The Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers find their head coaches on the hot seat.
While Budenholzer and Stotts have been with their current teams for a while, this is Bjorkgren’s first year in charge in Indianapolis. A deep playoff run is what will keep Budenholzer in Milwaukee and Stotts in Portland, while it remains to be seen what it will take to give Bjorkgren a second season leading the Pacers. Coaches get fired all the time, but these three spots are very intriguing.
What team needs to make a coaching change the most: The Pacers, the Bucks or the Trail Blazers?
Pacers, Bucks, Trail Blazers: Who needs to fire their head coach the most?
There is an argument to be made for all three. The Pacers have been a shell of themselves since parting ways with Nate McMillan last offseason. He has resurfaced as the Atlanta Hawks interim head coach and has done phenomenally since taking over for Lloyd Pierce in February. Bjorkgren and the Pacers have gone from a top five team in the East to a club that will finish under .500.
Milwaukee expected Budenholzer to take its team over top after his great five-year run in Atlanta. While the Bucks have had a great deal of success in the regular season, Budenholzer’s reluctance to shrink his rotation in the postseason is why Milwaukee has yet to win the Eastern Conference under his watch. Coach Bud will find work next season, but him being on the hot seat feels weird.
As for Stotts, the Trail Blazers are who they are. This is a team that will make the Western Conference Playoffs annually thanks to their brilliant backcourt and sound offensive game plan. However, they play no lick of defense whatsoever and cannot bang with the bigger bodies they come across in the playoffs. In short, this team has hit its definite ceiling under Stotts’ watch.
If one needs to stay, it’s Bud. Teams like, I don’t know, Indiana and Portland would love the opportunity to hire him if he does become available and if those teams want to make a move. Besides, firing Budenholzer will hurt Giannis Antetokounmpo’s reputation.
If you had to pick between who needs to go first, it has to be Bjorkgren over Stotts. While the Blazers will never be a championship-caliber team under Stotts, the Pacers are quickly becoming an unmitigated disaster under Bjorkgren. This is the most chaotic they have been since The Malice at the Palace. If they don’t regret firing McMillan now, then they are just festering in dysfunction.
Ultimately, this comes down to one thing and one thing only: Are you sure you can improve over the status quo? Not even Don Nelson and his assortment of fish ties could get those great 1980s Bucks teams to the NBA Finals. You only fire Bud if you know you can get an A-lister to come to small market Milwaukee and win you a championship by 2023. Otherwise, you roll with him.
While you could upgrade over Stotts, keep in mind what the Trail Blazers have been without head-coaching stability this century. They weren’t exactly the Jail Blazers under McMillan, but they weren’t a great team either when he last coached them. McMillan is not under contract next year in Atlanta, but the Blazers would welcome his return to the Pacific Northwest. But should he go?
As for Bjorkgren and the Pacers, they need to do something they have never wanted to do before: Just blow it up. This is a basketball-crazy state, so you can deal with a rebuild more than you think. Getting blown out by the Sacramento Kings and yelling at each other on the sidelines is a terrible look. Go get a program builder someone like Kenny Atkinson or Brett Brown and try again, please.
All things equal, Bjorkgren needs to go more than Budenholzer or Stotts do at this point in time.