These Five NBA Coaches Enter the 2023-24 Season on the Hot Seat

Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton
Dallas Mavericks Coach Jason Kidd can’t afford to waste another season with Luka Doncic.

From start to finish, the NBA’s coaching carousel was an especially rocky ride last season.

Boston’s Ime Udoka didn’t make it to opening night because of his off-court indiscretions, Brooklyn’s Steve Nash lasted just seven games, and Atlanta’s Nate McMillan got his pink slip over the all-star break. The carnage only accelerated at season’s end, when five coach of the year winners – Dwane Casey, Nick Nurse, Mike Budenholzer, Monty Williams and Doc Rivers – lost their jobs during a 38-day span in April and May.

The dust has finally settled, and eight teams will enter the 2023-24 season with a different head coach from the one they had at the start of the 2022-23 campaign. That turnover, which accounts for more than a quarter of the league, produced some major casualties. Rivers, who ranks ninth all-time in wins, has transitioned to the broadcasting booth after coaching for 24 straight seasons. Budenholzer, who just led the Milwaukee Bucks to the 2021 title, won’t be on the sidelines as a coach or an assistant for the first time in more than 25 years.

But it wasn’t all bad news for the coaching profession. Frank Vogel and Quin Snyder got back in the game, with the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks, respectively, while the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and Williams, now with the Detroit Pistons, secured lucrative contracts during the offseason. The 2022 hiring cycle also produced some real gems: Mike Brown led the Sacramento Kings to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, Darvin Ham took the Los Angeles Lakers to the Western Conference finals, and Will Hardy hit the ground running with the Utah Jazz.

Given the high volume of recent changes, the next 12 months should be a little less hectic when it comes to job turnover. Still, these five coaches will enter the season this fall feeling the heat.


Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks: It’s as simple as this: Luka Doncic missed the playoffs in 2023, and that can’t happen again. The Mavericks revealed their desperation to build a winner around their 24-year-old franchise player by trading for Kyrie Irving, and they confirmed it when they agreed to re-sign the mercurial guard to a three-year, $126 million contract this summer. No matter that Doncic and Irving didn’t function particularly well together, or that Dallas’s remade front line still doesn’t look up to snuff.

Kidd’s reputation was in a much different place after he guided Dallas to the 2022 Western Conference finals, but the stink of last year’s tank into the lottery turned that success into a distant memory. If Doncic were to sour on Dallas and request a trade, he could shake up the NBA like LeBron James did in 2010 and Kevin Durant did in 2016. That puts Kidd in a major bind: He must improve Dallas’s 25th-ranked defense and get Doncic and Irving to make each other better. Or else.


Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls: Getting stuck in the middle can be a dangerous place for a coach. Just ask McMillan and Nurse, who lost their jobs after the Hawks and Raptors compiled 41-41 records last year. The 40-42 Bulls were right there with them: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic made for an expensive and underwhelming “Medium 3,” and Lonzo Ball’s ongoing knee problems killed any budding optimism from a 2022 playoff appearance.

Though Donovan signed a contract extension before the 2022-23 season, rumors swirled about his job almost immediately because of Chicago’s slow start. Nothing meaningful changed this summer: Ball remains out indefinitely, Vucevic was re-signed to a three-year, $60 million contract, and backup guard Jevon Carter was the biggest addition of a quiet offseason. Tearing down the star trio is unlikely to bring a handsome trade return, so Donovan is set up as a convenient scapegoat if the Bulls’ flawed formula doesn’t produce better results.


Chris Finch, Minnesota Timberwolves: The salary numbers in Minnesota are getting huge: three years and $130 million for Rudy Gobert, five years and more than $250 million for Karl-Anthony Towns and a new five-year extension worth $260 million for Anthony Edwards. Together, that ill-fitting trio combined for the 23rd-ranked offense, 42 regular season wins and one face-saving victory in a first-round series loss to the Denver Nuggets. After raising expectations with their all-in trade for Gobert, the Timberwolves had a strong case to be considered the NBA’s biggest disappointment last season.

Finch had his hands full with both halves of his tricky “Twin Towers” pairing: Gobert endured another year of decline, and Towns missed more than 50 games because of injury. Minnesota’s owners did their coach no favors this summer by running back the same core, and Finch’s hopes of guiding a playoff winner will be heavily reliant upon another breakthrough season from Edwards, who has been starring for USA Basketball during its FIBA World Cup run. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before the bosses start looking for someone to blame for their misguided expenditures.


Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets: Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson or Popovich couldn’t have saved last year’s Hornets; franchise guard LaMelo Ball played less than half the season because of injury, Miles Bridges missed the entire year because of a domestic violence incident, and P.J. Washington was the only player to log more than 70 appearances. In other words, Charlotte came by its 30th-ranked offense and 27 wins honestly, and at least it landed 2023 No. 2 pick Brandon Miller to ease the pain.

Michael Jordan, who hired Clifford to coach the Hornets in 2013 and 2022, sold his majority stake in the franchise to a pair of investors this summer. The ownership transition didn’t immediately produce sweeping changes, but Charlotte is ripe for an overhaul given that it hasn’t made the playoffs in the past seven seasons. Pairing a dynamic young ballhandler such as Ball with an old-school, defensive-minded coach probably isn’t ideal for either party, and Clifford has little long-term security as he enters the second year of a three-year contract.


Chauncey Billups, Portland Trail Blazers: Forgive Billups if his head is spinning. When the longtime floor general signed on to coach Portland in 2021, he inherited a perennial playoff team led by veteran guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Everything went off the rails immediately: General Manager Neil Olshey was fired, Lillard missed all but 29 games because of injury, and McCollum got traded during Billups’s first year. Last season wasn’t any better: Billups oversaw the NBA’s 28th-ranked defense, the flailing Blazers went into a full-fledged tank down the stretch, and Lillard requested a trade in July.

While the Blazers landed promising rookie Scoot Henderson with the third pick in June’s draft, Billups now finds himself looking at a long-term rebuild with very few bankable players at his disposal. The ugly losses have taken a toll on the team’s culture over the past two seasons, and Billups, who is in his first head coaching stint, will have to push back forcefully against all that negative momentum. National expectations will drop further if Lillard is traded, but Portland’s young players desperately need to show some signs of progress to keep its fan base engaged. A coach can only survive so many seasons that effectively end in February.