As the US gears up for the final week of tax season, the NBA is reaching its final games of the 2016-17 campaign. And with the playoffs looming, at least one former player is looking for a roster spot, just as a few coaches may be clearing out their offices as teams begin recalibrating their post-season trajectories. Let’s take a look at two sideline chiefs that might be job-hunting come July.
Fred Hoiberg – Chicago Bulls
Few organizations are as consistently polarizing as the team that Gar Forman and John Paxson built. From clinching important late season games against the Cavs, Bucks and Hawks, to the midseason fines against team leaders Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler for comments about the roster, the Chicago Bulls are closing in on the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Usually, securing a playoff spot aids coaches chances for further tenure, but the Chicago GM and VP accused of NBA ineptitude have consistently made moves to inhibit Hoiberg’s success, most recently bookmarked by the trade sending Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Oklahoma City Thunder for marginal returns. As the offseason nears, the Bulls are secure with Butler’s contract at least until 2019, but have to determine where starting guard Wade will land assuming he opts out of his contract, and, maybe more importantly, whether to reinvest in Nikola Mirotic, a restricted free agent forward that could certainly find a home on a number of teams vying for playoff spots.
Where does Hoiberg fall in this? Well, figuring that out is largely the problem. During the 2016-17 season, Coach Hoiberg has led the Bulls to a 10th place defensive rating and a 20th place offensive rating, according to Basketball Reference. Offensive woes can be attributed to the sporadic play of the Bulls’ guards, who either don’t have the requisite experience to lead a playoff team, or, are named Rajon Rondo. The Bulls also rate as one of the slower paced teams in the league, 21st overall, meaning a confident, competent, point guard is all the more necessary to orchestrate the offense. However, considering the inefficiency of GarPax to secure talent in the post Derrick Rose Era in Chicago, Hoiberg could likely find himself the scapegoat for the Bulls roster inadequacies.
Earl Watson – Phoenix Suns
The Suns, most recently in the news for their calculated action against Russell Westbrook securing an all-time season triple double record are frequently fighting a losing battle. Sitting under .500 for the past three seasons, the worst of it has come under first time Coach Earl Watson. Whether Watson has a future in the league is debatable, though his difficulty in guiding a youth-driven roster is at the crux of the problem. The Suns are simultaneously second in pace with just over 100 possessions per game and 28th and 22nd in offensive and defensive rating respectively. Watson certainly gets his team reps up and down the court, though trips are often unproductive ending in fouls (1989, leading the league) and turnovers (1244, 27th). The inability of the coaching staff to organize the fresh-faced Suns is as much dependent on Watson’s leadership as it is veteran presence: Tyson Chandler and Leandro Barbosa, accomplished in their own right, have experience tailored to the mid-2000s, when the three pointer wasn’t as deadly and teams weren’t playing small.
Watson could easily take a page from the Bucks’ Jason Kidd, patterning strategy after a similarly youthful organization, though the sheer competitiveness of the Western Conference might see his career cut short in favor of more sideline experience.
In short, success in the coaching game is a combination of fortuitous timing, a great interview and a pinch of luck. Who else will be job hunting Summer 2017? Comments are always welcome, or reach out on Twitter @bjtripleot.