NBA coaches on the hot seat: Is Scott Brooks' time in DC coming to an end?

Profile Picture: Andrew Champagne

January 12th, 2021

When any professional sports team struggles, the focus tends to shift to the head coach. It’s often easier to scapegoat a coach as the issue and make a change at the top, and rumblings are already starting despite the 72-game NBA season not even being 20% complete.

Here are the top five coaches and situations to watch, for various reasons.

5. J. B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers

This is a strange situation. Bickerstaff was an assistant under then-head coach John Beilein to start the 2019-20 season, but took over when Beilein resigned in February. Bickerstaff did agree to a contract extension, but the Cavaliers have dropped six of their last eight games as of this writing and are now 5-6.

It’s probably a bit too soon to start wondering if Cleveland will make a change at the top if the team sputters, and the core of Collin Sexton and Andre Drummond could lead the Cavs to a decent season. However, Bickerstaff wasn’t Plan A for Cleveland, an organization that suffered through back-to-back 19-win seasons coming into this year.

4. Steve Nash, Brooklyn Nets

There was as much buzz around the Nets as any team in the Eastern Conference. Kevin Durant was healthy and set to pair with fellow superstar Kyrie Irving in Nash’s first season as a head coach.

It hasn’t exactly worked out that way. Durant has looked like his old self and is averaging more than 29 points per game, but Irving bolted earlier this month and nobody’s quite sure when he’ll be back. These situations can take a toll on any coach, let alone a first-year one like Nash. They’re 5-6 right now, and perhaps it’s too early to hit the panic button, but it’s certainly a situation to watch.

3. Ryan Saunders, Minnesota Timberwolves

Ryan Saunders is Flip’s son, which makes him basketball royalty in the "Land of 10,000 Lakes." Unfortunately, his teams haven’t been up to snuff to this point. The Timberwolves went 17-25 during the first 42 games of Saunders’s tenure in 2018-19, and floundered to a 19-45 mark in 2019-20.

This season started with two straight wins, but was immediately followed by a seven-game losing streak that included five losses by 15 points or more. Some of that can undoubtedly be attributed to the loss of Karl-Anthony Towns to an injury, and his return may have a significant impact on the squad. If it doesn’t, though, it could be a long, cold winter in Minnesota.

2. Dwane Casey, Detroit Pistons

How rough has it been for recent Detroit head coaches? Consider this: Flip Saunders, who coached from 2005 to 2008, was fired after going 176-70 in the Motor City. None of the six Pistons coaches since have had winning records.

Casey led the Pistons to a 41-win season in 2018-19, but Detroit slumped to a 20-46 mark in 2019-20 and has dropped eight of its first 10 games of this campaign. The Pistons are last in the Eastern Conference as of this writing, and if they don’t turn it around soon, it’s not hard to see a scenario where Casey’s seat gets warm.

1. Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards

Scott Brooks headed to Washington after a strong tenure in Oklahoma City where he guided the Thunder to five straight playoff appearances. His time in the nation’s capital started well enough, as the Wizards made the postseason in 2017 and 2018 after 49 and 43-win seasons.

The squad has fallen on hard times since. Washington was a combined 57-97 over the last two seasons and dealt longtime cornerstone John Wall prior to the 2020-21 campaign. The backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal may sound appealing, but that sizzle hasn’t translated into any success so far this season, as the Wizards are 3-8. There’s plenty of time for the team’s fortunes to change, but if they don’t, it may be Brooks who departs next.