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Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni, 76ers’ Brett Brown among NBA coaches who could be on the hot seat after 2019-20 season

The NBA is in a holding pattern as the 2019-20 season has been suspended indefinitely due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Though there’s a lot of uncertainty at this time, basketball business will eventually resume, and when it does, teams will be faced with familiar decisions to make regarding roster construction, salary cap maneuvering and coaching decisions. Specifically, teams will have to decide if they want to continue to roll with their current coach beyond this season, or if a change is in order.  

It’s extremely likely that multiple teams will decide to go in a different direction for one reason or another. So with that said, here’s a look at five coaches who could be on the hot seat after this season. 

Jacque Vaughn, Brooklyn Nets

Among all of the coaches who may be on the hot seat before next season’s start, Vaughn seems least likely to return to his post. Vaughn was named Brooklyn’s interim head coach in early March after the Nets and then-head coach Kenny Atkinson mutually agreed to part ways, and Vaughn held the position for just two games before the season was indefinitely suspended. Ultimately, he might not get much of an opportunity to prove himself in Brooklyn, as he feels largely like a placeholder.

The 2020-21 season is set to be an extremely important one for Brooklyn. After landing two superstars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last summer, they had an underwhelming campaign this season, due largely to Durant sidelined with an Achilles injury and Irving’s recurring injury issues in his first year in Brooklyn. Next season, though, when both are healthy, there will be legitimate championship expectations in Brooklyn, and the organization may very well want to hire an experienced coach to steer the ship. A recent report suggested that Durant and Irving would like to see the Nets hire a “blue chip” coach, and Vaughn doesn’t quite fit that description. Before Brooklyn, he served as Orlando’s head coach from 2012 to 2015, but was fired midway through his third season after compiling a 58-158 overall record with no playoff appearances. 

Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers

How the Sixers performed in this postseason was likely going to determine Brett Brown’s status moving forward, and that still may be the case if the season ultimately resumes. Brown and general manager Elton Brand have said repeatedly that the Sixers, as currently constructed, were built for postseason play. Thus, if the Sixers are able to show progress by advancing further than they have in the past couple of seasons, then Brown’s job would likely be safe. However, if they were to again flame out in the early rounds, the organization would likely look to bring in a different voice.

An interesting question is what the Sixers will do if the season is canceled and there are no playoffs. Has Brown done enough in the eyes of the front office to earn another season, or have they seen enough? Before the NBA hit the pause button, the Sixers might have been the league’s most inconsistent team. They boasted the best home record at 29-2, yet on the road they were at the bottom of the barrel with a 10-24 record. They had secured impressive wins over the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks, but also suffered embarrassing losses to the likes of the lowly Hawks and Wizards. At 39-26, the 76ers were sitting in the sixth spot in the East standings behind the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, Heat and Pacers, after many expected them to compete for the top seed in the conference prior to the season’s start. At the least, you would have to think that the Sixers’ front office would look to install a new system under a new coach before they ever even considered moving on from either one of their young All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, especially since Brown is the only coach that either has ever had since entering the league.

Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets

The fact that the Rockets and D’Antoni were unable to come to an agreement on a contract extension last offseason shows that the organization has some ambivalence about committing to their coach long term beyond the current campaign. Similar to the D’Antoni-led Phoenix Suns teams of the mid-2000s, the Rockets have also been prolific — and historic — on the offensive end of the ball. And like those Suns teams, they have been unable to translate regular-season success into serious postseason success; neither team was able to advance past the conference finals.

Like Brown in Philadelphia, D’Antoni’s future in Houston was likely going to hinge on how the Rockets performed in the 2020 postseason, and it still might if the season is ultimately resumed. A Finals run could motivate the organization to commit to D’Antoni. However, if the Rockets ultimately fall short — again — in the playoffs with their new and extreme small-ball attack, or the season is completely canceled, the two sides could part ways when D’Antoni’s contract is up after the season. Unless the organization is convinced that the team can win at the highest level by emphasizing shooting and scoring while downplaying defense and rebounding, a split might be the best option. 

Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards

Brooks’ tenure in Washington got off to a strong start in 2016-17 as he led the Wizards to the Eastern Conference semifinals during his first season with the franchise. However, things have been trending in the wrong direction since. They lost in the first round in 2017-18 and failed to reach the playoffs last season. Before this season was suspended, the Wizards were 5 1/2 games outside of a playoff spot and well on their way to their second straight season of landing in the lottery, barring a late-season surge.

All of Washington’s issues this season can’t be pegged on Brooks, especially when you consider the fact that the team had to deal with major injury issues, namely to All-Star guard John Wall, who missed the entirety of the season due to a ruptured left Achilles tendon. Some issues, however, can be pinned on Brooks. Though they were above average offensively, Washington had the league’s worst defense (115 defensive rating), they were inconsistent and, at times, appeared unmotivated. Regardless of the reason, the Wizards appear to have plateaued and don’t appear to be any closer to developing into a legitimate title contender than they were when Brooks first joined the team four years ago. Because of this, the front office could look to go in a different direction. 

Jim Boylen, Chicago Bulls

Change is in the air in Chicago. The organization is in the midst of a search for a new top basketball czar, so for that reason alone it’s fair to wonder how much longer Boylen will last in Chicago as a new shot-caller could very well want to bring in a coach of his choosing. A recent report from NBC Sports Chicago suggested that the new hire won’t be forced to keep Boylen on as coach, and thus it’s fair to question why one would. Boylen hasn’t done himself any favors on the sideline, as he has compiled an underwhelming 39-84 record since he was promoted to the role of head coach following the dismissal of Fred Hoiberg in December of 2018, and he has struggled to win the support of his players. Boylen’s time could be up in Chicago.

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