Commentary

Coaching hot seat: Who's next to go?

Updated: December 8, 2008, 2:03 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Randy Wittman is out the door in Minnesota -- which means it took only six weeks for 13.3 percent of the NBA's head coaching positions to turn over.

Longest-tenured NBA coaches

After Utah's Jerry Sloan (20 years) and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich (12 years), who has the longest tenure on an NBA bench?

It's Mike Dunleavy of the Clippers (hired at the start of the 2003-04 season), followed closely by 38-year-old Lawrence Frank of the New Jersey Nets.

The Clippers and Nets? Models of stability? What has the world come to?

"I don't know what that says, but there may be a deep psychological something or other in there. It is ironic, I'll say that," said Nets president Rod Thorn, who some might recall is the only NBA executive to fire Sloan -- back in 1982 when Thorn was running the Bulls. -- Chris Sheridan

The NBA has shown itself to be a league of a few elite teams and an exponentially larger number of sad-sack, empty-seat outfits, many of whom are now invoking that time-honored exercise of pointing the finger of blame at the head coach.

P.J. Carlesimo lasted just 13 games in Oklahoma City, Eddie Jordan was axed two days later (11 games into Washington's season) and Sam Mitchell was fired after the Toronto Raptors lost nine of their first 17.

We all knew job security was tenuous in the NBA coaching profession, but this season has driven that point home like a Dwight Howard slam. And barring a couple of quick turnarounds in Memphis and Sacramento, the number of coaches who have lost their jobs since the season opener could rise to six before Christmas Day.

Let's have a look at who remains on the hot seat, along with our own odds on who will be the next coach sacked in this season of discontent.


Marc Iavaroni, Grizzlies
A well-connected source assures us Iavaroni will be coaching the Grizzlies on Monday night against the Houston Rockets, after spending several days barely hanging on.

The question appears to be not whether Iavaroni will be canned, but when. The next question is whether one of Iavaroni's assistants, namely Johnny Davis or Kevin O'Neill, will step into the same shoes Tony Barone filled two years ago, when Barone took over as interim coach after the Grizzlies fired Mike Fratello.

Memphis owner Michael Heisley might have moved even faster had Iavaroni not coached the Grizz to a victory over the Clippers on Friday night. Then Saturday night's debacle in New Orleans (the Grizz trailed by 21 after one quarter and lost by 19) put Iavaroni right back on the hot seat. Now Heisley has to decide by Tuesday whether he wants a new guy to have a chance for a running start, with four of Memphis' next six games appearing to be winnable -- Wednesday's game at Oklahoma City, plus home games against Chicago, Miami and Charlotte. Odds: 1-1



Reggie Theus, Kings
The ankle injury that sidelined Kevin Martin for more than three weeks bought Theus some time, but Sacramento enters this week's back-to-back set against the Lakers with an eight-game losing streak -- and of the past four losses, three have been by 26, 23 and 33 points.

When he was brought aboard, Theus was the choice of the Maloofs, the Kings owners, who have now said any decision on the coach's future is in the hands of team president Geoff Petrie.

"I believe that they want me to just fight the battle and in the end to allow them to make their decision ... and I'm OK with that. I really hope that I have the opportunity to finish out. And that's not a plea in and of itself, that's just me saying that to you," Theus told the Sacramento Bee's Sam Amick this past weekend. "I believe in the plan. I believe in what Geoff and the Maloofs have in mind. And, whether it is a success on my side or not, I understand what we're trying to do. My job is to try to do what they've asked me to do. I think I'm at least moving in the right direction."

Theus told ESPN.com's J.A. Adande: "They [the Maloofs] asked me, 'Reggie, this is what we want to do. We want you to create a style of basketball that the fans like. We want you to keep the locker room together.'"

But Sacramento is down to 29th in average attendance, with catcalls coming from the fans who remain. That plus a dissatisfied locker room means that a team-record ninth consecutive home loss might be one too many. Odds: 3:2



Maurice Cheeks, 76ers
If we were looking for the leading contender to be the seventh coach fired this season, Cheeks would be at the top of the list.

None of the Eastern Conference teams expected to be contenders (with the possible exception of Toronto) has been a bigger disappointment than the Sixers, whose 9-12 record to begin the week has them sitting in 10th place in the East, a half-game behind New York.

Cheeks' footing is solidified by a couple of things: He just signed an extension, and he is engineering a fundamental shift in offensive emphasis to account for the addition of Elton Brand (currently day-to-day with a strained hamstring). But there has been measurable regression in the production of Andre Iguodala, Samuel Dalembert and Lou Williams, and it wasn't a good sign when team president Ed Stefanski said, "You'll never hear 'patience' coming out of my mouth."

Watch to see how the Sixers look in their back-to-back set against the Cavaliers later this week. Two blowout losses, and the line on Cheeks moves shorter. Odds: 19-1



Mike Dunleavy, Clippers
Upon his return to the Knicks' locker room a day after he was dealt from the Clippers in the Zach Randolph trade, Tim Thomas was asked how bad the chemistry dynamic had been in Los Angeles. "Oh, man. You have no idea," Thomas said, laughing and shaking his head.

Still, Dunleavy has recently emerged standing from the power struggle that led to the ouster of longtime general manager Elgin Baylor. And owner Donald Sterling isn't exactly enamored of the idea of firing people when he is still obligated to pay them.

Even with the 4-16 start and the poor chemistry between Dunleavy and point guard Baron Davis, there is still plenty of time for the Clips to work their way north from their current No. 14 spot in the Western Conference standings. And Dunleavy might have another move or two to try -- there isn't enough room in one frontcourt for Randolph, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman, and Davis becomes trade-eligible on Dec. 15. Odds: 32-1


The Field, including Flip Saunders' former Detroit assistants
Are Terry Porter and Michael Curry, who moved into the big chairs in Phoenix and Detroit, respectively, after serving as Pistons assistant coaches last season, in trouble already?

OK, maybe it's a reach to include either of these first-year guys in a hot-seat list column, but the Suns and Pistons are accustomed to winning a lot more than we've seen lately from these two teams.

The changeover in Phoenix from Mike D'Antoni's offensively-oriented system to Porter's defensive-minded schemes is running into resistance from certain corners of the Suns locker room, something that has been well documented at ESPN.com (click here and here). One plugged-in, rival assistant coach described the Suns as "a bad mix and not on the same page."

And then we have Saunders' successor in Detroit, Curry, who pledged after Sunday's sleepwalk loss at New York to change his starting lineup -- dropping Kwame Brown -- and find more minutes for Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo and Walter Herrmann. We'll see how that sits with the veterans -- namely Allen Iverson, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and possibly Tayshaun Prince -- whose minutes will have to be cut. Odds: 49-1

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.

ALSO SEE