The 5 NBA Coaches With the Most to Prove This Season
The NBA head coach scene, for the moment, is rather tame. This summer didn’t see all that much in the way of coaching turnover, certainly not in comparison to the epic amount of player movement and roster overhauls.
Still water runs deep, however. With so many changes and so many teams in contention this upcoming season, there will be plenty of NBA coaches facing enormous pressure to produce.
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No surprises here; coaching LeBron James comes with a permanent spot on the hot seat. James has had a tumultuous relationship with his former head coaches, to say the least.
Coaching the best player in the world is a challenge. It doesn’t help Vogel’s case that LA’s roster is a confusing mix of veterans and fringe role players. Either way, there will be enormous pressure on the Lakers to succeed this season. Vogel will be the most obvious scapegoat. (Even beyond Dwight Howard.)
To his credit, Vogel is an accomplished, well-respected head coach. He is among the most winningest coaches - regular and postseason - active in the Association, and has consistently had a strong rapport with his players. Vogel knows what he’s doing.
All that said, he’ll be coaching for his job during the entirety of the season. The cross-town Clippers will only bring added pressure to a Lakers team that hasn’t qualified for the playoffs in seven years. If things go south for the Purple and Gold, it may cost Vogel his job.
While the relationship between the Lakers, LeBron, and Frank Vogel is at present perfectly amiable, the situation on Houston’s sidelines is a little more complicated.
Mike “The Cat” D’Antoni has posted a 173-73 record since becoming the head coach of the Rockets. Regardless, he and Clutch City have continued to disagree about a possible contract extension.
This couldn’t come at a worse time for D’Antoni. Already Houston’s chemistry woes became the worst-kept secret in the NBA this summer. The Rockets have already switched up some of their assistant coaches, are Daryl Morey and Co. really going to let D’Antoni head into the season without a guaranteed future and a bad taste in his mouth?
The addition of Russell Westbrook will change everything for Houson. Sure, pairing Brodie with James Harden has led to some excellent t-shirts, but it also means D’Antoni will need to build an offense around the two most ball-dominant players in the league.
Houston has disappointed in consecutive postseasons. After such a mammoth trade to bring Westbrook aboard, the stakes are even higher for the Rockets. That the team is allowing for such a tumultuous head coaching situation to persist is ludacris, to say the least.
In all likelihood, Brett Brown will not be coaching for his job next season. He and Philadelphia negotiated a three-year contract extension shortly after Brown’s Sixers were eliminated from the playoffs this spring.
That does not mean, though, that Brown’s time under the microscope is over. There are big question marks surrounding the growth of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid’s conditioning, and Al Horford’s knees. Although Philadelphia has tremendous talent on paper, the team has a lot to prove, Brown included.
Charismatic as he may be, there are real doubts about Brown’s Xs and Os, the way he manages his minutes, and his ability to adapt in a league that increasingly demands innovative thinking. A tremendous personality for sure, his coaching abilities will be under intense scrutiny all season long.
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Kenny Atkinson has had a long, long relationship with basketball. He’s played and coached overseas for over 35 years, but is embarking on just his fourth season as a head coach in the NBA.
As the front-man for an over-achieving Brooklyn Nets team, Atkinson’s dynamic play calling was admirable. He consistently brought out the best in his young teams, and dealt with roster turnover and limited assets quite well.
So how will Atkinson adapt to bringing on the likes of Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, and eventually Kevin Durant? Systematically.
“We have our intel, we do our due-diligence, but we don’t prejudge.” Atkinson told the New York Daily News. “I think the strategy is how can we fit this player the best possible way into our culture. That’s all of our jobs. We do it as a group. We do it collaboratively. I feel like our culture is strong enough no matter what type of player we bring in.”
Is Atkinson being overly-optimistic as Hurricane Kyrie rolls into Brooklyn? Time will tell. Atkinson has never coached under such bright lights, let alone with really anything to lose. He’s only ever presided over a team playing with house money, and now finds himself in charge of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant - two of the most consistently miserable players in the NBA.
Like Brett Brown, Nick Nurse isn’t likely to lose his job this season. After all, he just brought Toronto to the promise-land. But with Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles, we’ll finally get to see what Nurse really brings to the table.
It was an incredible vote of confidence by Toronto’s front office to replace 2018 Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey with the untested Nurse. And while Nurse obviously passed, he had plenty of help. Leonard gifted the Raptors a championship, and leaves the organization with more questions than answers. Where the team goes next is unclear, as is Nurse’s ability to take them there.
Nurse spent years coaching the now NBA G-League. His ability to work with young players isn’t really in question. But the Raptors roster also features veteran players who will expect playing time. To make matters worse, it is expected that Toronto will remain pretty competitive next season. Much of that rests on Nurse.