As NBA coaching changes mount, some lament the lack of job security

Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Denver’s Michael Malone are two of the four NBA coaches to have spent at least eight years with their current team

Tim Reynolds
Tuesday 16 May 2023 10:56 BST

Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Denver’s Michael Malone are two of the four NBA coaches to have spent at least eight years with their current team.

They know how rare that is.

Spoelstra and Malone both spoke out Monday following the recent dismissals of three coaches who aren’t far removed from great success – 2019 NBA champion Nick Nurse, 2021 champion Mike Budenholzer and most recently 2021 Western Conference champion and 2022 coach of the year Monty Williams. Nurse was fired by Toronto, Budenholzer by Milwaukee and Williams by Phoenix.

“I’ve been thinking more about the great, proven, experienced coaches that have lost their jobs already,” Spoelstra said as the Heat prepared for another trip to the Eastern Conference finals and a matchup against Boston that starts Wednesday. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Spoelstra has the NBA’s second-longest current tenure with one team. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich has coached the Spurs since 1996, Spoelstra took over the Heat in 2008, Steve Kerr became coach in Golden State in 2014 and Malone became coach in Denver in 2015.

“I understand this business,” said Malone, who’ll lead Denver into the Western Conference finals starting Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers. “You look around the coaching landscape, if you want a secure profession, coaching is not the one to get into. I should have been a TV reporter.”

Of the last nine coaches to take a team to the NBA Finals, only two — Kerr and Spoelstra — are still with the franchise that they went to the title round with.

Three of the last four championship-winning coaches — Budenholzer in 2021, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Frank Vogel in 2020 and Nurse in 2019 – have since been fired by those clubs. Also fired for various reasons after recent runs to the finals: Ime Udoka in Boston, Cleveland’s David Blatt and then Tyronn Lue as well, and now Williams by the Suns.

Budenholzer’s dismissal left Kerr upset, as he revealed earlier this month — but noted that all coaches understand how vulnerable they are.

“My first response is not necessarily shock, it’s more disappointment because Bud is a fantastic coach,” Kerr said. “He just won a championship and has been wildly successful in his coaching career. But this is the business we’re in. … Expectations every year for every team are so high, and only one team can win. It’s sad news for the coaching profession.”

At least five teams will have new coaches next season — Phoenix, Milwaukee, Toronto and Detroit are looking, and Houston has already hired Udoka as the replacement for Stephen Silas. Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn was hired by the Nets in November, and Atlanta’s Quin Snyder was hired by the Hawks in Feburary.

And, at minimum, 12 of the NBA’s 30 teams will open next season with a coach who has been in place for no more than one season.

There is speculation about Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers’ future as well, and he was asked about that following the 76ers’ season-ending loss to Boston in Game 7 of their East semifinal series Sunday.

“No one’s safe in our business. I get that,” said Rivers, adding that he has two years left on his deal with the 76ers and therefore expects to be back next season.

Spoelstra has long said part of Miami’s strength is consistency. Managing general partner Micky Arison, CEO Nick Arison, team president Pat Riley, general manager Andy Elisburg and others have been with the Heat for decades — and from the very beginning, in Elisburg’s case, since he's been with the franchise for all 35 of its seasons.

Spoelstra has been with the organization for more than half his life as well; he was 24 when he started in the video room, and now he’s 52.

“It takes so much time and energy to restart something,” Spoelstra said. “And I think that’s part of the reason why we’ve been able to reboot so many times, over and over and over. We’re not reinventing a new culture and then trying to teach everybody and then all of a sudden, two years later, it’s going to be somebody else doing the exact same thing. But particularly to have proven veteran guys (fired), it’s just been stunning. It really has been disturbing.”


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