The NBA may not have a Black Monday like the NFL, but lots of coaches have lost their jobs during the 2021 NBA Playoffs, including two on Wednesday.
In 2021, many of the changes occurred during the playoffs.
The New Orleans Pelicans parted ways with head coach Stan Van Gundy after just one season. The Pelicans finished 31-41, falling short of making the Western Conference play-in tournament. Assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon reportedly is a candidate to be promoted to the head coach role.
The Washington Wizards parted ways with Scott Brooks after five seasons. Brooks led the Wizards to the playoffs despite a 34-48 record. Washington fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round in five games. Brooks leaves the Wizards with a 183-207 regular-season record and three playoff appearances, but only one series win in 2017.
There are currently four other head coach vacancies, For the Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge retired as president of basketball operations and the team promoted former head coach Brad Stevens to Ainge’s job. Stevens will now lead the search to find and hire his replacement.
The Portland Trail Blazers also have a head coaching vacancy after parting ways with Terry Stotts following their first-round loss to the Denver Nuggets. Stotts coached the Blazers for nine seasons, compiling a 402-318 overall record with eight playoff appearances.
The fifth vacancy belongs to the Orlando Magic, who parted ways with Steve Clifford after three seasons together. Clifford had a 96-131 record over his years in Orlando, losing the first round twice before suffering a 21-51 record in 2020-21. Stotts reportedly is expected to be a candidate for the Magic job.
The Indiana Pacers also are in the market for a head coach after firing Nate Bjorkgren. Indiana hired Bjorkgren just last year and he led the team to a 34-38 record. Stotts reportedly will also be in the mix for the Pacers opening.
There could still be more openings as teams are eliminated from the playoffs.
Here’s a look at 10 of the top head-coaching candidates (in alphabetical order):
Mr. Big Shot is best known for his years as a player, winning NBA Finals MVP with the Detroit Pistons in 2004 and making five All-Star teams. Billups averaged 15.2 points per game in his 17-year career after being selected third overall by the Celtics in 1997.
Since retiring from the NBA in 2014, Billups has served as an NBA analyst for ESPN and has interviewed for multiple general manager openings. He was a finalist for the Indiana Pacers’ head coaching position last year before joining the Los Angeles Clippers as an assistant to Ty Lue. The 2020-21 season was Billups’ first on the bench as a coach, but his name has already been linked to the Celtics job.
Brown has been patrolling NBA sidelines since 1997, but he’s still just 51 years old. He entered the ranks as an assistant with the Washington Wizards before stops with the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers. In 2005, he was tabbed as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. With a young LeBron James on the roster, Brown led the Cavs to the 2007 NBA Finals before losing to the Spurs. He was fired in 2010 despite compiling a 272-138 record.
After one year off, the Los Angeles Lakers hired Brown as head coach in 2011. The Lakers still had Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, but the team went 41-25 and lost in the second round. L.A. started the next season 1-4 and Brown was quickly fired. The Cavs rehired Brown and he coached one more season in Cleveland before joining the Golden State Warriors as an assistant in 2016. Brown has served as Steve Kerr’s right-hand man over the past five seasons, winning two championships.
Few players have had a better start to their career than Cassell, who won back-to-back titles to start his career with the Houston Rockets. He served as a respectable backup point guard in Houston before transitioning to starting roles with the Nets, Bucks, Timberwolves and Clippers. Cassell put a bow on his career by winning a title with the Celtics in 2008. He averaged 15.7 points per game in his 15-year run.
Cassell immediately got into coaching following his playing days. The Wizards employed Cassell from 2009 through 2014 before he joined Doc Rivers’ staff with the Clippers from 2014 to 2020. He followed Rivers to Philly for the 2020-21 season as an assistant for the Sixers.
Despite just averaging 2.7 points per game in his eight-year NBA career, Ham has ascended through the coaching ranks. He served as an assistant coach and later head coach with the G League’s New Mexico Thunderbirds (now the Canton Charge). Ham transitioned to the NBA as a player development assistant with the Lakers in 2011, working with the likes of Bryant and Dwight Howard.
Following his two-year run in Los Angeles, Ham joined Mike Budenholzer’s staff with the Atlanta Hawks. After five seasons, Ham moved to the Milwaukee Bucks with Budenholzer. The Bucks have had three of their most successful regular seasons in franchise history with Ham as an assistant, and he’s interviewed for multiple head coaching vacancies over the years.
Hammon made history in 2014 when the Spurs made her the first woman to be a full-time, paid assistant in NBA history. Before joining the Spurs, Hammon played 16 seasons in the WNBA for the New York Liberty and San Antonio Stars. After six All-Star appearances, Hammon called it a career in 2014.
Since being added to Gregg Popovich’s staff, Hammond has quickly risen up the bench. In December 2020, Hammon served as acting head coach when Popovich was ejected from a game against the Lakers, becoming the first female to ever do so. Now, with seven seasons of NBA experience, Hammon could be in the mix for a head coaching job of her own.
Before coaching in the NBA, Joerger won five championships as a head coach during stints in the G League, CBA and IBA. He joined the Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant in 2007 and rose to lead assistant by 2011. Joerger got his chance as head coach of the Grizzlies from 2013 to 2016, making the playoffs all three years before getting fired.
The Sacramento Kings signed Joerger soon after, but he was again fired after three seasons despite gradually improving the team. In 2018-19, Joerger led the Kings to their best record since 2005-06. He took one season off before joining Rivers’ staff with the Sixers for the 2020-21 season.
One of the best passing and rebounding point guards in NBA history, Kidd made 10 All-Star teams in his Hall of Fame playing career from 1994 to 2013. He led the then-New Jersey Nets to back-to-back Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003 and led the league in assists five times. Kidd won his lone championship as a player in 2011 with the Mavericks.
Just nine days after his retirement as a player, Kidd was named head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. With veteran stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams on the roster, Brooklyn had championship aspirations but lost in the second round. The Nets traded Kidd to the Bucks following the season after he reportedly wanted more management power. Milwaukee made the playoffs once with Kidd before firing him during the 2017-18 season. Kidd has been an assistant with the Lakers for the last two seasons.
Pierce played professionally overseas for four seasons before moving into coaching in 2003 as an assistant at his alma mater Santa Clara. He bounced around as an assistant in the NBA with the Cavs, Warriors and Grizzlies from 2007 to 2013 before finding a long-term home in Philadelphia from 2013 to 2018 under Brett Brown.
His first head coaching opportunity came in 2018 with the Hawks. With a young and promising roster, Pierce seemed like an ideal fit. It never worked out, though, as he went 63-120 before being fired midway through the 2020-21 season. The optics aren’t great as the Hawks bolted up the standings and into the second round of the playoffs after firing Pierce. Still, he’s just 45 years old and another opportunity (possibly in Boston) seems likely.
Udoka’s seven NBA seasons were unspectacular (5.2 points per game in 316 career contests), but he’s impressed on the bench since 2012. He spent seven years with the Spurs under Popovich. San Antonio made the Finals twice in those seven years, including winning the 2014 title. He was also key in recruiting LaMarcus Aldridge, his former teammate with the Trail Blazers, to the Spurs in 2015.
For the 2019-20 season, Udoka moved to the Sixers to work under his fellow former Spurs assistant Brett Brown. Brown was fired after the season and Udoka then joined Steve Nash’s Nets for 2020-21. Udoka has interviewed for various head coaching jobs over the years, including the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks last offseason.
Wes Unseld Jr.
The son of a Hall of Famer, Unseld Jr. followed his father’s footsteps in Washington to begin his coaching career. Wes Sr. played for Washington from 1968 to 1981 then coached there from 1987 to 1994. Wes Jr. worked for his father, then the Wizards’ general manager, as a scout starting in 1997. He moved into an assistant coach role from 2005 to 2011 before leaving for the Warriors.
After working for the Warriors and Magic from 2011 to 2015, Unseld Jr. joined the Denver Nuggets. He was promoted to lead assistant under Michael Malone in 2016. Unseld Jr. has been interviewed for head coaching jobs since 2019, and 2021 could be the year he leaps into the big chair.