Being an NBA coach isn’t the most secure job in the world. The current average tenure for head coaches in the league is almost four years. Take Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle out of that equation and it makes for even starker reading – at just over two years.
That’s less than 800 days to be given a team and change its fortunes to meet a general manager’s needs.
So why are so many NBA coaches now being given such strict time requirements? Is it an unavoidable aspect of the job? Or should front offices give their coaches more time?
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Losses cost money
In an era where the NBA’s best players are being paid upward of $100m over their contracts, money means a lot to NBA franchises across North America. If you’re losing too many games it will undoubtedly cost your team money, be it due to lower attendances or lack of merchandise sales.
One of the biggest NBA teams proves as great evidence at this very point in time.
Following some of the worst seasons in franchise history and the retirement of Kobe Bryant, the L.A. Lakers had little option but to part ways with Byron Scott.
Leaving with an astonishingly poor 38-126 record (good for .227 if win percentage is your thing), he resided over what’s arguably the darkest days of the Lakers franchise. It’s cost him a job, but opened a door for a former Lakers player to head into the risky game of head coaching – Luke Walton.
Working with the reigning NBA champs, and helping guide them to an unbeaten start to this season – Walton is set to sit in the hot seat in the Staples Center next year. But he’ll need to realise quickly that it might be a bit warmer than the one he was filling in Steve Kerr’s absence.
Julius Randle is not a Stephen Curry, nor Roy Hibbert a Draymond Green. He’ll have to work incredibly hard to make those kinds of players reach the postseason.
He quickly needs to galvanise that roster following Kobe’s departure, and it might prove tricky.
He’ll require them to ‘buy-in’ to his strategy, one that’s no doubt been seen by the front office of the Lakers already.
Getting players to buy in…
One coach which failed dramatically at getting his players to ‘buy-in’ was George Karl, who was fired by the Sacramento Kings following their disastrous season.
Karl was originally thought to be a good appointment, with many touting his success with the Denver Nuggets. However, his approach wasn’t appreciated by the likes of DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo, both of whom effectively pushed him off the edge of the cliff at the end of the season.
Cousins and Karl had their ups and downs over his tenure, with Cousins even calling the coach out over a comment made about Seth Curry on live television.
Simply put, the star player and the coach weren’t getting on, and nine times out of ten that spells more bad news for the coach than the player. The coach can be fired, players on the other hand – tend to dodge the bullet.
Plus, if you happen to have a losing record – it makes it even easier to send a coach packing.
But even if you win your job isn’t exactly safe...
Winning doesn’t mean you’re staying
A trend that’s developed more and more over the past few years in particular has been the firing of coaches that are actually winning games.
Mark Jackson, Tom Thibodeau and Frank Vogel are clear examples.
Jackson had a 121-109 record, he lasted three seasons with the Golden State Warriors. Thibodeau had a 255-139 record with the Chicago Bulls, he was given the boot after five.
Even Vogel, who pushed a seemingly short-handed Pacers team to a seven game series just a few weeks ago couldn’t keep his job despite five out of six winning seasons.
It goes to show that wins aren’t necessarily everything they’re cracked up to be, especially if your GM has got higher hopes.
Of course, the firing of Mark Jackson has backed the strategy, with Steve Kerr coming into Golden State and winning a championship in his first season.
However, the Chicago Bulls have struggled massively since ditching Thibodeau, it’s effectively a coin-flip which often relies on a mixture of a team’s roster and what coach the team brings in.
Of course, other coaches aren’t so unlucky…
It’s not all Firings, you know?
Whilst there are always vacancies in the coaching market at the end of the regular season, there are a couple of coaches that could be considered lucky to have their jobs intact.
Brett Brown is one such coach, who despite presiding over a Philadelphia 76ers team that’s won just 23% of its games is still in a job – and rightly so.
Having signed on with Sam Hinkie’s ‘process’ in mind, the 76ers have been designed to lose in an effort to bring in high draft picks, and so far it’s not gone to plan.
Fans have been hard to spot in the Wells Fargo Center, and Philadelphia isn’t seen as a desirable location for anyone even remotely related to the league.
However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, with yet another high draft pick sure to bring at least a few more wins to the franchise.
Time will only tell if it works, but if the rot lasts much longer, it might be Brown who’s taking the fall, in spite of doing exactly what he’s been told to do since coming into Philadelphia.
Is anyone’s job safe?
Following the shock firing of Memphis coach Dave Joerger, who’s now taken over at the Sacramento Kings, it’s hard to effectively guarantee a coach’s job security – unless they’re winning championships.
So, whilst the likes of George Karl, Byron Scott and Frank Vogel are looking for work, there are some coaches who can rest easy.
Until the beginning of next season, of course...