The next coach fired in the NBA will have at least stayed on the job longer this season than Mike Brown. So there's that.
Yes, nothing will match the Lakers' speed record, giving up on Brown after five games, then ignoring an 11-time champion (Phil Jackson) for someone with zero titles (Mike D'Antoni). Not only do the Lakers get the grand prize for impatience, they also get a Guts award for showing lots of them by telling Jackson no thanks. We'll see how that turns out in April.
As for the other 29 teams, what can we expect this summer? More patience, less guts? Lots of openings or just a scattered few changes? Much will depend on the whims of new ownership in Memphis and Sacramento and fairly new owners in Philadelphia and Detroit. And a few coaches of winning teams, most notably Lionel Hollins and Vinny Del Negro, are free agents this summer, and anything can happen in those cases.
With a month and a half left in the season we take a snapshot of the most curious coaching situations in the league and weigh in. The Lakers, Bucks, Nets and Suns got an early jump on everyone and already put new coaches in place. Who's got next?
Larry Drew, Hawks. Now in this third season, he has squeezed as much blood as possible from the stony Hawks. Nobody's idea of a contender, the Hawks reached the 2011 East semis and then, after losing Joe Johnson last summer, have stayed among the top five or six teams in the East. Plus, Jeff Teague is developing nicely under Drew and now appears to be the Hawks' point guard of the future. Drew also showed some backbone by suspending Josh Smith just weeks before the All-Star rosters were chosen; he took a big risk and still managed to keep a workable relationship with Smith.
The Hawks hired Drew because he came cheap, not necessarily because he was the best choice at the time, but he has been well worth the pennies. The only issue is whether new GM Danny Ferry, who didn't hire Drew, wants his own guy. Ferry didn't give Drew an extension last fall, choosing a wait-and-see approach, but you really have to wonder what, if any, red flags Ferry sees at the moment. And the Hawks aren't the type of organization to shell out big money for a big-name coach. For that reason alone, it would be mildly surprising if Drew didn't return.
Lawrence Frank, Pistons. He assumed a team in transition and the Pistons, two years later, are still stuck at the starting line with a pair of flat tires. The results haven't been very encouraging and yet there are no outward signs of heat on Frank, either. Hey, the late Chuck Daly couldn't coach this crew to respectability. In a sense, Frank has served as a sacrificial lamb during a rebuilding process, someone to keep the coaching seat warm while the Pistons stockpile talent and put themselves in position to win.
Does Joe Dumars have confidence in Frank being the guy to lead the club at the next level of development? Or does Dumars spend the money and go with a more proven coach? That's really the only question. The Pistons are a lottery pick or two away, and that's in Frank's favor. As long as Frank's relationship with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond is solid -- because those players represent the future -- he should last at least another year.
Vinny Del Negro, Clippers. His status will be determined by how far the Clippers go in the playoffs and whether Chris Paul wants him back. It's rare when the coach of a potential championship contender, and current holder of the fourth-best record in the league, is forced to work with no parachute. Welcome to Del Negro's world. So much of the Clippers' success is tied to Paul that Del Negro is mostly dismissed as a coach who can only screw things up.
Also, the Clippers realize they wouldn't need to twist another coach's arm to take the job. It's a position that might get interest from some interesting names: Jeff Van Gundy, his brother Stan, maybe even Phil Jackson. If the Clippers are done by the first round Del Negro will surely be history. If they travel deep and Paul re-signs then Vinny sticks around.
Lionel Hollins, Grizzlies. The three great modern mysteries of mankind: Hand-held devices, Donald Trump's hair and why the Grizzlies haven't extended Hollins yet. He has squeezed the max out of this team for most of his time in Memphis. The grindhouse Grizzlies work hard for him and respond well to him. Memphis reached the West semis two years ago in a stirring run and lost in seven games to the Clippers last spring. If anything, Hollins should be suspicious of working for the Grizzlies, not vice-versa, considering how ownership shipped away Rudy Gay now rather than waiting until summer.
Being a free agent isn't so bad, though. Hollins would be in demand almost anywhere … but there's a twist. "I want to stay here," he said. "I think I will." Most likely, the new ownership in Memphis just wants to take inventory before making a commitment, and if so, that's understandable. But if Memphis is still wondering if Hollins is the right coach, he should make like Elvis and leave the building.
Jim Boylan, Bucks. He has local cred as the brainy point guard who led Marquette to the 1977 championship. That was when Al McGuire covered his face and shed tears of joy. Well, Milwaukee hasn't cried since. The city hasn't won another title in any sport, unless the Packers count. As for the Bucks, their last playoff series victory was 2001 and they're on their fifth coach in 10 years.
For that reason, Boylan, who took over for Scott Skiles in January, is likely safe as the Bucks once again enter a period of reinvention. He showed leadership by cutting Brandon Jennings' minutes when the point guard took a few too many wild shots, and has prioritized the encouraging development of Larry Sanders, who looks like a beast. Boylan deserves the chance to show what he can do with a training camp and a stable roster, and the Bucks have no reason to conduct an outside search or spend heavily on a bigger name. With a few breaks and some smart personnel decisions -- OK, that's asking a lot -- maybe Boylan and Milwaukee will toss confetti again in the future.
P.J. Carlesimo, Nets. He won 14 of 20 games after taking over for Avery Johnson and pulled the Nets out of depression. That should allow Carlesimo to coach beyond this season, but there's hardly a guarantee he'll survive, even if he wins a round in the playoffs. The Nets have too much tied into these initial years in Brooklyn to risk turning the team over to a former assistant who hasn't been on anyone's radar in years. If owner Mikhail Prokhorov gets restless and itchy for a big name then Carlesimo's days are numbered.
This is their honeymoon season in Brooklyn and sellouts were expected. If they struggle next season, it could be a semi-disaster and Knicks shirts might start selling briskly in Brooklyn. Besides, if Billy King, whose contract runs out this summer, isn't welcomed back, then Carlesimo's fate would be decided by a new GM who might want his own guy.
Doug Collins, Sixers. When Collins went blast a week ago, he was shocked to learn that folks interpreted it to mean Collins was blaming this disastrous Sixers season on the players. "If everybody looked at themselves as much as I did, this world would be a CAT scan," he said then. "Sometimes you've got to help yourself. There's nothing wrong with our preparation. I looked out there to start the game, three guys weren't even sweating. They were going to ease themselves to start the game. You've got to be sweaty. You've got to be ready to go."
Well, maybe it was Collins punching his own clock in a sense; his longest stay in his three previous coaching stops was three years. It's now Year Three in Philly. While the Andrew Bynum drama is hardly Collins' fault, the Sixers shouldn't be scrambling to make the playoffs in the flimsy East. Last we looked, the Bucks don't have a center, either, and they're one spot ahead in the standings. Is Collins still connecting with Jrue Holiday and especially Evan Turner, who's shown only marginal improvement and still doesn't have a defined role? With the home crowds dwindling and Bynum hanging over the franchise, ownership might conduct sweeping changes from the front office down. Say this much for Collins, he'll always have TV, where he's better off, anyway.
Keith Smart, Kings. When the Kings get new owners, either in Seattle or Sacramento, nobody's expected to survive, not Smart or GM Geoff Petrie. It's how business is done when a team changes hands, especially when the team is an eyesore. The choice of the next coach will depend somewhat on whether the Kings want to keep DeMarcus Cousins or not. He's a suspension-in-waiting for anyone and would have a meltdown if the Kings hired an iron-fist disciplinarian.
Randy Wittman, Wizards. He's one of a handful of coaches whose job is developing players much more than winning games. The Wizards certainly can't judge Wittman on the record, because they're rebuilding and better off in the draft lottery anyway, and so they'll look at John Wall and Brad Beal and a project like Jan Vesely for clues about Wittman. Until the Wizards actually have expectations following them, Wittman is a safe and affordable choice.