Before the start of the season, the expectation was that there were only a couple of teams that were not expected to compete this season. While the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves were expected to perform below standards, quite a few other teams are underachieving as we reach the midway point of the season. That provides a good reason for why the NBA coaching carousel could start sooner than the offseason.
The NBA Trade Deadline is set for March 25, so some of these coaches have a month to right the ship but that is going to be asking a lot. With that said, here are five head coaches in the league that are on the hot seat and could be out of a job very soon.
Rick Carlisle – Dallas Mavericks
At some point, the grace period has to end. Carlisle was the leader of the 2010 team that capture the franchise’s only NBA championship but it has been 11 years since that moment. Since then, the Mavericks haven’t made it out of the first round. Out of the last 11 seasons, Carlisle-led teams have qualified for the postseason only five times. In the last five seasons, the Mavericks have missed the playoffs three times.
Currently, the Mavericks own a 13-15 overall record and are the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference. With a young, stud sensation in Luke Doncic and a unicorn in Kristaps Porzingis, you would expect this franchise to be contending more than they are. Instead, it’s possible that the Mavericks could miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. If the Mavericks miss the playoffs, Carlisle has to be out. However, we’ll go a step further and say that first-round playoff exits shouldn’t be enough either. Carlisle is going to go down as a legend in Dallas but it’s time for a new face.
Ryan Saunders – Minnesota Timberwolves
Ryan is the son of longtime Timberwolves favorite Flip Saunders but that name title should only get you so far. Based on the family name, the 34-year old became one of the youngest head coaches in the league. At some point, your relation with your father shouldn’t be enough to keep your job.
Saunders went 17-25 during the 2018-2019 season after Tom Thibodeau was fired. In his first full season, Saunders guided a 19-45 campaign in which the team received the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, which was used on Anthony Edwards. In Year 2, the Timberwolves are once again dead last in the West and own a dismal 7-22 overall record. Granted, the team has faced injuries and COVID-19 issues with the team but one win for every three losses shouldn’t be enough. If the Timberwolves get the No. 1 overall pick for a second straight season, Saunders could be out of a job.
Scott Brooks – Washington Wizards
When the Wizards traded for Russell Westbrook, it seemed like this would be a great fit. Westbrook played for Brooks and the two have a solid rapport. Instead, the Wizards went from potential playoff contenders to the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference. At 9-17, the franchise has been faced with distractions each night about Westbrook’s poor shooting this season and Bradley Beal’s potential trade destination.
Brooks had a safety net the last two seasons due to John Wall’s injury that cost him part of his season two years ago, and all of last year. During the 2016-2017 season, his first at the helm, the Wizards won the Southeast Division and made a run in the playoffs before losing in six games in the conference semifinals. However, with this team underperforming with two superstars, this should be indicative of Brooks’ ability to coach the team.
Dwane Casey – Detroit Pistons
Casey has been dealt quite a hard hand the last three years. After winning NBA Coach of the Year in 2018, the Toronto Raptors let Casey go. In the end, it turned out to be the right decision as the team won an NBA championship. Casey landed with the Pistons and guided the team to the playoffs in his first year but a lot has changed since then. Andre Drummond was traded. Blake Griffin can’t stay healthy. In the year 2021, the Pistons are dead-last in the East with an 8-20 record.
At 63 years old, Casey might not be the right face to lead a rebuild. It’s going to be at least two to three years before the Pistons are relevant again. The Pistons are actively shopping Griffin and could be in line for the No. 1 overall pick this year. We should expect a new coach leading Detroit by the start of next season.
Steve Clifford – Orlando Magic
Before Markelle Fultz tore his ACL, the Orlando Magic were once leading the Eastern Conference. Since then, the Magic have fallen on hard times and are now 11-18 on the season, the No. 12 seed in the East, and have lost eight of their last 10 games. Two years ago, the Magic won the Southeast Division but were a first-round playoff exit. Last year, the Magic were 33-40 and barely made the playoffs and were once again a first-round playoff exit.
With Evan Fournier likely to leave in free agency and talks of Aaron Gordon on the trade block, this team has many more questions than answers. With the hard fall of the Magic this season, the team could look to tear everything down. Nikola Vucevic is rumored to be a trade chip after the completion of this season. If the Magic are going to rebuild through the draft, a new coach could be the new face of that regime.