Coach firings are one of the unfortunate realities NBA teams have to deal with on an annual basis. Every year, some team gets off to a worse-than-expected start and the head coach winds up paying the price. We seem to have a handful of head coaching dismissals every year, and last season was no exception. David Fizdale was axed by the Knicks in December. John Beilein left the Cavaliers halfway through his first season after essentially causing his players to stage a mutiny. The Nets surprisingly kicked Kenny Atkinson to the curb in March, shortly before the season shut down.
A number of other teams, including the LA Clippers, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, and Chicago Bulls, waited until the offseason to make their coaching changes. This year, one-third of the entire league is starting the season under a new full-time head coach. Even by NBA standards, there has been an awful lot of turnover in the coaching ranks over the past few months.
The 2020-21 NBA season is sure to be one unlike any other. We don’t even have the full season schedule yet because the league wants to give teams as much leeway as they possibly can when it comes to health protocols. The 72-game schedule also means teams don’t have quite as much time to bounce back if they get off to slow starts. That could mean we see some coaches on the chopping block even earlier than usual.
NBA betting sites are taking bets on which unfortunate soul will be the first coach to be fired once the season starts. Do any coaches stand out as potential value options? Let’s find out.
Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz (+7500)
The Jazz are one of the few teams in the league striving for a continuity-based approach this season. Utah saw very little roster turnover this winter. The team traded backup center Tony Bradley and brought back Derrick Favors in free agency. Otherwise, this is essentially the same team we saw a season ago. Utah is banking on Mike Conley continuing his rejuvenation, while Bojan Bogdanovic will return after missing the Orlando restart with a wrist injury.
The Jazz have been treading water for years in the middle of the Western Conference. Despite having built a solid roster good enough to challenge the best teams in the league on some nights, Utah’s ceiling appears to have been reached. Donovan Mitchell is outstanding, and Rudy Gobert has been one of the best defensive big men in the league for the last half-decade.
Gleaning lessons from last season, Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder is putting more trust in his veteran players, even letting point guard Mike Conley run drills in practice, writes @tribjazzhttps://t.co/0s9QKeRhTR
Can a fully healthy season from Conley be enough to take the Jazz to the next level? It’s possible. Utah was a trendy pick to click before last season began, but Conley played poorly from the start and was in-and-out of the lineup all year long thanks to a variety of injuries. The Jazz are a 50-win team in a normal season, but few think this is a serious title contender as presently constructed.
If Utah comes out of the gates slowly, who’s to say that Quin Snyder’s job is safe?
I don’t necessarily think a coaching change would be the move to get the Jazz to the next level, but he is now entering his seventh season on Utah’s bench. The Jazz have obviously improved quite a bit after winning just 38 games in his first year, but there is sneaky upside here in the +7500 odds for Snyder to be the first coach fired. His track record is solid, but he’s hardly a made man with the Jazz.
It’s also worth noting that the Jazz are now under new ownership after the Miller family sold the team this past offseason. If the new ownership group doesn’t like the direction in which the team is headed, Snyder could be the first casualty.
Steve Nash, Brooklyn Nets (+5000)
First-year head coaches don’t often get fired. While NBA coaches generally have short leashes, most teams aren’t bold enough to actually admit defeat in Year 1. Kenny Atkinson had done a solid job in helping to bring the Nets back from obscurity, but he was unceremoniously canned last season because he didn’t necessarily cater to the team’s new stars. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant wanted him gone, so the team acquiesced.
Brooklyn went outside-the-box for Atkinson’s replacement. Steve Nash, who has never coached at any level, was the choice. The former two-time league MVP has been working in a consulting capacity with the Warriors for the past few years, but he hasn’t been on an NBA bench since hanging up his sneakers in 2015.
Kyrie Irving says after being coached by Steve Nash for a few weeks: “I think I got to take back my comments from a few months ago.”
Irving is referring to saying on a podcast, “I don’t really see us having a head coach.”
Irving and Durant are great players, and the Nets have big expectations this season now that KD is back. Brooklyn is already among the betting favorites to win the title this season, but what if things get off to a rocky start? A franchise like the Nets that has enjoyed very little success in recent years may not have the patience to wait for Nash to figure everything out.
At the very least, a flier on Nash to be the first coach fired at the +5000 odds isn’t the worst bet on the board. The Kyrie/Durant combination seems rather volatile. Irving already said this offseason he doesn’t see the Nets as a team with a head coach, which can’t make Nash feel too good. Kyrie recently walked those comments back, but it’s pretty easy to see how this situation has the potential to go south in a hurry.
If it does, Nash will take the brunt of the blame. It’s not the most likely bet to cash, but it’s at least worth a mention.
Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers (+3300)
The Trail Blazers are a lot like the Jazz. While Portland was more active this offseason, the core of the team is the same one that we’ve seen for the past half-decade. The Blazers will try to make the Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum combination work in the backcourt while cycling through another round of interchangeable wing players.
The Blazers were a big disappointment last season before Lillard ultimately rescued their playoff hopes in the bubble. Expectations are higher this season thanks to the return of Jusuf Nurkic, who missed most of the season after breaking his leg in 2019. The additions of Robert Covington and Enes Kanter along with the returns of Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood means the Blazers will enter the season with lofty goals.
The problem is that this team still won’t be able to keep other teams off the scoreboard. Portland was a defensive disaster a season ago. Covington should help on the wing, but Covington alone can’t rescue a defense that was as terrible as the Blazers’ was a season ago. Playing Anthony and Kanter together with the second unit just won’t work, either.
Portland finished 27th in the league in defensive rating last season. The Blazers conceded 111.8 points per 100 possessions. The only teams that were less stingy were the Hawks, Wizards, and Cavaliers, who finished nowhere near the postseason. The Blazers managed to sneak in thanks to a stellar offensive showing. While that’s good enough to win a lot of the time, it’s pretty easy to see how this team could wind up disappointing again.
Stotts is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the league, but he doesn’t have much to show for it. The Blazers have advanced to the Western Conference Finals just once in his eight seasons. The team has been a steady playoff participant, but they have yet to capitalize on having a star like Lillard in his prime.
Stotts at +3300 to be the first coach fired represents awesome value. The Blazers are a stagnant team in need of a new approach, and this could easily be his final chance.
Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks (+1600)
Mike Budenholzer has done nothing but win regular-season games since getting the Bucks’ head coaching job two years ago. The problem is that he hasn’t been able to get the team to replicate that regular-season form in the playoffs. The Bucks have more wins than any team in basketball over the past two years (116), but Milwaukee is still in search of its first Finals appearance since the 1970s.
Budenholzer took home Coach of the Year honors in his first year with the team, but the honeymoon phase ended quickly. Bud drew all sorts of ire for his playoff rotations in the Disney World bubble, while Milwaukee disastrously flamed out in the second round against the Heat in a shockingly short five-game series.
The Bucks retooled the roster this offseason, while Giannis Antetokounmpo inked his five-year “supermax” extension earlier this week. Winning at least one title with the Greek Freak is clearly a massive priority for this franchise. If Budenholzer doesn’t rectify the mistakes he made last year, it’s pretty easy to imagine the Bucks deciding to go in a different direction. They simply can’t afford to waste Antetokounmpo’s prime.
Why does Mike Budenholzer always look like he just realized he left his drivers license at home and cant get into the club with his friends? pic.twitter.com/aSXtIaND1z
Budenholzer enters this season with more pressure on him than any other coach in basketball. The Bucks are once again clear-cut favorites to win the Eastern Conference, and their +650 odds to win the title put them up there with the Lakers (+250), Nets (+650), and Clippers (+650). If the Bucks’ brass doesn’t think Bud has them headed in the right direction, they’ll pull the plug sooner than later.
Luke Walton, Sacramento Kings (+500)
You have to mention the Kings any time the possibility of firing a head coach comes up. No team has cycled through more coaches in recent years than Sacramento, which automatically puts Luke Walton on the hot seat. Walton flamed out quickly in his first head coaching stop with the Lakers, and it’s probably only a matter of time until he finds himself on the outs in Sacramento.
The Kings’ unpredictability is what gets Walton a mention. Walton is the Kings’ seventh head coach in the past decade alone. This team fired Michael Malone and Dave Joerger in recent years despite both men seemingly having the team headed in the right direction. Walton went 31-41 in his first season on the job last year.
The Kings signed De’Aaron Fox to a lucrative extension this offseason. Sacramento has an incredibly young roster around him, but the team’s management is likely expecting contention at some point soon. The Kings haven’t made a playoff appearance since 2006, so you can understand their presumed impatience.
Walton at +500 isn’t the best bet on the board in terms of value, but betting on the Kings’ coach to be the first one fired is typically a solid rule of thumb.
Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards (+200)
The Wizards suddenly have expectations. Washington’s offseason trade for Russell Westbrook means the Wiz should be able to push for a playoff spot. Bradley Beal has quietly asserted himself as one of the game’s brightest young stars, and pairing him with Westbrook should give the Wizards a breath of fresh air.
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Westbrook’s familiarity with Scott Brooks from their days together in Oklahoma City should make his transition to his new team even easier. With two All-Star guards and a solid core of young talent featuring Davis Bertans, Deni Avdija, Troy Brown, and Thomas Bryant, Washington looks like a team capable of competing this season.
Brooks led the Wizards to the playoffs in each of his first two years in DC, but the team has found its way into the lottery in back-to-back seasons. Injuries ruined the Wizards’ hopes a year ago, but now that they’re healthy, they’re expected to improve. Brooks has always been good at developing young talent, but getting his teams to the next level has been his biggest shortcoming.
Brooks’ combination of tenure and lack of playoff success makes him a good candidate to be fired early in the season. If the Wizards start slowly, Brooks will take the brunt of the blame. I don’t love the upside in the +200 odds, but he is still a justifiable favorite here.
My favorite bets in terms of value to be the first coach fired this season are as follows:
Mike Budenholzer (+1600)
Terry Stotts (+3300)
Quin Snyder (+7500)
Luke Walton (+500)
Steve Nash (+5000)
Scott Brooks (+200)
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu …