There have been a handful of coaching changes during this NBA offseason, but just because a coach wasn’t fired recently doesn’t mean his job is safe for the next campaign.
Here are five coaches whose seats could be feeling a bit warmer for 2019-2020.
5. Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks
In his first season with the team, Budenholzer won Coach of the Year by leading Milwaukee to a 60-22 record, earning the Eastern Conference’s first seed in the process. The Bucks made the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2000-2001, and Giannis Antetekounmpo won MVP.
So, why is Budenholzer’s name on this list?
Well, after dominating the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics, Milwaukee took the first two games of the ECF against the Toronto Raptors, only to lose the next four. The last time Budenholzer led a team to the first seed prior to 2018-19, the Atlanta Hawks were swept in the ECF.
Milwaukee is in a prime position with the title race so wide open. There is parity in the league, and the Bucks have to take advantage of that. If Budenholzer once again cannot get over that last hurdle and take his team to the NBA Finals, it may be time to look for other options considering Antetokounmpo’s upcoming free agency.
4. Ryan Saunders, Minnesota Timberwolves
When Tom Thibodeau was fired in January, it was a great story when Saunders took over. At 33 years old, he was the youngest head coach in the NBA and the son of the late Flip Saunders, a former Timberwolves coach himself. The Timberwolves finished 36-46 last season, with Saunders going 17-25.
Minnesota has to give Saunders a chance before his seat becomes hot, but there is a lot of pressure to start winning. Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the best young players in the game, and he has been to the postseason once in his four-year career. The team is cash-strapped due to poor decisions, such as maxing Andrew Wiggins and signing Gorgui Dieng to a four-year, $63 million contract. Minnesota had the massive benefit of KAT playing on his rookie deal up until now and did little to take advantage of that, with the Jimmy Butler trade backfiring after an initial season of success.
Now, the Timberwolves don’t really have any clear way to improve the team. That’s not Saunders’ fault, but he may end up taking the fall for it in the near future, especially if Towns starts getting frustrated.
3. Frank Vogel, Los Angeles Lakers
Vogel is a well-respected coach, but getting fired by the lowly Orlando Magic isn’t exactly a positive on one’s resume. After leading the Indiana Pacers to five playoff appearances in six seasons, Vogel now has the task of balancing a Lakers team that has championship aspirations.
Vogel was just hired, so there’s no way he gets canned during his first season, right?
The same was said about former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt, who was let go midway through his second season with the team after going a combined 83-40. That was nearly five years ago. LeBron James will be 35 this season, and he doesn’t have time to wait and see if a new head coach is going to pan out.
If Vogel doesn’t get results quickly, he could be gone even faster.
2. Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers
Brown will be entering his seventh season with Philly, and he has helped turn them from the worst team in the NBA to a potential title contender. But despite finishing as the No. 3 seed each of the last two seasons, the Sixers have not made it out of the second round. That may have changed if Kawhi Leonard’s miraculous Game 7 buzzer-beater bounced a bit differently, but that’s irrelevant now.
Philadelphia may have lost Jimmy Butler to free agency, but the starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, and Joel Embiid is still one of the best in the league. With how wide open the NBA is now, missing the conference finals once again could be the last straw for management after some rumblings Brown may be let go this offseason. He has some work to do.
1. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
Consistently regarded as one of the best coaches in the game, Stevens’ tenure with Boston has been successful. In six seasons with the Celtics, he has five playoff appearances, five top-three finishes, and two ECF berths, including taking the Cavaliers to seven games in 2018. Last season was supposed to be when Boston took the next step, as LeBron James was finally out of the conference.
Instead, the opposite happened. There was regression across the board, the locker room was toxic all season long, and after sweeping the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers in the first round, Boston was pounded 4-1 by the Bucks in Round 2. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford departed in free agency, replaced by Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. Stevens struggled to manage all the big egos on the team, and he has yet to prove he can manage all the young players and keep them playing in cohesion.
The Celtics are still supremely talented, but Stevens has to lead better. Just one year ago, he may have been the most secure coach in the league. Now, he has to be looking over his shoulder.