For the first time since the 1975-76 season, when the league comprised of 18 teams, every single NBA team came into this season with the same head coach who finished the previous season. Last season was a rare year for coaching stability in the league, so it makes sense that after a chaotic summer of player movement, we now have our first coaching change of the 2017-18 season less than a week after opening night.
On Sunday, the Phoenix Suns announced the firing of head coach Earl Watson, who took over on an interim basis in February 2016 after Jeff Hornacek was let go. Watson finished with a 33-85 record as head coach of the team. The Suns are 0-3 this year. They lost their home opener by 48 points to Portland, the worst loss in NBA franchise history, and the largest deficit any team has lost by on opening night in league history. On Saturday, the Suns lost by 42 points in Phoenix. Owner Robert Sarver had apparently seen enough, and now assistant coach Jay Triano takes over in an interim basis.
We're still very early in the season, but with the firing of Watson, here's a look at the NBA coaches hot seat ranking.
Fred Hoiberg, Bulls
Since vice president of basketball operations John Paxton's latest vote of confidence for Hoiberg, who entered this season with an 83-83 record as head coach of the Bulls, much has changed with this team, most notably a fight in practice between Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic that left Mirotic with two fractured bones in his face and a concussion that will keep him out for over a month. Portis, who was suspended eight games, has since issued a public apology, but it's unclear whether the two can co-exist as teammates moving forward, and even more uncertain is whether Hoiberg can restore order within this team.
While the Portis-Mirotic fight might have been an isolated incident, it does raise questions as to whether Hoiberg is the right man to lead a young group. Chicago is going to lose a lot of games this season, and if things continue to take a turn for the worse within the Bulls locker room, Paxson's vote of confidence for Hoiberg could become a distant memory very quickly.
Alvin Gentry, Pelicans
It was not long ago, after the Warriors won a championship in 2015, when Gentry -- who was leaving his post as assistant coach in Golden State to become the head coach in New Orleans -- celebrated the title in the locker room and gleefully told Anthony Davis they would be in the Finals the following season. Gentry's New Orleans stint has been marred by injuries and slow starts. In his first two seasons as head coach, the Pelicans have been out of the playoff race before the new calendar year. Even last year's mid-season acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins didn't result in a late postseason push for the team.
The Pelicans opened this season with back-to-back losses, and blew a 22-point lead in the second half against the Lakers on Sunday before rebounding to get their first win of the season. Outside of Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans have an imperfect roster, with overpaid role players and a lack of depth that leaves them as a second-tier team in the West, at best.
But time is ticking. Cousins is a free agent at the end of the season. Davis' free agency is still a few years away, but he's already looking like the next superstar to flee to a new destination. If the Pelicans are below .500 a month into the season, it wouldn't be a surprise if they made a midseason coaching change to try and salvage what could be the final season of the Cousins-Davis pairing.
Frank Vogel, Magic
The Orlando Magic are 2-1 on the season, but make no mistake, this is a franchise that currently lingers in basketball purgatory. They've missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, and while they've drafted regularly in the lottery, the Magic don't have a single player on their team that you would point to as a potential franchise player.
Instead, they have promising pieces that don't really add up to a particularly competent roster that can compete for a playoff spot in the East. Jonathan Isaac is interesting as a rookie prospect, but the Magic also have a bunch of guys on the team that once carried the same potential as Isaac, including Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja and Elfrid Payton. Toss in Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier and Bismack Biyombo, and it's a roster that's been cobbled together without a particular vision.
In his second season in Orlando, it's unclear where this Magic team is going in what is expected to be another rebuilding season. For Vogel, the evaluation will probably come from the development of the young players on this team, and his ability to coax a league-average defensive unit out of this group. It's hard to rule out a coaching change in Orlando, especially given the uncertainty with the current collection of players on the roster.
Brett Brown, Sixers
It would be especially cruel if the Philadelphia 76ers parted ways with Brown after he spent so many seasons losing games so the team would get as many lottery ball combinations as possible for the draft. But it's worth noting that current general manager Bryan Colangelo was not the person who brought on Brown in the first place.
Some people, including many in the fan base, expect the Sixers to compete for a playoff spot this season, especially in the Eastern Conference, where a below-.500 record might still earn you one of the final two playoff spots. The Sixers have lost all three games so far, and it's a wonder whether they'll need to go through another rebuilding season before the young core learns how to win.
At some point, Colangelo's patience will run out, and the results will outweigh, well, the process. The team has brought in veterans including Jerryd Bayless, J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson over the past few seasons. They traded a future first round pick to move up and select Markelle Fultz at the draft. Sixers management has started making win-now moves, which means if Philadelphia's terrible start continues into November, we could start hearing more about Brown's job security with the Sixers.
Jeff Hornacek, Knicks
The New York Knicks are in full rebuilding mode, but that doesn't mean it will be a relatively quiet year at Madison Square Garden this season. The onus is now on Hornacek to continue the development of Kristaps Porzingis in his third season. Rookie guard Frank Ntilikina injured his ankle in practice last week, and might not be a regular contributor this season. Outside of those two, the Knicks have a roster that is several years away, with significant money tied up to players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Joakim Noah.
With Phil Jackson no longer part of the decision-making process, and Carmelo Anthony trying to find new life in Oklahoma City, the spotlight will be on Hornacek if things get ugly in New York. The Knicks don't have a lot of trade chips to improve the roster via trade. There's limited roster upside outside of Porzingis. Which means if a shake-up is needed in New York this season, a head coaching change will likely be the first move.
Doc Rivers, Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers went under a roster makeover this summer after the departure of Chris Paul, but the front office of the team also looks drastically different. With the hiring of Jerry West, Rivers was relieved of his front office duties, which means now the focus on him is squarely as head coach of the team.
Rivers earned his reputation as one of the game's top head coaches in Boston, guiding the team to a championship in 2008. His tenure in Los Angeles will be remembered for their playoff shortcomings and the annual heartbreak the Clips gave their fans every postseason. The rebuilt roster around Blake Griffin should compete for a playoff spot in the West, even with the news of Milos Teodosic's plantar fascia injury, which will keep him out indefinitely.
If the Clippers find themselves out of the playoff race by midseason, it wouldn't surprise anyone if Rivers is on the hot seat.
And the rest …
These are less likely candidates to be fired, but worth considering … The Thunder (probably) have just a one-year window with the trio of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. A midseason coaching change would be surprising, but given the urgency of the situation, Billy Donovan's seat will remain pretty warm until the new roster figures it out and starts winning games on a regular basis … The Kings have a promising new roster, and even in another rebuilding season, it would appear that Dave Joerger's job is safe. But this is also a franchise that has reversed course and changed their mind on things in the past, so, let's just keep that in mind … The Raptors have taken care of business in their first two home games of the season, but a six-game West Coast trip looms. An early season losing streak would put the spotlight on Dwane Casey once again … Terry Stotts is in his sixth season as head coach of the Blazers. Portland has regressed in the win column for three consecutive seasons. If they aren't in a playoff spot by December, it's another potential head coaching change to consider.