May 5, 2021

Ranking the 5 NBA Coaches Most Likely to be Fired

It was a rough start to the day for five NBA head coaches. 

The coaches for the Trail Blazers (Terry Stotts), Bucks (Mike Budenholzer), Pacers (Nate Bjorkgren), Kings (Luke Walton) and Wizards (Scott Brooks) were all put on notice thanks to the latest ShamsBomb from The Athletic. 

In this brutal, results-oriented business, even making the playoffs doesn't keep someone's job safe. We're looking at you, coach Bud. 

Which of these five coaches on the hottest of hot seats could survive? Are they all doomed? Below, we've ranked those five based on how likely it is that they'll be given the pink slip. 

5. Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards 

Want to know just how lucrative and cutthroat the coaching business is? Scott Brooks, who was hired in 2016, is already the NBA’s ninth longest-tenured head coach.

The Wizards are currently 20th in offensive and defensive rating and are looking at a likely play-in game. That's pretty disappointing for a franchise with playoff hopes entering the campaign. It doesn't help that Brooks is a lame-duck coach in the final year of his contract. 

The Athletic indicated there was a playoff mandate “of sorts” but it’s unclear if a play-in appearance qualifies for meeting that mandate. The Wizards have also been dealt a rash of injuries and games postponed due to COVID-19. It looks like owner Ted Leonsis could be ready to blow the whole front office up as well, with The Athletic reporting that “there have been questions swirling” regarding the future of general manager Tommy Sheppard’s job.

What Brooks does have going for him is that he’s got an incredible reputation among the players and staff within the organization, particularly Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal.

The Wizards have also won 13 of their last 16 games, so Washington might be making a late push to save Brooks' job. 

4. Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks 

Considering how successful Mike Budenholzer has been as Bucks coach, he's certainly the most intriguing name on the list of coaches whose jobs are in jeopardy. 

Milwaukee's man in charge has a .714 winning percentage in three seasons with the Bucks, but the lack of playoff success has made his seat extremely warm. 

Budenholzer’s future in Milwaukee is murky at best and he will reportedly need a deep playoff run to save his job, per The Athletic. 

Coach Bud is a fine coach, sure, but his resistance to making tactical changes in the playoffs could be his death knell. 

With Giannis Antetokounmpo signed to a long-term deal, the Bucks can't afford to waste away another season of the Greek Freak's prime.  

3. Nate Bjorkgren, Indiana Pacers 

It’s a surprise to see a first-year head coach already on the hot seat, but recent reports paint a worrisome picture of Nate Bjorkgren, who clearly has issues communicating with his players.

While the Pacers wanted to move away from Nate McMillan’s intense coaching tactics, Bjorkgren has surprisingly turned that up a notch. He’s been described as “abrasive” and “controlling” with players along with members of the coaching staff. 

Key players such as Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon have been at the forefront with their displeasure in Bjorkgren’s coaching style, and the coach has been “overly communicative” as of late to try to get his messages across.

Bjorkgren, who was heralded as an offensive-minded coach, has mildly improved the Pacers’ offensive efficiency, jumping from 19th to 15th. However, the Pacers have taken a drastic step back on defense after McMillan and top assistant Dan Burke departed.

What Bjorkgren does have on his side is that Pacers owner Herb Simon is cheap and wouldn't want to pay the rest of Bjorkgren's contract. Indiana never pays the luxury tax and has never fired a coach after one season, but Bjorkgren's failures might force him to change that. 

2. Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers 

Sometimes, a situation simply becomes stale and a new voice is needed.

That appears to be the case in Portland as Terry Stotts has been the Blazers' coach for the past nine seasons. After only one conference finals appearance in that span, it’s time for a change of scenery. According to the Athletic, Stotts has lost a good amount of player support, and barring an unlikely run he'll be let go after the season. 

This isn’t a Bjorkgren situation where Stotts is miserably failing at one of the most important aspects of the job. It’s just that nine years is an eternity in coaching years and it’s time for both sides to move on.

Despite injuries, the Blazers have remained a top-five offensive unit this season under Stotts’ watch and their preferred starting lineup has torched opponents. But with owner Jody Allen reportedly taking on more responsibility, she’s going to want to make a change in all likelihood.

1. Luke Walton, Sacramento Kings

Three things are certain in life: Death, taxes and the Kings firing their head coach. Since 2012, Sacramento has cycled through a whopping seven different head coaches. They also own the longest playoff drought in the league, which is more of an indictment on ownership than anything else.

But Luke Walton has done himself no favors. Over the offseason, Buddy Hield wouldn’t even answer his phone calls. On the court, Walton has presided over a wildly inconsistent unit that ranks dead last in defensive efficiency and is staring at yet another trip to the lottery.

But to his credit, Walton has developed strong connections with star point guard De’Aaron Fox and general manager Monte McNair. And to be fair, most coaches would struggle to produce a winning product with the Kings' roster.

Walton is also the potential beneficiary of a Kings' money crunch. According to the Athletic, Sacramento has lost approximately $100 million because of the pandemic, and Walton has $11.5 million left on his deal after this season. Whether they fire Walton or not could depend on Vivek Ranadivé's willingness to pay Walton's outstanding salary.

Maybe he can convert some of the Bitcoin the Kings have accepted to help foot the cost.

Photo: Getty Images