The Step Away Game: What NBA Coaches Might Be Shown The Door

  • Tyronn Lue is taking time off from the Cavs. Should other coaches be stepping away too?
  • What NBA coach has created the worst situation for himself?
  • We rank the coaches on the hot seat as the NBA regular season comes to a close

Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue is taking an indefinite break from the team with a dozen games remaining in the regular season. The 40-year-old made his announcement after missing the second-half of Saturday’s game against the Bulls due to illness. It was the fourth time this season that he’s missed a game or part of a game because of his health.

Health is a finicky thing, and so is perception. What if the Cavs don’t lose a game while Lue is away? Does the health issue mysteriously shut him down for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs?

As Lue steps away, there’s no better time than the present to see what other head coaches might be asked to “step away” soon for the good of their teams.


The Step Away Game: What NBA Coaches Might Be Shown The Door
Things have not worked out for Stan Van Gundy as a head coach, and as the man in charge of personnel decisions. (Photo: Keith Allison (wikipedia) CC License.)

Stan Van Gundy (Pistons)

There was a time when Van Gundy was considered one of the truly innovative minds in basketball. He was one of the originators of the pace and space thing, using Dwight Howard as the fulcrum, with satellite shooters across the arc. He rode that to a Finals appearance.

Those days are long gone.

A last gasp trade for Blake Griffin was potentially Van Gundy’s saving grace in Detroit, the expectation that the ex-Clippers star would shine, and push Detroit into a playoff spot. The team has gone just 8-13 in the 21 games since the deal, and an especially sour 3-7 in their last ten.

Here’s something that few NBA teams have ever said, and likely never will: we’re in big trouble without Reggie Jackson. Yet, the ex-Thunder point guard’s injury has crippled this sad-sack crew, as he’s one of the few useful pieces on a paper thin roster, short on talent, athleticism and … you can pretty much insert any word here.

Barring a minor miracle, the Pistons have played themselves out of contention for a playoff spot for this year, as they sit six games back of the Bucks for the eighth seed in the East.

And you know what? That doesn’t fall on the coach, he can only do so much with the roster that was constructed or him. That falls on the GM, or the guy who’s making those important basketball decisions.

Sadly, they’re one in the same. Van Gundy is like a retired NFL star really low on cash these days, so he opens a restaurant in the high hopes it’s the home run he’s been seeking, a chance to live the good life again. That Griffin deal was his TGIFridays. And it’s not going to end well.

Odds Van Gundy will “step away”: 1/99


The Step Away Game: What NBA Coaches Might Be Shown The Door
Jeff Hornacek has struggled since taking the reins as head coach of the Knicks. (Photo: Brad Barlow (wikipedia) CC License.)

Jeff Hornacek (Knicks)

First, it was Phil Jackson, and his old man rhetoric and antiquated Triangle Offense that were the problem. He had to go.

Then, it was time to remove the all-star malcontent, who was no longer an all-star. Carmelo Anthony was never able to get it done in New York, his critics would say, and he was not a good influence on the new stud on the team, Kristaps Porzingis. Melo was dealt soon after.

And despite extricating two enormous dark grey clouds from their skies, the Knicks are still going nowhere fast, sitting at 26-45 and hoping to get some ping pong ball luck come June.

Where in this is head coach Jeff Hornacek? Don’t mind him, he’s just standing shocked and bewildered on the sideline. With no Jackson begging for the days of the triangle and Melo holding onto the ball and killing offensive flow, Hornacek was supposed to inject a little bit of flair and excitement back into this once proud franchise.

Instead, he’s offering vanilla.

At 26-45, they’re part of the bottom tier of teams that are already eliminated from playoff contention, and, worse yet, they have no identity. Of course, losing Porzingis hurts, but Hornacek’s failure to insert a working system with his players is probably going to cost him his seat at exclusive NBA-only coaches lounge.

Odds Hornacek will “step away”: 1/3


The Step Away Game: What NBA Coaches Might Be Shown The Door
Trading away Demarcus Cousins was going to be a difficult task for head coach Dave Joerger to handle. (Photo: Michael Tipton (CC License))

Dave Joerger (Kings)

Sacramento is in the midst of one of the most futile losing streaks in sports. It feels like eons ago that Bibby, Webber, Divac and Stojakovic were setting the league on fire. So Joeger is the latest in the line of coaches trying to make good while wildly behind the eight-ball.

This team’s roster construction was wonky from the start, with ageing big-ticket vets getting too much playing time, while the youth movement wasn’t moving. The team is allowing the opposition to shoot nearly 38-percent from deep this season – only the Hawks have allowed worse.

Take notes, small market franchises with cornerstone pieces: Get the evaluations of the players in the league right, or someday you’ll be trading the only person worth talking about on your team (Boogie Cousins) for a cheap draft pick and Buddy Hield. This team has only 23 wins, and not a clue where they go next. Perhaps the Kings are doing Joeger a favor, not that he has done himself any either, guiding his squad to a 23-49 record so far this season.

Odds Dave Joerger will “step away”: 1/1


Steve Clifford (Hornets)

Michael Jordan might be wise to cut ties with Clifford, who most will argue is a good basketball coach (it’s fair to say, actually, that all the guys on this list are). However, this marriage of coach and core players fizzled out a while back.

Now, a team that just two years ago was on the up-and-up is already eliminated from playoff contention in the East at 30-41. Worse yet, there are a bunch of good-but-not-great players dotting this roster. So even if the Kemba Walkers, Nicolas Batums and Dwight Howards were currently playing inspired and competitive hoop, they’d likely only top out as a four or five seed.

Sometimes, it’s the players, sometimes it’s the voices not getting to the players. For the Hornets, it feels like they should have cut ties a year ago.

Odds Steve Clifford will “step away”: 2/3


Frank Vogel (Magic)

This is the same coach that guided Indy to those epic battles against the LeBron-Wade-Bosh Heat. Let’s just say he hasn’t been able to recreate the Magic in Orlando.

It’s not his fault that there are few interchangeable pieces that allow him to unlock some modern small-ball lineups. But it is on him for not being able to feature Aaron Gordon and to get him more touches.

It feels like ages ago that the Magic were the toast of Orlando, racing out to an 8-4 start. That is truly the highlight of the year, because everything has cratered since then.

Orlando’s fortunes may change with this year’s draft, but don’t be surprised if Vogel isn’t around to reap the rewards.

Odds Frank Vogel will “step away”: 1/1


Michael Malone (Nuggets)

Coaching in the NBA can be cruel. Michael Malone currently has his Denver Nuggets in the chase for a playoff spot in the West at 38-32, but his team is lacking that extra oomph and he can’t seem to extract it out of them.

His inclusion on this list of coaches on the brink isn’t an X’s and O’s sort of thing, like Hornacek, or a total failure of roster construction and coaching, like Van Gundy. Malone makes this list primarily because he’s found a way to squeeze Kenneth Faried out of the rotation.

Not finding a way to get one of your best athletes some court time hurt the team, because they could use that energizer out there, but also because his trade stock dried up. That hurts.

The thing is, this team has pieces and should be good. Nikola Jokic is a gem. Paul Millsap is back and healthy, and the backcourt of Gary Harris and Jamal Murray can really play.

This could all be forgotten if the Nuggets surge into the postseason, but they’ve almost used up their best advantage of home court. They’ve only got four of their final 11 regular season games at home. How they fare over this home stretch will likely determine Malone’s fate.

Odds Michael Malone will “step away”: 3/2

Frank Lorenzo

MTS co-founder Frank “Let It Ride” Lorenzo has been betting on sports since he was legally allowed to do so. (Did he do so before then, too? No comment.) He enjoys very strong coffee, neon lights, and passing on his wealth of betting knowledge to anyone who will listen.

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