NBA AM: Head Coaches Feeling The Pressure
As start of training camp nears and the offseason comes to a close there are a few coaches who will be under increased pressure.
With NBA training camps set to open in just over a month and the smoke starting to clear from all of the offseason wheeling and dealing, we take a look at the coaches with the hottest seats.
Vinny Del Negro, Los Angeles Clippers
Record with Team: 72-76
Overall Record: 154-158
Del Negro came under increased scrutiny toward the end of the 2012 campaign, despite leading the Clippers to their highest single season winning percentage (60.6 percent) in team history. However, Del Negro was able to silence a large number of critics after leading the franchise to the Western Conference semifinals.
The good news, for his performance the Clippers picked up his option for the 2013 season, the bad news is the franchise didn’t extend him a long-term deal which would have significantly slowed down the rumor mill.
The Clippers signed established veterans Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Chauncey Billups this summer, strengthening the supporting cast around all-stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
But Del Negro’s resolve will be tested early if Paul (thumb) and Griffin (knee), both undergoing surgery this summer, are limited early and forced to miss time.
Larry Drew, Atlanta Hawks
Record with Team: 84-64
Overall Record: Same
During his two-year stint as head coach with the Hawks, Drew has far exceeded the expectations of most early skeptics who questioned his promotion from assistant coach under Mike Woodson. Last season may have been his best work to date as he led the franchise to their fifth-consecutive postseason appearance while overcoming a plethora of injuries throughout the campaign.
Drew’s option for year three was picked up by the club in June, but that was announced before the organization hired league veteran Danny Ferry as its president of basketball operations and general manager.
Since Ferry’s arrival he’s made numerous moves to shakeup the roster and the team’s front office while implementing his plan to change the culture of the Hawks both on and off the court. Ferry has been publicly supportive of Drew’s performance since arriving in Atlanta, but it is important to note the coach was hired by the previous administration and it’s no secret executives ushering in new era typically like to roll with their own guys.
At least Drew will get an opportunity to state his case for a long term extension.
Mike Brown, Los Angeles Lakers
Record with Team: 41-25
Overall Record: 313-163
In six seasons as a head coach, Brown has never missed the playoffs, is a NBA Coach of the Year award winner, possesses a NBA Finals appearance (with the Cleveland Cavaliers) under his belt and boasts a 66 percent career win rate.
Yet, you probably couldn’t find a guy with his credentials who is more maligned.
The pressure on Brown won’t be any less in 2013 as the Lakers added two-time MVP Steve Nash and acquired all-star center Dwight Howard into the fold to pair with centerpieces Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The new core of the Lakers has increased expectations of the club dramatically this season and if things go astray, Brown – deservedly or not – is in a position where he’ll receive the most scrutiny.
Avery Johnson, Brooklyn Nets
Record with Team: 46-102
Overall Record: 240-172
The Nets haven’t reached the postseason since 2007, but expectations will be sky high as the franchise completes its move to Brooklyn in 2012-13. The team was active this summer re-signing all-star guard Deron Williams to a long term deal and acquiring Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks. The team also signed dependable guard C.J. Watson in free agency and retained talented young center Brook Lopez and veteran forward Gerald Wallace.
The Nets have won just over thirty percent of their games under Johnson, which isn’t a beacon of job security. But to Johnson’s credit, the Nets have battled injuries and been entrenched in a rebuilding mode since his arrival.
Now, with payroll set to exceed $80 million this season and a move into a new arena, the pressure on Johnson will be not to just reach the playoffs, but contend for Eastern Conference supremacy.
To be fair, it is probably too early for Johnson to be considered for the hot seat, especially with the lack of talent and injuries he’s faced since joining the Nets, but with the New York media you never know.
Kyrie Irving Progressing After Hand Surgery
Good news for Cleveland Cavaliers fans as Kyrie Irving, the 2012 Rookie of the Year, is said to be progressing well enough from offseason hand surgery to be ready to go for the start of training camp.
Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott confirmed the recent reports and is also optimistic.
“I talked to [Irving] a couple of days ago,” Scott told Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio. “He said his hand is doing great, that he’s dribbling the ball with it and everything.”
However, Scott also hinted at the club taking an alternative approach and being much more cautious before letting their emerging star hit the
court as soon as training camp opens.
“I told him, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be playing [right away],’” Scott said. “But he said the hand is doing great. It’s a lot better than most people probably expected at this point. So you could tell on the phone he’s getting anxious and ready to start. That’s a good thing.”
Irving averaged 18.5 points and 5.4 assists in 51 games as a rookie in 2012. The Cavaliers are optimistic that Irving and Dion Waiters, the No. 4 overall pick of this year’s draft, will form a formidable backcourt of the future.
For now, Scott is concerned about Waiters’ conditioning heading into his first pro season after seeing him workout in Los Angeles recently.
“He said to me that he’s in shape, and I looked at him and said, ‘You’re not ready yet,” Scott said. “You’ve got about six weeks to go (before the start of training camp) to get ready. You better make sure you keep working like you’ve been working.”
Austin Rivers Talks Ankle Surgery
Things are looking a little bright for the New Orleans Hornets heading into the 2012-13 campaign. The team drafted forward Anthony Davis number one overall in June, re-signed high scoring shooting guard Eric Gordon in free agency and will feature 2012 Most Improved Player award winner Ryan Anderson in the lineup this season.
A player who figures to also play a large role in the team’s plans is guard Austin Rivers who was drafted tenth overall in the 2012 draft. Rivers was limited to only two summer league contests in Las Vegas and wasn’t spectacular in either appearance, but was hindered by what turned out to be a bone spur in his right ankle.
Rivers had surgery on the ankle three weeks ago to address the issue and now says he’s on pace to be ready for training camp, but more importantly he also feels much stronger.
“I’m doing great actually now, so I’ll be back very soon,” Rivers told John Reid of the Times Picayune. “It’s got a lot better and I actually got even stronger than I think I was before I got hurt.”
With Gordon set to command the lion’s share of minutes at shooting guard the team will be giving Rivers a shot to earn additional minutes at point guard, but the incoming rookie knows that will be a tough transition to make at the professional level.
“I feel I have got more comfortable after each stage,” Rivers said on his transition. “But I won’t feel totally comfortable until after I play my first regular-season game. I’ll get more comfortable and confident in training camp. It’s really going to come down to those first weeks of games before you realize what you need to do and then try to come out full blast from there whether you play good or not.”