Something unique happened in the NBA last season. No, not the Golden State Warriors easing to the title on the back of among the best rosters in recent memory. For the first time in 46 years, every head coach that started the season was still there at the end. Such a stat really merits reflection. Whether good, bad, or everything in between, not a single head coach was sacked.
Considering the high-pressure stakes, it is remarkable and it could be nearly 50 years before we see it happen again. Certainly, the coming 2017/2018 season seems very unlikely to be able to maintain a head coach roaster that it starts with.
We have chosen three coaches who are arguably under more pressure than most. Naturally, in the NBA anything could happen and any coach could be let go at any time, but these are among the most vulnerable at the start of the season.
Has Fred Hoiberg taken the Chicago Bulls has far as he can? The 2017/2018 NBA campaign is likely to be definitive in deciding that question. Hoiberg arguably holds some cards because he has a five-year deal and is entering his third season. Aside from asking why the Bulls handed such a lengthy contract, the middle season of Hoiberg’s tenure is becoming increasingly important.
Last season, the front office started making noises, with VP of Basketball Operations, John Paxson stating Hoiberg must “find ways to be a better leader”. So few words, but blunt and damaging as they immediately undermine the leadership qualities of the coach. Players read this stuff, and if the front office is not convinced, how can the roster be?
Paxson did admit that Hoiberg had been dealt a poor hand in terms of roster selection. However, it is unlikely the management will continue to share the blame heading towards 2018. If Chicago starts sluggish, expect Hoiberg to be in the firing line before the New Year.
No list of at-risk tacticians would be complete without discussing Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors, so many times has he walked a thin line. He has been north of the border for three seasons and through each of them there have been solid talk that he will be fired.
Somehow, Casey has always been able to squeeze enough from the Raptors to ensure he stayed in the hot seat. Like Hoiberg, Casey has often been hampered by a middling roster. It is arguable that the head coach has done an excellent job getting Toronto to the play-offs. However, the pressure will be on this season as the Eastern Conference is hardly strong.
The Raptors will be expected to perform well, but may still not have the roster to match the Cavs or Celtics, for example.
On the surface, it seems unlikely that Lue will be removed from the hot seat of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Scratch a little, though, and you will see problems. Chief among them is that Lue seems to be struggling to keep his roster together.
After winning the NBA championships in 2016, the Cavs were damaged by a rampant Golden State Warriors in the 2017 finals. While two consecutive finals series have probably bought Lue time and certainly a full swing this season, how players respond will be important. Kyrie Irving already wants out, and there are rumbles that LeBron James will once again leave the Cavs next season.
Lue will need a big season and will need to convince LeBron that he can take the franchise forward. Certainly, there is no other championship coming to Cleveland without James leading the team. If LeBron decided to leave in 2018, Lue will undoubtedly pay the price. Yes, he is almost certainly safe for the season, but keep an eye out anyway.