely veteran roster that mostly lacks young talent to pair with Cousins. The expectation here is playoffs, but Joerger could be in this job anywhere between 10 months and 10 years.
Tier four: The rebuilders
8. Tom Thibodeau, Timberwolves
9. Earl Watson, Suns
10. Luke Walton, L.A. Lakers
11. Kenny Atkinson, Nets
None of these coaches should be expected to win big next year. Thibodeau is in the enviable position of having a plethora of young talent, and as the team’s president, he can watch the core grow together or try to package some players for a star. The Wolves will start to win more as their players mature, but Thibodeau will have at least a year to lurk in the Warriors’ shadow before he needs to take the next step.
Watson was brought back to Phoenix despite a nine-win stint as interim coach. Watson will get to coach a burgeoning star in Devin Booker, and the Suns brought in solid veteran caretakers for their younger players. Walton will oversee a complete rebuild of the Lakers, even though L.A. handed out a couple big contracts this summer. The Lakers clearly considered Walton a splashy hire, so he’ll likely be given the benefit of the doubt until the front office can swing a big move. Lastly, in Brooklyn, if the Nets expect Atkinson to win any time soon, that would just be mean.